WGCIT’s Food Safety Cohort Takes Direct Approach By Tim Linden

S ince its inception, the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology has been a credible incubator for ideas in the agtech space with the goal of bringing news from forward-thinking entrepreneurs to WG members. On the food safety front, WGCIT seeks to be more strategic and intentional around the needs of Western Growers members.

“The idea is to identify companies that are useful to our members and invite them to develop products that focus on improving the food safety tool kit,” said WGCIT Executive Director Dennis Donohue. Donohue said those initial discussions led to a general framework of what is needed and how to prioritize those needs. What emerged from the discussions was the decision to emphasize “rapid diagnostic solutions.” Toward this goal, WGCIT, in conjunction with the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) and the Yuma Center for Excellence in Desert Agriculture (YCEDA), launched the Food Safety Cohort in February of 2022. The cohort consists of a global group of eight innovative companies specializing in prevention technologies and rapid diagnostics that have received exclusive resources to help them launch and scale their projects. “Rapid diagnostics that help our members get information about food safety problems sooner rather than later would be of great help,” Donohue said. For a successful rapid diagnostic solution to be developed, he said work must be done on both the development of a test and improved sampling procedures. For the past eight months there has been a lot of discussion around the topic concerning what’s available and what needs to be developed. “Our goal is to bring tools to the market as quickly as possible,” Donohue reported. “We’ve identified the companies that fall into this sphere and now we are working with them to facilitate development. We see our role as helping to provide trials and accelerating the process where possible.” Donohue noted that the early report card on this proactive approach to develop specific products for a specific need is good. “We’ve done a good job developing

priorities and identifying companies that can make this happen. We want to acknowledge these companies and applaud their efforts. On their own dime, each of these companies has invested time and travel in the project.” The WGCIT executive said the concept of identifying the need and proactively finding companies to work on it has proven successful. The more difficult task is getting that product to the field, but there has been progress in just the past eight months. Currently, it takes at least 24 hours for a testing lab to deliver the results of a general pathogen test on a 375 gram sample of produce (13.2 oz.). Javier Atencia, CEO and Founder of Pathotrak, told WG&S that his firm expects to launch a pilot project before the end of the year, which expects to deliver verified results within five to six hours. He said Pathotrak has developed

the first product to deliver pathogen detection for leafy greens in this quick of a time frame and the technology has been certified by the AOAC as being equivalent to the Food and Drug Administration’s standard method. Atencia said that any company can claim they can deliver rapid diagnostic results but unless their testing method is accredited by AOAC, no lab will use it. “We developed the technology for romaine and leafy greens, and we have now created a commercial version,” he said. “The AOAC accreditation validates our method.” The Pathotrak method basically uses a booster to speed up the 22-hour incubation period needed to allow the bacteria in a sample to increase to detectable levels. Pathotrak’s technology can reduce that incubation period to 5.5 hours currently, and Attencia believes that over time they might be able to shorten that a bit more.

NOVEMBER | DECEMBER 2022 Pathotrak’s Next Generation Enrichment Pod (NGE Pod)


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