The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the finalists in the agency’s first Food Safety Challenge, an effort to better protect the food supply by fostering innovation in technologies that will more quickly detect pathogens in produce. Announced in September 2014, the FDA received 49 submissions in total. The five finalists whose proposals will enter the next phase of the Food Safety Challenge are teams of researchers from:
• Auburn University (Auburn, Ala.): A method that combines magnetoelastic biosensors and a surface-scanning detector used directly on food surfaces.
• Pronucleotein Inc. (San Antonio, Texas): DNA aptamer-magnetic bead sandwich assays used to detect foodborne pathogens with a handheld fluorescence reader.
• Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.): Physical method for concentrating Salmonellato detectable levels using automated microfiltration.• University of California (Davis, Calif.), Bart Weimer, and Mars Inc.: A method that captures and concentrates Salmonella from large, complex samples using antibodies and host receptors for detection with solid phase ELISA, DNA and RNA.
• University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign, Ill.) and Purdue University: A portable system for multiplexed detection of foodborne pathogens in microfluidic biochips through isothermal DNA amplification and electrical detection.
Each team has developed new technologies for detecting food pathogens that could be game changers in the ongoing fight against foodborne illness. They will each receive $20,000 and advance to the next stage in the challenge. The winner or winners (there can be more than one) will share the remainder of the $500,000 total prize.
The next stage of the challenge is the Field Accelerator phase. With the guidance from FDA food safety and pathogen-testing experts, the finalists will refine their submissions, clarify their concepts, maximize their impact on food safety, check that they are in line with FDA’s needs and capabilities, and ensure that the proposed ideas can be reasonably executed.
The finalists participated in a “boot camp” with FDA experts on May 13 to help strengthen their concepts and applicability to the FDA’s testing process. “Demo Day” will be held on July 7 in College Park, Md., where the finalists will present their improved proposals to the judges and a live audience.