The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly one in six (or 48 million) people in the United States get sick from eating contaminated food per year. More than 250 pathogens and toxins have been known to cause foodborne illness. Nearly all of them can cause an outbreak. Many foodborne illnesses are caused by norovirus, Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter and Listeria.

Molecular methods for food pathogen detection continue to improve, as more emerging pathogens are being described around the world in molecular terms. 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.

These are just some of the advantages afforded to SGS, a leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, by virtue of the company’s partnership with Bio-Rad Laboratories.

With more than 80,000 employees, SGS operates a network of more than 1,650 offices and laboratories around the world. The company’s AFL business unit (Agriculture, Food and Life) has been involved in the testing of food and non-food samples for many years.

As agricultural goods progress from field to fork, they require attention, tracking and integrity. SGS is able to offer an end-to-end supply chain range of services that reduces risk, ensures quality and improves productivity, maintaining the integrity of the food chain by managing crops, enhancing seed development, conducting soil testing and harvesting, moving products through the global supply chain and managing trade inspection at export and import.

More than 10 years ago, SGS (Netherlands) was searching for a partner that could supply real-time PCR methods for Salmonella spp. and Listeria monocytogenes [and STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli)]. The company contacted Bio-Rad, which was able to supply these methods. At that time, SGS only used the iQ-Check® real-time PCR kits and the required broths from Bio-Rad. Since that time, the relationship with Bio-Rad has blossomed. A couple of years ago, SGS decided to extend the iQ-Check methods with the iQ-Check Prep automation system.

The number of supplies Bio-Rad now provides to SGS has been extended with culture media (such as RAPID’L.mono chromogenic agar), reagents and diagnostic kits over the past several years.

The iQ-Check Prep System is a robotic liquid handling platform that allows the performance of DNA extraction and PCR plate set-up. Designed for use with the full range of iQ-Check Food Pathogen Detection Kits and the CFX96 Touch™ Deep Well Real-Time PCR System, it provides a completely integrated automated solution for food pathogen testing. The iQ-Check Prep Solution provides increased confidence in results, high reproducibility and robustness to routine testing labs. It fits seamlessly in laboratory workflow without disrupting it and is an ideal solution for medium- to high-throughput testing laboratories.

After using the iQ-Check Prep for a couple of years now, SGS has been able to reduce the hands-on time and number of inhibited samples in its workflow. Because of this, the company has been able to handle more samples within a working day, giving their technicians the ability to reduce the total analysis time.

When asked about other advantages of the system for the company’s use, SGS states, “The time the iQ-Check Prep is busy doing the DNA extraction, our analysts are able to perform other tasks, such as judging results and performing other laboratory tasks. The reduction of inhibited samples has been reduced [over the previous method] from about 10 percent to approximately 1–2 percent, which translates into a reduction confirming the results using an extra PCR run or traditional methods. Because of this streamlined workflow, the time to results is shorter for these types of samples.”

The impact of this system’s adaptability on SGS’s process has been dramatic.

“Because of the iQ-Check Prep, we are able to perform more PCR runs within one day. Analysts are now used to [the process], and they use of the machine on a daily basis.”

Key benefits of the iQ-Check Prep Solution include the following:

•    Walk-away automation
    •    Fully automated DNA extraction and PCR set-up
    •    Fully automated detection and data analysis

•    Greater flexibility
    •    Run up to four different iQ-Check assays simultaneously
    •    Perform up to 500 tests in an 8-hour shift

•    Greater confidence and efficiency
    •    Real-time monitoring of each pipette step and liquid level
    •    Internationally validated protocols

•    Designed to make your work easier
    •    Ready-to-use, load and go reagents
    •    Robustness and simplicity for limited maintenance

SGS summarizes the benefits to their business’s bottom line: “Because of the real-time PCR methods we are using, we have been able to stay well ahead of other competitors for the past several years. We hope this will be the same in the future as well.”

The iQ-Check solution helps guarantee the best microbial control of food products and was designed with companies like SGS in mind.