Food microbiology laboratories have changed considerably during the last 30 years. In the early 1980s the focus was on quality control testing, much of which was done in-house by manufacturers. But as the industry began to adopt the HACCP approach to food safety management, quality control was replaced by quality assurance. Prevention, rather than detection of contamination, became the goal of food safety control and much of the remaining microbiological testing was outsourced. This trend was in part driven by the limitations of traditional microbiological methods, especially for foodborne pathogens.

Conventional methods continued to rely on culturing the microorganisms in a sample to produce sufficient cells for detection. That culture step meant that the total time taken for any microbiological test is at least 24 hours, for some pathogens it is five days or more, limiting the role that microbiological testing can play in food safety and quality assurance. Conventional tests can never provide results quickly enough to monitor critical control points in a HACCP system effectively, and are now used mainly to verify that the system is working correctly.

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PCR tests

TestTurnaround time (days)
PCR M. gallisepticum2
PCR M. synoviae2
PCR S. enteritidis2
PCR Adenovirus2
PCR O. rhinotracheale2

Molecular diagnostics

Molecular diagnostics is growing rapidly due to the fact that the presence of food pathogens can be detected within 24 hrs. This has huge ramifications for the food industry where every second costs money and may save lives. Molecular diagnostic tests detect specific sequences in DNA or RNA that may or may not be associated with disease. Food Chain Laboratories uses PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) to detect the suspected pathogen and this process involves three steps:

  1. The extraction and purification of nucleic acid.
  2. The amplification or making copies of the nucleic acid of interest (target) or attaching multiple copies of a dye to a single target copy.
  3. The detection of the amplified target using real time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

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Port Elizabeth, 6045

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