Rapid microbial identification

Julie Archer, MAS Group Manager

We have greatly enhanced the capacity and speed of our microbial identification capabilities by acquiring a MALDI–ToF (Matrix–assisted laser desorption/ionization time–of–flight) mass spetrometry system.

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We can help companies with microbial contamination issues by identifying the organism that is involved in the issue - is it a food pathogen, is it a spoilage organism, what are they dealing with - so that they can take the appropriate action in relation to the microorganism that they've got.

We can also identify the sub genus level, this is important to show small differences between the different isolates. For example, if we're dealing with Listeria we would want to know if it was Listeria monocytogenes or a different species of Listeria because the company could take very different action depending whether they've got Listeria monocytogenes or not. So, knowing down to sub genus level is very important for them.

With such specific and detailed data, we can also start to understand where the cross contamination is occurring within a factory - is it happening with the intake of raw materials or is it occurring in the factory itself? We can use this information to pinpoint if it's occurring in the factory, where in the factory and then the client can take steps to address that specific point of contamination.

The latest developments in the identification service is that we've invested in a MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry bio-analyser to ensure that our clients have the most accurate, affordable and rapid ID service. We are one of the few food labs to offer such a rapid and robust service. The benefits that the MALDI-ToF offers is the accuracy of the identifications, but what's really staggering with the MALDI-ToF is the speed of the analysis. Generally speaking, at the moment, we're offering our clients an identification in about 48 hours, but with the MALDI-ToF we can bring that down to about 15 minutes typically. That means that we can, on average, offer a same-day service to our clients. This becomes really important when we're dealing with isolates such as Salmonella or Listeria where the response time is really critical to helping them solve the problem.

With these timeframes we are eliminating the need for clients to work with presumptive positive results. We can get a confirmed result and report out to the client straight away so that they can start acting on confident, confirmed results and not waste time on presumptive false positives. Once you have a confirmed result we can use the experts on hand to interpret those results and troubleshoot with you.

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