Jacob Petrich, Chemistry, (515) 294-9422
Tom Casey, USDA Agricultural Research Service, (515) 663-7726
Mark Rasmussen, USDA Agricultural Research Service, (515) 663-7350
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- A method for detecting fecal contamination on fresh meat, developed by researchers at Iowa State University and the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has been awarded a 2000 R&D 100 Award. The new method could help industry meet safety regulations designed to control disease-causing bacteria.

The laser-induced fluorescent spectroscopy technique was developed by Iowa State associate professor of chemistry Jacob Petrich and ARS microbiologists Mark Rasmussen and Tom Casey. A prototype commercial device called the SCAT scanner, uses the technique to assure that meat is free of contaminants.

The new R&D 100 Award brings Iowa State's total to 22 awards since 1984. The R&D 100 Awards, the only awards for applied science and scientists, have been called the "Oscars of applied science" by the Chicago Tribune.

The R&D 100 Awards are sponsored by R&D Magazine. The R&D 100 Awards program, now in its 38th year, honors the top 100 products of technological significance that were marketed or licensed during the previous calendar year. All of the 100 award winners will be honored at a banquet in Chicago in September.

Annual red meat production in the U.S. is 30 billion pounds per year (275 billion pounds worldwide), and annual poultry production in the U.S. is 40 billion pounds per year (110 billion pounds worldwide. Yet the methods for making sure the meat is free of fecal contaminants primarily relies on visual inspection.

Feces are a major source of bacterial contamination in livestock and poultry slaughterhouses, according to co-developer Mark Rasmussen. After a 1993 E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, the USDA developed new sanitation requirements for slaughterhouses, including stiffer inspections for fecal contamination and tests for E. coli. According to co-developer Tom Casey, these have not been easy tasks to accomplish with present visual inspection methods.

With the new technology, the inspection job will be easier, faster and more accurate. The new method is timely because the USDA is enforcing a zero-tolerance standard for fecal contamination on livestock and poultry carcasses.

The Iowa State-ARS inspection method is based on visible light fluorescent spectroscopy, which can detect fecal or ingesta contamination by a characteristic glow contaminants give off when illuminated with light at a specific wavelength. The method is non-contact -- eliminating the possibility for cross contamination -- can be run in real time and removes much of the guess work of visual inspections. After detection, the contaminated carcass could be sanitized before the contamination spreads.

"This method significantly improves the meat inspection process by providing a simple to use device that takes subjectiveness out of the inspection process," said co-developer Petrich. The method doesn't require significant training to operate it, he added.

The system can detect contamination on almost any size piece of meat and is adaptable to any size packing plant, Petrich said. As a hand-held unit, similar to metal detectors used in airports, the instrument could alert meat packers to fecal contamination immediately.

The patented technology has been licensed to eMerge Interactive Inc., Sebastian, Fla.

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