Purdue researchers track deadly foodborne bacterium

daches, fever and even more extreme conditions such as meningitis, encephalitis, liver abscesses and pregnancy miscarriages.

Unlike Salmonella, which sickens humans no matter what strain is present, only one form of the Listeria causes illness. And although cases of food illness aren't as common with Listeria monocytogenes as with other food pathogens _1.5 million cases of Salmonella annually vs. an estimated 2,500 cases of Listeria _Listeria monocytogenes is much more deadly. According to 1999 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than one half of one percent of the people infected with Salmonella die, but 20 percent of the cases of Listeria monocytogenes are fatal.

Better detection of this fatal food pathogen is a high priority for the food industry, Bhunia says. "At the present time we can only detect a large number of bacteria in a sample. To get a large number, you have to let the sample grow in a laboratory," he says. "It can take as much as five to seven days to grow, test and confirm the presence of a specific pathogen."

That is too long, says Richard Linton, Purdue associate professor of food science. "In a week that product is going to be on the shelves. If there's a major food pathogen outbreak, it's pretty scary to think about what can happen right now."

A team of scientists at Purdue is working to develop an electronic device that could identify Listeria monocytogenes within minutes and be able to detect very low levels of the bacterium in one gram or one milliliter of food, an amount about the size of a pencil eraser. The research coordinator is Michael Ladisch, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and biomedical engineering.

The ability to test for low levels of the bacterium is important, Linton says, because Listeria monocytogenes is infectious at as few as 10 cells. "Compare that with a food illness caused by Salmonella, where it would take about a million cells to cause an illness,

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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