Computer program helps detect deadly food-borne pathogens

Scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., created a computer program that can help food safety professionals keep production facilities free of potentially deadly food-borne pathogens, according to a study published in Nature Scientific Reports.

The computer model, Environmental Monitoring With an Agent-Based Model of listeria, EnABLe, has the potential to be modified for a variety of microbes and locations.

The model simulates the most likely locations in a processing facility where food-borne pathogen listeria monocytogenes may be found. Food safety managers can then test those areas for the bacteria's presence to prevent food contamination.

For the system to work, the researchers entered all relevant data into the model, such as historical perspectives, expert feedback, details of the equipment used and its cleaning schedule, the jobs people do and materials and people who enter the facility.

"A single person could never keep track of all that information, but if we run this model on a computer, we can have in one iteration a distribution of listeria across equipment after one week. And every time you run it, it will be different and collectively predict a range of possible outcomes," said senior author Renata Ivanek, PhD.

The researchers aim to use the system to find contamination from pathogens that cause hospital-acquired infections in veterinary hospitals or E. coli bacteria in fruit and vegetable processing plants.

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