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Beacon Food Safety Develops Low-Cost Pathogen Testing

Highlands Ranch businessmen Bill Locatis and Steve Stroud are preparing to take a product to market that has the ability to prevent an incident like the 2011 Colorado cantaloupe scare from occurring again.

Locatis, the CEO and chairman of Beacon Food Safety, and Stroud, the company’s president, have been working with a team of scientists in Aurora on developing a cost-effective, time-saving device that will detect food-borne pathogens in minutes.

While not the first rapid pathogen test on the market, Beacon’s patented BrightSPOT will be the first “true rapid test,” Locatis explained.

“The tests that are out there require 48-72 hours of culturing, and then the eight-minute result that is produced comes from having made an investment in a $60,000-$100,000 piece of lab equipment operated in a clean room by a highly specialized operator,” Locatis said. “Our device, at $20 a pop, is designed to be used by someone with a high school education that is working in the plant; there is very low lab overhead.”

The hand-held device will allow the average plant worker or farmer to test for Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria by simply swabbing a conveyer belt, for instance, with a throwaway strip that plugs into a PDA or PC and registers the results within minutes.

“In a large meat processing plant, testing can result in holding back $15 million worth of product over 72 hours,” Locatis said. “When this happens, shelf life gets depreciated and there are huge refrigeration costs, all because there is waiting to make sure (the product) is safe, so we are a tipping point technology in that regard.”

Stroud said some plants test every 20 minutes, but instead of being constantly two-three days behind on their testing, plants will now be able to be up to speed, as results for most bacteria will be available in less than a half hour.

In addition to saving millions for the big boys, the technology is expected to aid small-time farmers who couldn’t afford to test their produce before. In the cantaloupe scare of 2011, for instance, the listeria-contaminated melon shipped out unchecked. According to Locatis, this is likely because the testing available was too expensive, would have taken a lot of time and tied up inventory. Plus, it was not required.

“Had our product been in place for Rocky Ford, that cantaloupe never would have made it to market,” Locatis said. “It would have been detected and sanitized before it ever left Rocky Ford.”

The produce industry, which self-polices and has few regulations in place, is quite a bit different from the meat industry, which has USDA and FDA oversight, he said.

“They had gotten along for a hundred years without a problem,” Stroud said. “The industry has not avoided testing in the past. In the past, technology was just not available that was cost-effective and had a certain amount of timeliness and urgency to it so that you could get product out the door.

“Any given farmer would love to be able to prove that whatever got somebody sick was not their product, so if it was affordable, which it will be, they are going to take advantage of that because it protects them.”

The company, which has already created six new science research and development jobs in Colorado, expects to create between 50-100 additional jobs in the next 16-24 months as it prepares for a 2013 product launch.

From Our Colorado News. 

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