In California, Agricultural Research Service scientists developed a new test that’s faster, more sensitive and less expensive than current tests in detecting one of the most common causes of food poisoning – toxins made by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. One such toxin, staphylococcal enterotoxin type E has been associated with outbreaks in the United States and other countries.
The current detection method is an animal model that is expensive, has low sensitivity and is difficult to reproduce. Other toxin tests cannot distinguish between active toxin, which is a public health threat, and inactive toxin, which is not.
The scientists developed a T-cell test that specifically detects SEE in foods. The animal-model test detects active toxin only 50 percent of the time while the new T-cell test detects it 100 percent of the time. The T-cell test also detects toxin within five hours compared to 48 to 72 hours for other tests.