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Researchers are eyeing up a promising new approach to tackling harmful bacteria on farms that could mean big savings in preventing food contamination and spoilage, especially in the face of climate change.
AgResearch scientist Aswathi Soni and colleagues Mahmoud Al-Sarayreh, Gale Brightwell, and Marlon M. Reis are developing technology that uses hyperspectral imaging to detect bacterial spores on farms, so they can be targeted and “cleaned” before spreading into the animal gut, water sources or farm equipment. Hyperspectral imaging is a method that collects and processes information from across a wide variety of bandwidths in the light spectrum.
“Bacterial spores are a constant challenge to the food industry because they are everywhere, especially in soil,” Dr Soni says.
“Once they enter the food, and this includes our dairy and meat, they are very hard to remove because they can survive adverse conditions such as wetness and dryness. A huge amount of money is lost due to the wastage costs because these spores can cause both food poisoning as well as spoilage.”
Dr Soni warned of a “ticking time bomb” as climate change is likely to mean warmer conditions in future, in which the bacteria will thrive. This added to the urgency to provide effective tools to address the issue.
The proposed approach of AgResearch scientists to preventing these bacterial spores getting into the food was through use of a “hyperspectral spore detector”, which could be developed for farmers to use themselves or access through an on-farm service.
“What we are looking to combine here is our understanding of the bacteria through microbiology, with the imaging technology. The spore detector would be able to detect the bacterial hot spots via a unique `fingerprint’, including where in the soil and in what quantity. This will make it a far simpler task to eliminate these spores at the source. Once these bacterial hot spots are identified, they can be rapidly `cleaned’ in a more targeted and efficient way, using less chemicals and saving money in the process.”
Having done the research and validated this detection method, Dr Soni and colleagues are now seeking to test it in real-time farm environments.
The expectation is that if further testing and research proves successful, and the necessary funding is secured, a product or service could be available in the next few years.
“Ultimately what we want to achieve in this space is to contribute to a happy farmer, happy processor and happy consumer.”