The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces the winners of the 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge, a prize competition to advance breakthrough ideas on how to find disease-causing organisms in food – especially Salmonella in fresh produce. The grand prize winner and runner-up winner will receive $300,000 and $100,000 in prize money, respectively.
The winners are:
• Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) for “Physical method for concentrating Salmonella to detectable levels using automated microfiltration” as the Challenge grand prize winner. This innovation uses miniscule filters to capture small numbers of foodborne pathogens in large volumes of liquid suspensions.
• Pronucleotein Inc. (San Antonio, Texas) for “DNA aptamer-magnetic bead sandwich assays used to detect foodborne pathogens with a handheld fluorescence reader” as the runner-up winner. This innovation uses small strands of DNA bound to magnets to capture foodborne pathogens, which are then tagged with pigments that can light up and be detected.
The Challenge was developed through the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The Act grants all federal agencies broad authority to conduct prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their core missions. The Challenge sought revolutionary improvements in the speed of the FDA’s detection methods for Salmonella, using cutting-edge techniques.
“We are truly impressed by the number and quality of submissions we received as part of the FDA 2014 Food Safety Challenge, and we are excited to announce the winners who demonstrated the most promising ideas for fighting foodborne illness throughout the course of the Challenge,” says Palmer Orlandi, PhD, the FDA’s acting chief science officer and research director in the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine. “These breakthrough concepts for detecting foodborne pathogens in fresh produce and other foods will help ensure quicker detection of problems in our food supply and help to prevent foodborne illnesses.”
After an open call for submissions in September 2014 when the Challenge launched, five finalist teams, including Purdue University and Pronucleotein, Inc., were awarded $20,000 each. The finalist teams presented their concepts to a panel of judges, who are experts in food safety and pathogen detection, on July 7, 2015.
The FDA intends to continue working with the innovators to refine their technologies for potential use in FDA testing processes. While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans is sickened by foodborne illness annually, resulting in about 3,000 deaths, according to the CDC. Salmonella is the leading cause of deaths and of hospitalizations related to foodborne illness, estimated to cause 380 deaths and 19,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year. These innovative concepts coupled with the FDA’s current testing procedures and capabilities could transform food testing and reduce the overall negative economic impact foodborne illnesses have in the United States.