Western University kit could have prevented E. coli-contaminated lettuce from reaching store shelves



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A new rapid test kit developed by researchers at Western University in London, Ont. could have detected E. coli in lettuce long before shipments hit supermarket shelves.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has warned against eating Roma lettuce because of an outbreak of E. coli, forcing Sobeys, Loblaws and Metro to withdraw their supplies from their stores.

The kit developed for the West detects a unique protein for the bacterium E. coli 0157 and can show results in less than 24 hours. This is the same strain of bacteria that causes the current outbreak in the United States and Canada.

Current tests depend on cultures taken from possibly contaminated samples and sent for testing, with results that take up to two weeks to return.

By this time, food has often been sent to market.

& Faster & Cheaper & # 39;

"Our goal is to get the test done as close to the source as possible," said Michael Rieder, a professor at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western and a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute.

"This technology is not only faster but is cheaper, easier to use and can occur directly in the processing plant."

The Western University kit has been approved by Health Canada and is now being shipped to food processing plants in North America.

"We are looking at this specific bio-marker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria in itself is not bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that will make people sick," Rieder said. .

"The goal is a safer food chain for all, so that public safety can be assured."

Much of the work to develop the kit was funded by a grant from Mitacs, a federal not-for-profit agency that encourages academic and industrial collaboration.

Western researchers worked with a biomedical company in Toronto and London entrepreneurs Craig Combe and Michael Brock to develop the kit.

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