Fraunhofer and Döhler looking at microfluidics for beverage safety

Work is focussed on alcoholic drinks as a model of a complex matrix but the aim is for it to be used for all beverages. ©iStock/monticello

Fraunhofer and Döhler are working together to develop a microbiological detection method based on microfluidics.

Döhler said quick microbiological validation and approval of items from food and beverage production has an effect on profitability of the manufacturer.

The goal is to be able to monitor the microbiological quality of beverages ‘online’ in the future – during the production process.

A project with Fraunhofer ICT-IMM will examine how microfluidics can support manufacturers to detect beverage-spoiling microorganisms in hours instead of current turnaround time of several days.

Applying microfluidics to beverages

Döhler told us work began in November 2016 and is organized into several phases requiring ‘detailed’ investigation and development with an end date not yet defined.  

The firm has a portfolio for detecting microorganisms in beverages under its DMD (Döhler Microsafety Design) brand.

It is the first time Döhler has cooperated with the Fraunhofer ICT-IMM but it has previously worked with other Fraunhofer institutes.

Fraunhofer ICT-IMM has demonstrated automated detection of tumour cells from blood using microfluidics.

Microfluidics is using small miniaturized cartridge/chip based systems which allow the integration of several steps in one device.

It is used in analytics, diagnostics, biotechnology and medical technology with separation and analysis of ingredients in liquids being one of the fundamental principles.

“In beverage safety, you can use such an approach to capture microorganisms, separate them from other materials in the beverage and count the number of captured microorganisms,” said Dr Sabine Müller, head of product management and sales DMD microbial detection solutions at Döhler.

“The idea is to do that directly from the beverage rather than having to take time-consuming, cumbersome beverage culture samples beforehand.

“To date, this method has not been applied to microbiological examinations in the beverage industry.

“In principle, if such direct testing is possible, we could envision online process testing during the production. A miniaturization of the detection process is, therefore, crucial.”

It is unclear if it could be used across the entire beverage sector but Döhler said it is currently being applied to alcoholic drinks as a model of a more complex matrix with the aim that the process will be used for all kind of beverages.

Comparison to current industry standards

Dr Müller said there are quite a few cases of official recalls due to microbial spoilage.

“Some of them are not made public but will certainly have an economic impact on the company producing the beverage,” she said.

“Microorganism/quality issues are due to spoilage organisms like, for example, lactobacilli in beer, alicyclobacilli in juice or yeasts in soft drinks, especially the non-carbonated ones.

“PCR still needs a timely pre-enrichment. Even today with PCR or real-time PCR you need two to three days enrichment to get enough genetic material for the detection.

“Reliable PCR from a single cell is not possible. Therefore, enrichment is still necessary to produce at least 10-100 cells for PCR detection.”

Döhler said the goal is to have an automated tool for the customer which can be widely applied.

But the firm added it knows some ‘ground-breaking developments’ are needed first so can’t predict the full outcome of the project.

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