Researchers develop tracking system for contaminated food

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and DNA Trek recently teamed up to develop a cost-effective way to track sources of contaminated food.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 6 people is likely to get a foodborne illness. These types of illnesses kill approximately 3,000 people in the U.S. annually.

Current methods to track the source of foodborne illnesses require a series of interviews with consumers, suppliers, restaurants and farms. This can be a tedious process that can take several weeks.

The new technology, DNATrax, was originally developed to track airflow patterns. LLNL staff later realized its capabilities to track where produce had come from.

“One of the unexpected capabilities from DNATrax was being able to apply it to food products,” George Farquar, an LLNL physical chemist who led a team of researchers who developed the technology for biosecurity applications, said. “You can spray it on food products in the field to identify and track the source of the food.”

The system utilizes non-viable strands of DNA and sugar particles that can collect data from the substance that it is sprayed on, allowing researchers to analyze the product in question and find the source of the item.

"We are not prepared to deal with an outbreak of pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella in tainted foods," Anthony Zografos, DNA Trek CEO, said. "However, DNATrax is a quick and efficient way to stop these foods from sickening more people and costing producers more money due to massive recalls triggered by poor traceability.”

Another application the technology can serve is the determination of fraudulent products, specifically premium products such as olive oil being diluted with other kinds of oils and certain wines.