How Startup Pathotrak is Accelerating Food Safety Testing

How Startup Pathotrak is Accelerating Food Safety Testing

Pathotrak can detect Salmonella and E. coli in romaine lettuce, which is one of the most common foods linked to foodborne illnesses.

Pathotrak, a Maryland-based startup that aims to increase the speed of food safety testing, reached a milestone with the certification of its test sample preparation process. Last month, the company received AOAC Performance Tested certification for its foodborne pathogen enrichment kits. So, how does Pathrotrak detect foodborne illnesses-causing pathogens?

Pathotrak’s technology enables food safety testing to occur in as little as six hours instead of 22 to 48 hours by reducing the amount of time labs must incubate food samples to test them for pathogens. In order to reach a critical mass of bacteria for testing, food samples must be incubated to allow bacteria to grow.

Pathotrak uses microfiltration to create an environment where pathogens can reproduce quickly, allowing for faster testing. After extraction, the samples are compatible with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests typically used in food testing. The process relies primarily on chemotaxis and three patent-pending solutions in microfiltration/elutriation and mechanical engineering, as well as chemistry and nano-filtration technology.

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“We’ve made history! This is the first AOAC-certified product to enable pathogen results within an 8-hour shift,” said Javier Atencia, CEO and founder of Pathotrak, in a press release. “What’s more, it fits into existing workflows. Microbiology labs can continue to use their current PCR technology and growers like it because it works with all of their historical data.”

The company earned AOAC Performance Tested certification for its ability to detect Salmonella and E. coli in romaine lettuce, which is one of the most common foods linked to foodborne illnesses. Pathotrak plans to add four additional leafy greens to that capacity in the future. 

Atencia initially developed the technology at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland before it was licensed to the company. Since its founding, Pathotrak was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its technology. It has also raised a total of $2.4 million in funding over five rounds, the latest of which took place in January 2022. 

According to Research and Markets, the global food safety testing market reached a value of $19.2 billion in 2021 and the market is expected to reach $33.4 billion by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.97 percent. Automation, versatility and the speed of analysis, along with stringent regulatory frameworks for food safety are encouraging food processors to adopt immunoassays (IAs) in food testing. 

Additionally, leading market players are introducing PCR kits, standard and chromogenic media and are focusing on developing methods that help minimize the time and cost of food testing while ensuring accurate results, like Pathotrak.

Following the AOAC success, Atencia hopes to add another certification for a patent-pending technology that is two hours faster than the current one, applies to most produce and can be additionally used for testing meat products. However, the current plan is to prioritize leafy greens, where many outbreaks lie. He hopes to eventually create a solution so compact that it can be carried around.