Each year, thousands of people in the United States get sick and dozens die from eating undercooked meat tainted with E. coli bacteria. A quick, inexpensive test in development at Texas A&M University could help ensure safe meat products. Today’s methods of bacteria detection sample only portions of raw meat, says food scientist Douglas R. Miller. He and colleague Jimmy T. Keeton have what they think is a better idea: Detect the germs indirectly by measuring the levels of specific meat proteins after cooking. If meat has been cooked at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria, these proteins should denature, losing their structure and function. Testing for denatured proteins requires only a drop of meat juice on a test strip. Within minutes, a color change shows the “safety” of the meat. Morningstar Diagnostics, a Roseville, Calif., maker of diagnostic tests, plans to license the technology.
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