Food safety is a public concern and a priority for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Cumulative efforts by the sensing technology team of Dr. Moon Kim, Alan Lefcourt, and Dr. Kevin Chao in the ARS Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Laboratory have resulted in the licensing of inexpensive handheld imaging devices that will make food consumed by the public more wholesome and safer to eat.
Cleanliness is the fundamental basis of most efforts targeted at reducing the risk of foodborne illness. The most common method used to verify the effectiveness of cleaning procedures is human vision. More sensitive chemical/biological verification methods are not used routinely due to cost and their inability to test large surface areas. Sanitation inspection based on visual examination or spot checks by human inspectors is a process that can limit productivity and is prone to human error.
Inexpensive fluorescence-based handheld imaging devices with Wi-Fi capabilities to display live inspection images on smartphones or remote computers were developed to provide human inspectors with an assistive tool when performing visual sanitation inspections.The body of the device includes structures for detecting fluorescence responses from any contaminants, if present; processors for recording detection of the contaminant presence; and processors for displaying and routing images and detection results to the user/inspector using a hardwired video device, or using Wi-Fi and a smart phone or tablet.
In-plant testing demonstrated that the productivity and efficacies of sanitation procedures could be greatly improved. The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act mandated Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs across all industry segments (in addition to programs already required for juice and meat products). The devices and methods provide inexpensive scientific tools to help industries comply with the regulations for HACCP sanitation procedures with improved efficacy.
The most common method used to verify the effectiveness of cleaning procedures is human vision.
A U.S. patent for the device and method was issued in 2012 and transferred to AHPharma, Inc. under an exclusive licensing agreement in 2013. Licensing the technology required identifying the appropriate company with which to establish a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), and then helping the CRADA partner (AHPharma, Inc.) understand and develop the technologies.
The team helped AHPharma, Inc. with commercial equipment design, including identification of appropriate vendors for critical system components, design of hardware, establishment of critical operational parameters such as appropriate wavelengths for particular applications, and identification of possible supporting industry partners. Because of these efforts, AHPharma, Inc. was able to enter into a licensing agreement with the USDA, which resulted in approximately 50 preproduction units sold to various food processors in 2015.