Food Safety

Can NGS Be a Replacement for PCR?

Mahni Ghorashi January 16, 2019

This is an excerpt from a piece we wrote and published in Food Quality & Safety. You can read the full article here.

I don’t think that any of us would work in the food safety industry if we didn’t believe improvement was possible. Through my own work, I hope for a future where foodborne illness outbreaks are virtually eliminated and food recalls are a thing of the past. It’s a big dream. According to the CDC’s July 27, 2018 Surveillance Summaries, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, foodborne contaminants cause on average almost 9.4 million illnesses every year. And a recent CDC FoodNet report says that foodborne illness is on the rise, increasing 96 percent in 2017 compared with the 2014-2016 average.

Clearly, it’s a multi-faceted problem that needs an equally complex and complete solution. So how can a safer food ecosystem that takes into account both consumer and food industry needs be achieved? The answer may rest in tech that has been around for quite some time.

As the industry becomes complacent with current tools, safety systems are in need of new, intelligent innovation. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which has been a popular method for detecting pathogens and adulterations for decades, is thought to be no longer as useful in preventing foodborne illnesses.

In the over 30 years PCR has been on the market, it hasn’t done enough to improve its processes. Instead, the technology has stagnated, especially over the past 10 years. PCR hasn’t kept pace with automation, which in any other industry or tech implementation is now a given. In contrast, PCR still largely relies on hands-on labor. This is problematic for multiple reasons, as it increases the chance of errors in processing and generally creates inefficiencies in a food safety platform.

A promising technology that is thorough and fast enough to speak to these unique challenges of the food safety industry is next-generation sequencing (NGS). NGS looks at the very DNA of foods to discover their composition. It’s a methodology that has revolutionized both the study and application of genomics and molecular biology. Now it’s taking the food safety world by storm.

To read the entire post and learn more about the promising opportunities for replacing PCR, click here.