WAFF 48 Investigates: Detecting foodborne pathogens - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Detecting foodborne pathogens

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LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) -

More than a dozen people tested positive for salmonella after a Bean Day luncheon in Limestone County in October. Athens Limestone Hospital reported at least 50 people came into the emergency room seeking treatment after attending the event.

Auburn University has developed new technology that can quickly detect the foodborne illness, and experts believe it will prevent some from ever getting sick.

Researchers are at the forefront of protecting public health and safety by developing a device for the early detection of salmonella. Up until now, detecting it was a slow, labor-intensive process.

This new discovery allows detection of the bacteria in real time, allowing farmers, grocers and even cooks to determine if food is contaminated.

"The sensor is small, and we just put it on the food surface to do the scanning," explained Yating Chai, Ph.D. "We can do this whole detection in just ten minutes and we don't need high-tech people to use it."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million people become sick due to foodborne pathogens each year, including salmonella. County Commissioner Ben Harrison is one of the dozens that got sick after attending the Bean Day luncheon put on by the Limestone County Foundation on Aging in October. He said he cannot wait to see the technology sold on the open market so he and others don't have to worry about whether food is safe to eat.

"It would prevent a lot of illnesses and prevent a lot of suffering and heartache," he said.

"We want to do this test at each step so we can do it in the production process, the transportation process, and also the preparation process," Chai said.

With its speed and easy-to-use format, this new detection device could eventually be a great benefit worldwide, not just at events like the Bean Day luncheon, but in underdeveloped countries where foodborne illnesses cause countless fatalities every year.

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