Microbiological testing determines if food is safe

By Beth Oltmanns

An NIU graduate and a former professor developed a new medium to speed up detection of a potentially deadly bacteria.

In the United States, an estimated 2,500 people become seriously ill and 500 die each year from listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been identified in outbreaks traced to unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, hot dogs and luncheon meat.

R & F Laboratories Inc., of West Chicago, where the new medium was developed, had its listeria growth medium that detects the bacteria accepted by the Food and Drug Administration about a month ago, said Lawrence Restaino, president of R & F Laboratories and a graduate of NIU.

The medium creates a single step for identifying the pathogen & the disease-causing agent & listeria monocytogenes, said Elon Frampton, a consultant to R & F Laboratories and also a former NIU professor.

Listeriosis exists in six species, two of which are pathogens, Frampton said. Listeria monocytogenes is the most common listeriosis pathogen.

The medium detects the production of a specific enzyme in the pathogens and they turn a blue color when detected, Frampton said.

“It isolates the pathogen more specifically than other media,” Restaino said.

The process to identify listeria monocytogenes is 30 to 40 percent faster with the use of R & F’s technology, Restaino said.

“Now you’re able to find more listeria monocytogenes where using the old method you might have missed it,” he said.

The process for acceptance by the FDA involved testing all available media to find the best one, Restaino said.

When the FDA determines the medium that produces the best results, the medium is published in the Bacteriological Analytical Manual, Restaino said. The manual contains FDA procedures for the best medium to use when testing for things such as listeriosis.

R & F Laboratories was founded in 1990 by Restaino and Frampton.

The laboratory does food microbiology testing and research to determine if the food is safe, Restaino said.

“We’re particularly interested in research to determine food pathogens,” Frampton said.

Restaino graduated from NIU in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree and in 1974 with a master’s degree, both in biological sciences. He received his doctorate from the University of Arizona.

Frampton, an emeritus professor at NIU, taught microbiology from 1969 to 1990.