LIVERMORE (CBS SF) — Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and a startup firm have developed a spray that can allow contaminated food to be traced back to its source within an hour.

The substance is comprised of sugar and non-living, non-viable DNA that can be sprayed on food products in the field, creating a virtual barcode to track the source of the food, according to LLNL.

The odorless, tasteless substance can be lifted from tainted food and analyzed to quickly determine its source.

Livermore-based DNA Trek is licensing the technology from LLNL. The substance, called DNATrax could allow chemists to trace back tainted produce back to orchards and farms to determine when it was harvested, who picked it and which field or potentially which tree it came from.

The DNATrax can also be used to trace fraudulent food using similar methods.

DNA Trek founder and CEO, Anthony Zografos, is marketing the spray-on DNA to growers. “Our product costs something on the order of one dollar per thousand pounds of produce, certainly cheaper than a nationwide produce recall … So the amount is really insignificant compared to the liabilities one may incur in the event of an outbreak, said Zografos.

Foodborne illnesses kill roughly 3,000 and hospitalize 128,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Beyond health concerns, foodborne illnesses cost the food industry nearly $70 billion annually in the form of recalls and other related costs, according to the FDA.

Existing methods to track tainted food following its supply chain from farms current takes weeks and costs companies billions of dollars.

 

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