Spoilage alert

The problem: The USDA’s Economic Research Service suggests about one-third of our food supply goes to waste, a significant percentage of which is because of recalls.

Possible solution: Snober Ahmed and John Brockgreitens, graduate research assistants in the University of Minnesota’s Biosensors and Bionanotechnology Laboratory, are working at the intersection of nanotechnology and biology to find ways to detect pathogens before products are stored or shipped—so fewer recalls will be needed.

How it works: This inventive duo is developing new technology that detects contamination, creating glass devices layered in gold nanoparticles that capture cells from a food solution moving through a channelized system. The researchers then harvest the captured cells and analyze them for pathogens using UV absorption and chemiluminescence (emission of light caused by a chemical reaction). If the interaction between the gold nanoparticles and the captured cells turns the nanoparticles from red to blue, they know foodborne pathogens are present.

How gifts help: Both industry and government are supporting Ahmed’s and Brockgreitens’ work, some of which is being done at the U of M’s Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center. Companies funding their research include Schwan Food Company and General Mills. “This funding is very important as we explore uncharted territory in terms of food-safety sensing that could have a real impact on human health,” Brockgreitens says.

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