Beyond the Pitch

ProteoSense Moves to Next Stage in Preventing Foodborne Illnesses

Proteosense

It’s exciting when a startup company brings a technology to market that can have a hand in saving people’s lives.

That’s the kind of capability that ProteoSense is developing for the food industry. RapidScan™, the company’s patent-pending handheld testing system, detects food- and waterborne pathogens on-demand, producing results faster than any other testing device.

Identifying food hazards in 90 minutes or less rather than reacting after people have become ill

An estimated 600 million people, nearly 1 in 10, fall ill after eating contaminated food, and more than 400,000 die every year.

ProteoSense’s first market application will be testing environmental samples in food processing facilities for some troublesome bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens. In the U.S. alone, thousands of people become infected with Listeria every year; hundreds die.

“This is the species of Listeria that makes people sick and causes frequent recalls in food manufacturing, whether the company is producing dairy products like ice cream and yogurt, or ready to eat foods like cereals or bagged salads,” said Mark Byrne, ProteoSense president and CEO.

An estimated 85 to 95 percent of all Listeria cases are foodborne. The pathogen is especially dangerous to pregnant women and babies: pregnant women are ten times more likely than other people to get a Listeria infection, which they can then pass on to unborn babies. Listeria infection can cause serious illness and even death in newborns.

It’s easy for Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens to enter a production facility—on pallets, shoes, or just about anything else that comes from the outside in.

The only acceptable level of Listeria mono in a food production facility is zero. If Listeria mono is found in the food supply chain, that means costly food recalls, more testing, and potential illness and death.

As part of their preventative controls, food production facilities routinely test their perimeter, including floors, drains, doorknobs and equipment for the presence of Listeria mono. The current method is to swipe an area or piece of equipment with a sponge, and then send the sponge in a bag to a lab for testing. Three to four days later, the facility will get the results. Meanwhile, food is being packaged and shipped.

With ProteoSense’s RapidScan™ platform, samples can be gathered in the same manner quality control staff follow today. The difference is that the sponges don’t have to be sent away; they can be tested on the spot, with results in 90 minutes or less. No lab equipment is required, and the test results appear on the device display. RapidScan™ is self-contained.

With RapidScan™, food producers can efficiently and consistently test for pathogens with a platform that is so easy to use that training takes only a few minutes.

Test results are upload to a cloud-based system wirelessly, where it is available to a company’s quality assurance (QA) planning software. “This gives food manufacturers real-time information they can use immediately to improve processes, save money, and avoid recalls,” Byrne said.

ProteoSense Prepares for Customer Testing and In-production Validation

ProteoSense is in the final stages of preparing for a major validation study, to be held in the next few weeks, to test various concentrations of Listeria using real world samples obtained from food manufacturers.

“We want to test with different levels of contaminants with different levels of background dirt—a wide range of really gnarly samples with all the grime and grit,” Byrne said.

The lab tests will be followed by beta testing in several customer facilities during the second half of the year. The plan is to come to market with test assays testing for several food and waterborne pathogens, with Listeria mono being the first.

ProteoSense’s first customers will be people who are already conducting testing in production facilities. “These are people are not satisfied with the time it takes to get results,” Byrne said. “We can plug right into their existing process, so they don’t have to change their behavior.”

Byrne said that ProteoSense has grown more focused through talking directly with customers and gaining a deeper understanding of those customers’ immediate needs.

“There is never a bad conversation with a customer,” he said. “We always learn something. We look forward to putting our prototype into several customer facilities.

ProteoSense is currently recruiting and selecting locations for these beta opportunities. Please contact Mark Byrne for more information.

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