The water supply and food industries rely largely on the use of indicator organisms for determining the safety and hygienic quality of their products. All methods for the examination of water and beverages are retrospective: the product tested has already been supplied to the customer or is already in bottles. Outbreaks in food and drinking products contaminated by pathogenic bacteria and recent trends in food safety show that there is a clear need for a fast, simple, robust and flexible system for the detection of microbial contamination of water.
The main objective of the project is to demonstrate that a sensitive and fast micro-organism enumeration at-line or in-laboratory system is more reliable and efficient than current reference methods, providing an alternative method for enhanced process control and strategic decision making in the water industry. The secondary objective is to prepare regulatory acceptance of the instrumentation and methods after completion of the project.
The demonstration and validation of the rapid detection system relies first on its ability to provide "Early Warning" of high levels of indicator bacteria, within 3 hours, and "Presence/absence" determinations of low levels within 16 hours. Examples of typical indicator organisms for the water industry include the coliform group, and for the bottled water and swimming pool industries, P. auruginosa. The low-level specificity should be no less than 80% of the reference method, and the time-to-result should be 50% of comparable reference methods. The at-line monitor should be especially robust and operate in industrial conditions, with automatic sampling and reporting to remote operators continuously. Large field trials will be performed at three end-user locations. The final field data should be compiled as a pre-normative application to an internationally recognised organ, e.g. CEN/ISO.