McMaster and Toyota Tsusho Canada collaborate to move pathogen-detecting food wrap from lab to market

2 researchers holding up a piece of sentinel wrap in tweezers and looking at it.

Toyota Tsusho Canada, Inc will team up with McMaster engineers and biochemists to move a promising new food-safety technology from the lab to the marketplace. The patch was created in 2018 by Tohid Didar, at right, Hanie Yousefi, left, along with biochemist Yingfu Li and engineer Carlos Felipe.

Toyota Tsusho Canada, Inc. (TTCI) will team up with McMaster engineers and biochemists to move a promising new food-safety technology from the lab to the marketplace.

TTCI will contribute up to US$300,000 over two years to commercialize a bacteria-detecting patch that can signal when food has been spoiled by E. coli or other common food pathogens.

The patch, created in 2018 by a McMaster team led by engineers Tohid Didar, Carlos Filipe and Hanie Yousefi and biochemist Yingfu Li, would be incorporated into food wrap and other packaging, with the potential to replace the estimated “best before” date with a more definitive signal that food has spoiled.

TTCI’s monetary contribution will fund continuing work to adapt the innovation to target multiple food-borne pathogens, including  E. coli O157, which is responsible for numerous and sometimes deadly outbreaks around the world. The goal is to have a working prototype within two years.

The primary biochemical challenge, Li says, will be to adapt the highly sensitive and specific molecular probes designed for detecting model bacteria in the initial experiments to detect the presence of small concentrations of specific target bacterial pathogens such as E. coli O157.

“Bacteria are everywhere. Many are innocuous but a few are deadly. We need to develop a probe that can clearly signal when specific deadly pathogens are present. It is very challenging, but as a scientist, I really want to get this into the market where it can help save people from getting sick,” says Li, a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences and a member of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

The main engineering challenge will be in incorporating those probes into durable plastic patches that can detect and signal pathogens effectively and easily be incorporated into packaging materials, Didar says.

“For the past two years, we have worked to create a multidisciplinary team of engineers, biochemists and industry partners for this project. It’s exciting to have the chance to start moving this work from the lab to the marketplace,” says Didar, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering specializing in biomedical devices.

“We are eager to see how this technology can be applied to improve the safety of the food chain,” says Hidetoshi Tada, President of TTCI. “We were intrigued by the initial findings, and we are proud to have the opportunity to help bring this research into public use.”

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