The food industry operates on an immense global scale. With such a scope come unique and often problematic challenges, especially with regard to analyses of the diverse matrices of the food products produced. How does one prepare a sample for microbiological analyses, for example, which can be screened for the presence of different microbiological species? Is there a one-size-fits-all solution available? Additionally, tracking sources of foodborne illness relies on continuous improvements in molecular methods for rapid pathogen detection. Furthermore, the use of real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods has the benefits of automation, high sensitivity, high precision and accuracy and the flexibility to assay for more than one pathogen simultaneously.

As vice president of operations for Northland Laboratories, Kami Fusco was looking for just this type of flexibility and the ability for a solution to work well in a variety of product samples. Northland Laboratories has been in the food and beverage analysis industry since 1993. The company’s operations today include locations in Northbrook, IL, and Green Bay, WI, with customers all over the United States. Northland Laboratories offer a full range of services, including microbiology, chemistry, nutritional labeling and sensory analysis; the company is ISO/IEC 17025 accredited and is an active member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the Institute for Food Safety and Health, among others.

When asked why Northland chose Bio-Rad’s system, Kami notes the following reasons:

•    Accuracy and precision in a wide array of food sample matrices. Our internal validations proved the iQ-Check™ assays worked well on virtually all of our clients’ samples.

•    Ease of use. Single enrichment with clear, simple processing steps and the ability to run multiple targets in a single run make for an efficient work flow.  

•    Bio-Rad’s responsiveness. In response to any questions we had during the trial time (and since), Bio-Rad’s technical team has quickly provided answers that work.

•    The iQ-Check Prep automation system improved our traceability and with our growing sample volume, increased the efficiency of the lab.

The iQ-Check System
The different assays that Fusco refers to are Bio-Rad’s iQ-Check kits, which are optimized for fast, qualitative detection of major pathogens in food and environmental samples. The kits utilize real-time PCR as the analysis platform. Two instrument platforms are available to meet every user’s needs. A 96-well instrument is suitable for high-throughput analysis, with the ability to run four instruments from a single computer at the same time. For lower-volume users, the 48-well MiniOpticon real-time PCR system is available. Additionally, Bio-Rad offers enrichment media, real-time PCR detection systems, chromogenic media for confirmation and software for automated analysis. The specific iQ-Check kits available include the following:

•    iQ-Check Cronobacter spp. Kit  

•    iQ-Check Campylobacter Kit  

•    iQ-Check Escherichia coli O157:H7 Kit  

•    iQ-Check Listeria spp. Kit  

•    iQ-Check Listeria monocytogenes II Kit

•    iQ-Check Salmonella II Kit  

•    iQ-Check Salmonella Enteritidis Kit

•    iQ-Check STEC Kits 

Bio-Rad’s assays allowed Northland Laboratories to arrange a work schedule to get results into their clients’ hands faster with the confidence the company requires.

“The iQ-Check Prep automation system further maximizes our labor dollars while reducing risk of ergonomic repetitive motion injury to our technicians. They literally load the Prep system and go perform other laboratory tasks until processing is complete. Then, all they have to do is transfer the sample plate to the PCR cycler.”

As a powerful alternative to reference methods, iQ-Check kits allow rapid, qualitative detection of major pathogens in food and environmental samples. They are optimized for real-time PCR with Bio-Rad detection systems.

Wishing for greater system adaptability and throughput to their process, Kami notes that Bio-Rad’s system has benefitted the company tremendously.

“The Prep system has improved our scalability, that is, it has helped us to better accommodate the unpredictability of this business. For instance, when one or more clients send an unexpected high volume of samples for pathogen testing, we’re better prepared to manage that.”

To achieve the company’s mission to be the premier testing laboratory in the country, with the most competitive testing experience in the areas of quality, turnaround time, customer service and trust, at a reasonable cost, Northland has continued to depend on Bio-Rad’s system to help it meet its laboratory testing demands.

“Our mission will increase customer loyalty, attract new customers to do business with us, allow us to reinvest in our company in terms of technology and people, allow our business to thrive and  our associates to have fun.” For a premier laboratory using high-quality reagents, these goals are always achievable.