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Scientists Develop Biosensor to Make Baby Food Products Microbiologically Safer

The Tyndall Institute in Cork is working with Teagasc to create a biosensor device to prevent harmful bacteria from entering the dairy supply chain. Fifteen per cent of the world's infant milk formula is produced in Ireland.

The new system will revolutionise quality monitoring processes within the dairy industry at a global level, benefiting businesses and consumers.

Ireland is responsible for 15pc of the world’s infant milk formula and removal of milk quotas in 2015 ensures global impact.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine will provide €625,000 in funding under its FIRM programme.

The first of its kind, the project will develop a portable biosensor to detect spore forming harmful bacteria of environmental origins that may enter the dairy supply chain and exceed the ever-tightening microbiological specifications for high-end products such as infant milk formula.

The Tyndall Teagasc project, under the ‘Spore Analysis Critical Control Point’ (SACCP) partnership, will look to create a biosensor that will allow on-site, in-line and real-time testing of milk to ensure that harmful spore-forming bacteria, which can survive pasteurisation, do not reach harmful levels.

Current spore detection processes are cumbersome and can take days of analysis in laboratories before establishing a definitive result. By comparison, the biosensor under development will be portable and produce results in just minutes.

A battle against time itself

“This biosensor has the potential to become an essential component of the dairy manufacturing process all over the world,” said Dr Karen Twomey of Tyndall.

“Early detection is key and the biosensor will enable producers to take preventative measures at earlier stages thus preventing unnecessary product downgrade.

“This technology is also incredibly flexible and can be modified to detect a range of other bodies enabling it to be used across other areas of the food industry and other sectors such as environment, security and medical to name but a few. This is currently the only research of its kind taking place so we have a real opportunity to create an important tool that will not only benefit businesses but also consumers all over the world.”

Teagasc’s project coordinator Dr Phil Kelly said that there is an urgent need in dairy food manufacturing for the creation of such a biosensor.

He said the biosensor will give a rapid indication of the presence of sporeforming bacteria and enable early intervention process control strategies to be implemented.

“The Teagasc microbiological and technological tasks running in tandem throughout the project will provide a platform for early prototype testing and biosensor calibration,” Dr Kelly said.

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