Mass spectrometry in food microbiology: identifying microbial isolates within minutes

Posted: 3 January 2019 | | No comments yet

Time is often the most critical factor in food microbiology laboratories, so the ability of MALDI-TOF MS to quickly and accurately confirm and identify microbes is invaluable in routine testing, as Erin Crowley explains.


The identification and confirmation of microorganisms is a task that spans several industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food. With accurate microbiology testing at their disposal, manufacturers are able to make quick decisions with regard to quality and safety; for example to detect possible food spoilage organisms or foodborne pathogens, or monitor environmental pathogens or technological microflora. Regulations are constantly becoming more stringent in the food industry, with pressure applied not only from regulatory bodies, but customers as well, demanding rigorous testing on food products.

A range of organisms, including bacteria, yeasts, moulds and parasites, can contaminate food. Common foodborne pathogens include Salmonella spp., Cronobacter spp., Campylobacter spp., and Listeria monocytogenes, which are capable of causing serious disease outbreaks through contaminated food if not detected fast enough. Process hygiene and food quality are each assessed by monitoring quality indicators, such as Escherichia coli, Listeria spp, yeasts and moulds. A wide variety of technologies are used to identify these microbes in food, from traditional culture-based methods and molecular detection using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays, to increasingly sophisticated analytical technology such as mass spectrometry (MS). The ability to identify microorganisms at the genus or species level enables a deeper level of screening, and researchers and test manufacturers are always searching for more advanced methods for faster tests with higher accuracy and sensitivity.

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