Olfaguard is an electronic nose for smelling pathogens in food factories

Sarah Buhr

A recent deadly outbreak of salmonella has so far sickened more than 200 people throughout the Eastern and Southern United States. The culprit? Madrol papayas coming from three different distribution companies, all originating from four close by farms in Mexico.

Now these distributers, the FDA and the CDC are scrambling to contain the outbreak from going further. Meanwhile, several law firms have stepped in to take those responsible to court.

Mitigating risk of food-borne illnesses can be a costly and time-consuming business for food manufacturers -- but one that is necessary to avoid the type of scenario illustrated above.

Olfaguard is a new Toronto-based startup working to reduce the time it takes food manufacturers to discover food-borne pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli in the food we buy with what it calls an electronic "sniffer."

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This machine works by picking up on possible pathogens, running it through the system and then coming out with results, which Salameh says have so far yielded results with a 94 percent accuracy in the lab.

The traditional method for detecting pathogens in food involve two methods: One, taking a culture and developing it in a petri dish in 36 to 48 hours; or two, using a much more expensive method using a PCR microchip to get those results in 8-14 hours.

Either of those choices require lots of time and possibly a lot of money for the companies.

"We are training sensors to be able to discover pathogens online, that means in real-time," says founder Pierre Salameh. "We do it today in six hours but we want to bring it to a place we can do it in zero time."

But Salameh isn't interested in saving manufacturers money. Instead, he wants to focus on speeding up production and delivering healthy, pathogen-free food so that there are fewer outbreaks making people sick and possibly killing them.

"We provide an affordable method but I don't want to save money for factories. I want to double and triple output within the same budget of what they are doing," Salameh tells TechCrunch.

It's still early days and Olfaguard has only been tested in the lab so far but Salameh has raised $400,000 and forged a partnership with the largest food manufacturer in Israel, the Strauss Group, for a study tentatively scheduled to begin this October involving Olfaguard detection within the company's facilities.