(Forskning.no) The new method is so sensitive that it can show whether the food will remain safe throughout the shelf life, even if a raw material should contain traces of the bacterium.

Listeria bacteria are feared because they can cause severe food poisoning when the amount becomes too high

Senior researcher at the Veterinary Institute and expert on the bacterium, Taran Skjerdal, has together with colleagues developed a technology that makes it possible to measure very small amounts of listeria in food.

The method is so sensitive that it gives food producers the opportunity to assess whether the menopause of listeria endangers food safety or not. It can contribute to greater sustainability in that a larger proportion of the food can be used at the same time as food safety is maintained

200 times more sensitive

- It feels great to have developed a tool that is beneficial to society. The motivation for me was to be able to help reduce food waste and ensure safe food at the same time, says Skjerdal.

There are very special guidelines for limit values ​​of listeria in food. Large quantities of food are often thrown away where it has been detected, even though the actual content is so low that food safety is not endangered.

- Our method covers a need that other methods do not cover, the researcher says

Skjerdal discovered a problem that had to be solved. In collaboration with colleagues at the Veterinary Institute, the food industry and Kjeller Innovation, she developed an innovative solution that assists food producers in their assessment of sound levels.

The solution is 200 times more sensitive than current methods.

Started the process of commercialization

But how do you work to develop such methods and what does it take to get such a product to market?

There are already established methods for calculating how much listeria there may be in the food at the producer, but Taran Skjerdal would still take the matter herself.

She says that they started working on this in an EU project over ten years ago. Through this, they got in touch with a company that managed to handle the bacterium in their company.

- With a very good sample material, we took as our starting point the methods that existed and managed to create a prototype that was just as precise, but much more sensitive than current methods, says Skjerdal.

It was at this stage that the researchers submitted an application to initiate the process of innovation and commercialization

A great opportunity for the Norwegian industry

In collaboration with Kjeller Innovation, Skjerdal has worked to bring the technology to the Norwegian and international markets.

Kjeller Innovation is one of eleven offices that work with the transfer of technology in Norway. The company helps universities and research institutions to lift ideas into a future-oriented and competitive business community.

Business developer Ann Ingeborg Wålen in Kjeller Innovation saw great potential in Taran Skjerdal's solution and wanted to collaborate on development and commercialization

- Taran Skjerdal came up with a method that was 200 times more sensitive than the methods available in the market today. We saw a need in the food industry that this method could fill. We also saw that the technology had great potential to create a new industry and new jobs in Norway. And not just the industry in Norway, but in fact also globally, says Wålen

(Forskning.no) Illustration photo: FLY: D / Unsplash

About the listeria bacteria

  • Listeria monocytogenes can cause the disease listeriosis in both animals and humans.
  • It is found naturally in water, soil, in the intestines of many animal species and also in raw materials for food. The bacterium manages without oxygen and can grow at low temperatures, even in vacuum-packed food in the refrigerator.

Sources: Store norske leksikon and The Norwegian Food Safety Authority

A low-tech method

Wålen emphasizes that one of the great advantages of the new technology is that you can detect very small amounts of listeria and thus ensure both safe food and reduce food waste

The other big advantage is that this is a low-tech method.

With today's methods, one must use advanced laboratories and engineers to carry out the analyzes. SensiList is a method that can be implemented without a lot of equipment. It is a simple test where you look at a color change, and in addition it can be performed by people who do not have engineering skills, says Wålen.

Practical and good solutions for society

The collaboration in the project has given the food industry access to completely new technology. Technology that will ensure safe food and reduce food waste, while at the same time helping to create new sustainable businesses and new jobs

- We immediately saw that here the research results could be translated into very practical and good solutions for the benefit of society. A company called SensiList AS has now been established and we are in the process of validating the solution, says Wålen

That is, they must confirm and document that the method is suitable for their purpose.

When that job is done, they will set up production and move towards full launch in Norway in the first instance, but fairly quickly perform in the rest of the world.

Source: Food producers are now able to measure very small amounts of listeria bacteria in food (forskning.no)

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