Rapid test for E.coli keeps contaminated food off grocery store shelves

Dr. Michael Rieder, professor at Western University and Scientist at Robarts Research Institute with his new rapid test kit for E. Coli

The goal is to identify E. coli in your food before it ever leaves the processing plant, ensuring that it never makes it to the shelves of your neighbourhood grocery store.

A new rapid testing kit developed by researchers at Western University is revolutionizing food safety testing by producing results in hours rather than current methods which can take days. The kit detects E. coli 0157, the same food-borne bacteria causing the current outbreak in the US and Canada linked to romaine lettuce. It has been approved by Health Canada and translated for commercial use.  The first production lot of this assay was this summer and this kit is now making its way to food processing plants in North America.

The Western-developed kit detects a protein unique to the pathogenic E. coli bacteria, and using flow through technology is able show results in under 24 hours. The process works in much the same way as a pregnancy test – showing one line for negative and two lines for positive.

Current food testing methods typically rely on culture, which requires samples to be sent away for testing, with results taking up to two weeks to come back. By that time, the food has often been shipped to market and large recalls have to occur.

“Our goal is to get the testing to occur as close as possible to the source,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and scientist at Robarts Research Institute. “This technology is not only faster, but it’s less expensive, it’s easy to use, and it can occur right in the processing plant.”

“We are looking at this specific biomarker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria itself isn’t bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that will cause people to get sick,” Dr. Rieder said. “The goal is a safer food chain for everyone so that public safety can be assured.”

The system was developed as a result of collaborations between Dr. Rieder, a team at International Point of Care (IPOC), and London entrepreneurs, Craig Combe and the late Michael Brock. The commercialization and sale of the kits has been accomplished with industrial partners both in Canada and the United States.  Much of the work was funded through grant from Mitacs, a federal non-profit that encourages academic and industrial collaboration.

MEDIA CONTACT: Crystal Mackay, Media Relations Officer, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University, t. 519.661.2111 ext. 80387, c. 519.933.5944, crystal.mackay@schulich.uwo.ca @CrystalMackay

Western University delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.


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Dr. Michael Rieder, professor at Western University and Scientist at Robarts Research Institute with his new rapid test kit for E. Coli