Food processors know that detecting and quantifying Salmonella is an ongoing battle, so tools used to identify the volume of that pathogen need to evolve for speed and accuracy to better protect the public. Simply enumerating Salmonella without contextual data is not enough today, especially for industries like meat processing.
Hygiena’s SalQuant system—which received a U.S. patent earlier this year—is one tool available to processors to quantify Salmonella faster than traditional methods like Most Probable Number (MPN), reducing test results from days to hours.
ProFood World spoke with Dr. Patrice Chablain, chief scientific officer at Hygiena, to learn more about the technology behind SalQuant, and how it can quantify Salmonella throughout the stages of processing.
PFW: Please explain how the SalQuant system works, and how it was developed before coming to market.
Chablain: The patented BAX System SalQuant from Hygiena is a One Health Diagnostics application food processors can use to quantify Salmonella from the farm to final product. The BAX System Real-Time PCR Assay for Salmonella enumerates low levels of Salmonella with shortened enrichment times. It’s a molecular method that involves following a PCR protocol specific to the matrix of interest, and then running samples on the BAX System Q7 to yield cycle threshold (CT) results. The CT result for each sample is entered into a matrix-specific calculator to generate the corresponding quantified result as Log CFU per sample (or per g or mL). Prior to commercializing the SalQuant application, the development process involved testing multiple sample types at different inoculation levels to develop the most accurate linear fit curve to then be able to correlate CT values with quantitative results.
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PFW: Why is the recent patent granted by the U.S. an important milestone for SalQuant?
Chablain: While developing SalQuant, we enlisted help from external partners to analyze thousands of data points or samples and this patent is the result of months of development work. The patent not only strengthens our intellectual property position in quantification but also demonstrates our strategic commitment to developing innovative diagnostics that improve the health of people and animals in our shared environment.
PFW: Why is SalQuant needed in the marketplace, and what challenges does it help solve for processors?
Chablain: Currently, most Salmonella testing is to monitor the presence or absence of Salmonella, which limits processors from understanding the true risk within their processes. By quantifying Salmonella using SalQuant, not only can producers understand Salmonella levels at each step of processing, they can also estimate risk and identify which interventions reduce bioburden most significantly, saving time and money. For example, the data gathered from SalQuant can help poultry producers determine the level of chemical interventions required to reduce and control Salmonella throughout their process. SalQuant is a tool that can enable the reduction of chemicals in poultry processing, and ultimately reduce costs for producers.
PFW: What sort of quantitative data and speed of results is generated by SalQuant that make it a better choice for Salmonella detection compared to traditional options?
Chablain: The SalQuant calculators generate a quantitative result in the form of log CFU per sample, or per g or mL. Because SalQuant is an application of a real-time PCR assay, the SalQuant method is a considerably faster and more reliable tool than traditional methods like Most Probable Number (MPN), which is a very time and labor-intensive method. For example, the poultry industry can make data-driven decisions in just eight to 12 hours with SalQuant, compared to 3 or 4 days with MPN. With SalQuant, processors can quantify Salmonella to improve and verify sanitation and antimicrobial intervention processes, and meet more stringent regulatory and quality standards while protecting consumers by knowing the risk a positive sample could pose.
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PFW: How does a company implement SalQuant into their operation? What equipment and room type are needed for SalQuant to be effective?
Chablain: The company would ultimately need to be equipped and trained to perform PCR in a BSL2 laboratory. The company would need a BAX System Q7 instrument, the Real-Time PCR Assay for Salmonella kits, an incubator, and the associated media and consumables to run PCR. The quantitative results are calculated in SureTrend, which is a food safety and quality data analytics software that simplifies data management, compliance, and collaboration while providing insights to make informed food safety and quality management decisions.
PFW: How many operators are needed to use SalQuant in a processing facility, and how extensive is the training?
Chablain: Only one person is needed to execute the protocols for SalQuant. It’s ideal if that person has experience with microbiology or PCR. However, it’s very simple to run the BAX System Real-Time Assay for Salmonella on the BAX Q7. Also, Hygiena installs the instrument and trains the technicians on the workflow. Hygiena developed SalQuant to be simple and user-friendly.
PFW: What sort of maintenance is involved in keeping SalQuant operating in peak performance?
Chablain: Only the standard maintenance that is recommended for the BAX System Q7 and the associated equipment, like automated heat blocks, are needed to run the PCR protocols successfully. The frequency for calibration and maintenance needed for the BAX System Q7 instrument is heavily dependent on the rate of use.
PFW: Approximately how many SalQuant systems are in use right now in the United States?
Chablain: The top protein companies in the United States utilize BAX System SalQuant to monitor their production processes based on quantified Salmonella data. The use of SalQuant also extends to matrices relevant to the beef and pork industries, helping them understand the levels of contamination present during processing. It is a tool that is used across the globe with our food safety customers.
PFW: How do you see SalQuant evolving further, and what new features might be added in coming years?
Chablain: We explored whether we need to develop calculators for other matrices that are relevant to our customers. We’ve applied the same quantification approach to other pathogens of interest, and we offer a quantitative method for our BAX assays for Listeria, Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, and Vibrio. Given our commitment to helping customers solve their biggest food safety challenges and reduce risk to human health, we are exploring solutions for the food industry as they being to consider serotyping and virulence factors as part of their food safety testing programs.