Auburn University Leads Food Safety Technology

Auburn University researchers believe they have come up with a way an inexpensive way to let farmers test their own crops for salmonella and other bacteria.

It's fitting the tiny sensors used to detect the deadly bacteria, look like gold, because food safety experts believe they could be just as valuable.

"There are millions of people who die each year cause of salmonella contamination and other types of pathogens," said Dr. James Barbaree, an expert in microbiology at Auburn University.

This technology could prevent that by detecting deadly bacteria before it even leaves the farm. Here's how it works. The nano-sized sensors are coated with a bacterial phage specific to the type of bacteria you're looking for.

The phage coating attracts or binds salmonella to the sensor. A magnetic wand collects and measures the sensors using vibrations. A specific vibration tells you if a plant has been contaminated.

"The major characteristic of this technology is that it allows real-time detection," said Barbaree.

Meaning, there's no more waiting on lab results. A farmer can dust a section of his crop with several thousand bio-degradable sensors, collect them with the magnet and read the results. It's exciting stuff for peanut farmer Mitch Lazenby. But asks, can he pay for it? Dr. Bryan

"With technology comes a price tag, we got to be able to afford it," stated Lazenby.

Dr. Bryan Chin, who helped develop the technology, said it's very affordable.

"They cost less than one-tenth of a thousandth of a cent each. For instance you could have 10-thousand sensors for 10 cents," said Dr. Chin.

In all the test kit would cost about 300 bucks, the big cost is the collection wand.

Researchers say the technology is affordable, compared to the millions of dollars lost when a crop is contaminated and the priceless cost of human life.