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An incredibly more edible egg, thanks to Penn Vet school

The egg comes first in the conversation about food safety. Both poultry and egg production are on the rise in the US. According to the USDA's most recent Census of Agriculture, sales have increased 55 percent in the last decade. But it's egg safety that's in the news. On the heels of a massive egg recall last summer, University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed a new test to detect the presence of Salmonella in eggs.

Shelley Rankin, an Associate Professor of Microbiology at Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, says the kit, which detects Salmonella enteritidis, or SE, a strain of Salmonella specific to eggs, provides results in just 27 hours. Rankin explains that the Food and Drug Administration's new Federal Egg Safety Program, instituted in July of last year, was based in part on the Pennsylvania Egg Quality Assurance Program (PEQAP), which was developed by Rankin and colleagues. "I wanted Pennsylvania to be the first state to get a novel, non-culture based test approved by the FDA for our producers to use," says Rankin.

Previous FDA guidelines required some expensive and laborious methods, taking up to ten days to see results. "At that point my colleagues and I within the PEQAP decided we should look for a better method," according to Rankin, whose team was able to identify a gene that is present only in SE. Working in collaboration with California based company Life Technologies, which already sells kits for detection of more than 2500 strains of Salmonella, the new kit focuses a laser, literally, on potential SE contamination. Polymerase Chain Reaction technology amplifies a small segment of the gene which lights up and is detectable via laser. If the light goes on, says Rankin, then SE is present. The Applied Biosystems TaqMan Salmonella enteritidis Detection Kit is FDA approved and contains 96 single-use tests.

"I chose to work with an industry partner to make that test available nationwide to improve the public health of the nation," adds Rankin. Plans are underway, says Rankin, to further reduce testing time from 27 to 12 hours.

Source: Shelley Rankin, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
Writer: Sue Spolan
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