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    How bioluminescence helps verify a clean environment for food manufacturing


    Fireflies light up in a forest

    • Remember learning about bioluminescence in science class? It’s the chemical conversion of energy into light emission within a living organism – and fireflies are probably the best-known example. In fireflies, the light, or bioluminescence, is a result of a reaction that requires energy derived from Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. Bioluminescence has another use besides helping fireflies light up the sky – it can be used as an indicator of living organisms.

      ATP is the biological molecule in which fireflies and all living organisms including animals, plants, bacteria, yeast and mold store and use energy. And, because it is present in all living things, ATP can be used as a universal marker for the presence of microbiological contamination and organic matter.

    • Drawing of ATP molecule

      Testing shelf-stable foods

      3M scientists have tapped into this powerful marker. The 3M™ Clean-Trace™ Hygiene Monitoring and Management System utilizes ATP bioluminescence technology to detect microorganisms in ultra-high temperature pasteurization and extended shelf life processed products.

      The principle is the following: If microorganisms are still present after a heat process like ultra-high pasteurization, they will produce ATP as they start growing. So, ATP can be used as an indirect measurement of microbial contamination.

    • Apples move along a food processing manufacturing line

      Testing for contamination on surfaces

      ATP detection is also used to measure the effectiveness of cleaning by testing for ATP on surfaces. If ATP readings indicate the presence of microorganisms and organic matter, then that surface has not been sufficiently cleaned and should be recleaned before processing more foods.

      To measure ATP in the environment, individual samples are collected on a swab at several different test points throughout the facility. Collected swabs are analyzed utilizing ATP bioluminescence detection technology to rapidly determine the amount of ATP present in areas that have been cleaned. If ATP is detected, the test produces light as a result of the bioluminescent reaction.

      The amount of light is measured and is expressed in Relative Light Units (RLU). RLU numbers are directly proportional to the amount of ATP, and therefore the amount of microbiological contamination and organic residue on the sampled surface. The more light produced, the greater the potential contamination.

    • A technician swabs a stainless steel surface.

      “ATP is a highly efficient way to verify cleaning beyond a visual inspection,” says Taylor Lecy, a technical service analyst for 3M Food Safety. “It provides quantitative information quickly and easily to help verify that cleaning procedures are working.”

      ATP bioluminescence technology has emerged as a rapid method for detection of organic matter, which may include microorganisms, in food and food industry surfaces. It is simple, highly sensitive, cost effective and rapid, compared to conventional microbial detection methods, which may take days. It provides real-time results within minutes.

      Learn more about breakthroughs in science that help food processors.

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