Micro Identification Technologies Inc., a company in the process of revolutionizing the pathogenic bacteria identification process, has a technology which is capable of saving thousands of lives. In just one area of application, the prevention of food-borne illness, MIT’s unique laser based system designed for quick and easy identification of a wide variety of deadly bacteria could have a huge impact on the billions of dollars and thousands of human lives lost annually.

It comes as a shock when people first learn about the numbers behind food-borne disease, and the risks involved in our increasingly global food supply system. Living in a highly industrialized nation like the U.S., it’s easy to become complacent and assume that the food we pick off our store shelves to serve to our families is thoroughly screened and safe to eat. The truth of the matter is less comforting. There are, in fact, growing gaps in our food safety system, weaknesses that are aggravated by the fact that food now enters our country from every corner of the world, sources over which we have little or no control.

The problem is that, in spite of the vast increase in the size of world food distribution, the methods used for food safety testing have changed little in the past 100 years. What are those methods? In your average food processing operation, only a relative handful of samples are taken in the course of a given day. These samples must then be manually shipped off to a laboratory, where bits of the samples are tested for bacteria by the culturing method, a procedure that can take days. By the time a trained microbiologist evaluates the culture and sends back the final results, a week may have passed, and the original food lots sampled may already be on store shelves or even in consumer homes. That’s the reason you so often hear about panic recalls of different foods, a desperate attempt to get back food that’s already been sold as safe.

The net result of this inadequate quality control system is summarized in a sobering 1999 paper authored by members of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. In it, they put the annual number of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. alone at 76 million, with 325,000 being serious enough to require hospitalization. Of those, roughly 5,000 people die each year. On the financial end, the annual cost for all this is estimated to be $152 billion, again in the U.S. alone.

Fortunately, Micro Identification Technologies has the answer to one of the major aspects of this growing problem, the slow identification process, where food is already out the door before a risk is even identified. The company has developed a proprietary process allowing the quick identification of various species of pathogenic bacteria through the innovative use of laser light. The light requires a very small sample, reducing culturing time and allowing testing to be done more easily on site. In addition, results do not require a microbiologist to read. As if that weren’t enough, the cost of the entire process is significantly reduced. Furthermore, it’s not limited to food processing, but can be applied to a range of hospital and industrial environments.

It’s for this reason that Micro Identification Technologies is being recognized as a company with a potentially huge role to play in the lives of so many people, both in the U.S. and around the world.

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