Food Safety Challenge

The 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge was a call to scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, and innovators from all disciplines to submit concepts applying novel and/or advanced methodologies to foster revolutionary improvements in foodborne pathogen detection. Specifically, the FDA sought concepts that apply cutting-edge techniques to achieve significant improvements in the speed of the FDA’s detection methods for Salmonella with identification to the subtype/serovar level in minimally processed fresh produce. FDA was most interested in concepts that explore the acceleration or elimination of sample preparation and/or enrichment in the testing process, and/or those that employ novel or revolutionary techniques to achieve pathogen detection.

While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans is sickened by foodborne illness annually. It is estimated that the overall negative economic impact of foodborne illness in the United States, including medical costs, quality-of-life losses, lost productivity, and lost-life expectancy, may be as high as $77 billion per year. Salmonella represents the leading cause of deaths and of hospitalizations related to foodborne illness, and contaminated produce is responsible for nearly half of foodborne illnesses and almost a quarter of foodborne-related deaths.

Purdue University, Grand Prize Winners of the Food Safety Challenge

Purdue University
Grand Prize Winner

The Purdue University team’s winning submission was a physical method for concentrating Salmonella to detectable levels using automated microfiltration, which could decrease sample preparation time from 24-48 hours to a range of two to three hours.



Pronucleotein, Inc. - Runner Up in the Food Safety Challenge

Pronucleotein, Inc.
Runner-Up Winner

The Pronucleotein, Inc. team’s runner-up winning submission features a portable device for rapid pathogen screening using DNA aptamer-magnetic bead sandwich assays. It promises a total assay processing and analysis time of about 30 minutes.

Auburn University
Method which combines magnetoelastic biosensors and a surface-scanning detector used directly on food surfaces.

Dr. Bart Weimer / U.C. Davis / Mars, Inc.
Method that captures and concentrates Salmonella from large, complex samples using antibodies and host receptors for detection with solid phase ELISA, DNA and RNA.

Pronucleotein, Inc.
DNA aptamer-magnetic bead sandwich assays used to detect foodborne pathogens with a handheld fluorescence reader.

Purdue University
Physical method for concentrating Salmonella to detectable levels using automated microfiltration.

University of Illinois / Purdue University
Portable system for multiplexed detection of foodborne pathogens in microfluidic biochips through isothermal DNA amplification and electrical detection.

Call for Submissions – September 23, 2014

Submission Deadline – November 9, 2014

Finalists Announced – May 11, 2015
Five finalists were chosen by a panel of food safety experts. Each finalist received $20,000 and advanced to the Field Accelerator phase.

Field Accelerator – May 11, 2015 – July 7, 2015
Finalists iterated and improved their concepts with coaching and mentorship from experts in food safety and pathogen testing.

Boot Camp – May 13, 2015 Finalists participated in an in-person boot camp with FDA experts focused on design, innovation, and the FDA’s testing process to help iterate and strengthen their concepts.

Demo Day – July 7, 2015
Finalists presented their concepts at Demo Day in Washington, DC before a live audience of stakeholders in food and food safety from government and the private sector. The lineup of government leaders who spoke at Demo Day included: Palmer Orlandi, Acting Chief Science Officer and Research Director in the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine; Michael Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine; and Susannah Fox, CTO of HHS.

Winner Announcement – July 22, 2015
The grand prize winner, Purdue University, received $300,000 in prize money. The runner-up winner, Pronucleotein, Inc., received $100,000 in prize money.

From the $500,000 prize pool, five finalists were awarded $20,000 each following the Open Submission phase and judging of submissions. After the Field Accelerator phase and final judging, the grand prize winner received $300,000 and the runner-up winner received $100,000.

Beilei Ge, Ph.D.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Darcy Hanes, Ph.D.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Tom Hammack, M.S.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Donna Williams-hill, Ph.D.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Guodong Zhang, Ph.D.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Patricia Fields, Ph.D.
Centers For Disease Control And Prevention

John Johnston, Ph.D., M.B.A.
USDA Food Safety And Inspection Service (FSIS)


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