New tests use light to detect possible Mad Cow

A better test to protect people from Mad Cow Disease may be close to reality. Recent e-coli bacteria scares and recalls involving Omaha meatpackers did no favors for the beef industry in Nebraska, which is worth five-billion dollars a year.
U-S-D-A researchers are studying ways to make sure central nervous system tissue from cattle stays out of finished beef products, since that’s how Mad Cow gets transferred. Researcher Jacob Petrich says they’ve discovered that brain and spinal cord tissue shows up in a distinctive way when you shine light on meat.
“One day when we were performing these tests, we realized that the spinal cord glowed,” Petrich explained. “Based upon that discovery, we tried to determine whether or not we could determine central nervous system tissue in meat products.” The test could be a big advance over current methods, which involve grinding up meat and analyzing it in a test tube.
Petrich says the process could be very simple, using the newly found technology. He says the new method would simply allow scientists to look for a certain color of light to come back off the package, indicating if there’s brain or spinal cord in the meat. Petrich says they hope the method can even be used to detect Mad Cow Disease in live cattle, for which there is no rapid, widespread test.
“Every substance has a particular fingerprint or signature for how it fluoresces and neural tissue has a special fingerprint…we’re basically exploiting that fingerprint,” Petrich said. Experts say older methods of detecting central nervous system tissue are cumbersome and time-consuming, while the new method may work on both carcasses and on individual meat products such as hamburger patties in the supermarket.
The research was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.