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Developments to Watch
THE ROYAL FOOD TASTER OF THE '90s?
Testing food for contamination often requires skilled lab technicians and can take from two to five days. Researchers at Hitachi Electric Engineering in Tokyo think they have a better solution. Building on studies at Japan's Institute for Physical & Chemical Research, the company has developed a system that tests food or drug samples for bacteria.
The system illuminates a sample with a xenon flash lamp and, using optical integrated circuits, converts the reflected fluorescence from the bacteria to electrical signals. A personal computer then contrasts the signals against a data base to reveal how many live bacteria are present in the sample.
The biggest selling point is speed. The entire analysis, from the initial bacterial culture to the final computer readout, takes just over eight hours. Since it's all automatic, the system will save thousands of dollars in labor costs, the biggest expense in today's approaches. Hitachi expects to have a product on the market within 12 months.EDITED BY FLEUR TEMPLETON