Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture. We advance Australia’s $16 billion horticulture industry by investing in research and development, marketing and trade to build a prosperous and sustainable future for growers. We also partner with Australian and international co-investors including government, leading science, technology, and consumer strategy experts to anticipate future challenges and opportunities.
Our role is to capture value from the investments we make to benefit all levy payers.
Every year, millions of people worldwide are affected by gastrointestinal illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites, transmitted via contaminated food or water. The most frequent causes of foodborne disease include bacterial pathogens such as Campylobacter and Salmonella species and viruses such as Norovirus and Hepatitis A. Between 2012 and 2021 the second most common food type associated with Australian food recalls due to microbial contamination was fruit, vegetables and herbs (41 recalls; 20%).
The three foodborne pathogens of most common concern to the Australian horticulture industry are:
- Shiga-toxin producing serovars of Escherichia coli;
- Pathogenic serovars of Salmonella enterica; and
- Listeria monocytogenes
One of the key issues facing the fresh produce industry is the time, expertise and cost of testing for pathogenic microorganisms or indicator organisms in order to make sure that produce is safe for the consumer. Conventional methods of pathogen detection are typically slow, laborious, and not precise to the species or subspecies level, involving culturing of bacteria or relatively difficult and expensive culture-independent procedures such as various types of gene amplification.
Given the drawbacks to conventional testing methods outlined above, there is a pressing need for rapid, accurate, sensitive, and cost-effective diagnostic testing methods and devices. Ideally, it will be possible for testing to be performed on-site by staff using inexpensive, simple and robust point-of-care (POC) devices, requiring only a minimal level of training to ensure reliable results. These types of devices and techniques are often grouped as “Rapid Diagnostic Methods” (RDMs).
Hort Innovation are looking to co-invest in a project that will involve development of rapid diagnostic testing methods in the lab, developing these into prototypes, to be field tested in “real world” settings and eventually commercialised in a way that is useful and wanted by various segments of the Australian Horticulture industry. It is crucial that funding includes resources for industry engagement throughout the process.
Hort Innovation is seeking diagnostic providers and co-investors to partner in the development of rapid, accurate, sensitive and cost effective diagnostic testing methods for Shiga-toxin producing serovars of Escherichia coli, Pathogenic serovars of Salmonella enterica; and Listeria monocytogenes environmental sampling.
The primary purpose of rapid testing should not be to simply assure the microbiological safety of specific lots or batches of produce, but that instead, it should be viewed and applied as a tool to verify the efficacy of hygiene systems and pathogen control processes in place in a produce processing and supply chain. Returning quick information on pathogen levels by the use of RDMs could provide rapid feedback on program performance.
Rapid methods will not replace standard culture-based testing in the immediate future. However, there is support for use of rapid diagnostic testing as part of a two-stage testing approach, in conjunction with current reference (or ‘gold standard’) testing methods for bacterial pathogens. In this approach, rapid methods would be applied as a first stage screening on-site, then any sampled items returning positive results would be sent for second stage testing using standard culture methods. This approach is also entirely compatible with using rapid testing primarily as a means of verifying pathogen control processes.
What's in it for you?
If successful, this will provide an opportunity for a collaborative partnership with co-investment, to link the Australian horticulture industry, the R&D and diagnostic companies.
There may also be opportunity to collaborate with fellow agriculture industries such as egg, chicken meat, meat and dairy.