In the wake of the recent E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce that sickened dozens of people across the country, the announcement of a new rapid testing kit for the bacteria couldn’t be more welcome.

The technology, developed by researchers at Western University, will cut the E. coli testing time from days to hours. Current food safety testing relies on cell cultures, which can take up to 2 weeks to get the results. The new technology uses an assay to detect a protein unique to E. coli. According to the press release, the system works like a pregnancy test, “showing one line for negative and two lines for positive.”

Dr. Michael Rieder, one of the researchers who helped develop the system, “We are looking at this specific biomarker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria itself isn’t bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that will cause people to get sick. The goal is a safer food chain for everyone so that public safety can be assured.”

The Western researchers aren’t the only ones pursuing faster food safety testing technologies. Earlier this year, following a different, deadly E. coli outbreak, again in romaine lettuce, Silicon Valley startup Clear Labs released a new routine pathogen testing platform that uses next-generation sequencing (NGS) to improve the speed and accuracy of food safety testing. Read an interview with the company’s co-founder and chief commercial officer, Mahni Ghorashi.

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