New detection method for food poisoning toxin

Tuesday, 05 May, 2015

New detection method for food poisoning toxin

The Bacillus cereus bacteria is quite a versatile little pathogen, and not a pleasant one. It’s responsible for food poisoning illnesses that cause nausea and vomiting in human beings, with the outcomes ranging from mild illness through to - in extreme cases - death.

Across Europe, the number of food poisoning cases caused by the Bacillus species is on the rise and the consumption of ready meals increases the risk of foodborne infections. The types of foods most likely to harbour B. cereus are starchy staples like rice, pasta and potatoes.

“A poor temperature management often plays a role,” explained Prof. Thomas Hofmann, Chair of Food Chemistry and Molecular Sensory Science at Technische Universität München (TUM). “The bacteria multiply, for example, in food that has been pre-cooked and then not heated up enough or else not adequately cooled down beforehand.”

In addition, B. cereus can produce spores that can survive high heat - and which are still capable of producing viable bacteria at lower temperatures. These then often form bacterial toxins, which are in turn heat stable - like cereulides, the toxins responsible for emetic illnesses which cause nausea and vomiting.

The good news is that researchers from TUM and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have now developed a method for detecting the cereulide toxin. In the process, they identified 18 further variants to add to the cereulide already known to scientists.

“Prior to this project, there was no satisfactory method of detecting the cereulide toxin in food,” said Hofmann. “With our mass spectrometry-based process, we have created an important starting point for the reliable detection of the toxic bacteria.”

This will make it easier to assess the risk inherent in contaminated products - and the role played by the individual cereulide variants. The new detection method is currently being jointly evaluated at European level together with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and preparations are being made for its deployment.

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