The laser sensor -- known as BARDOT -- scans bacteria colonies and generates a distinct black and white "fingerprint" that can be identified. It takes less than 24 hours to pinpoint Salmonella, researchers said.
"BARDOT allows us to detect Salmonella much earlier and more easily than current methods," Arun Bhunia, a professor of food science at Purdue University, who collaborated with then-Purdue engineer Daniel Hirleman to create the machine, said in a statement.
"This could ultimately help provide safer food to consumers."
Salmonella, a major foodborne pathogen that causes salmonellosis, a type of food poisoning with symptoms of diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps can be fatal in young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a zero-tolerance policy for Salmonella in food products. If the bacteria is detected, the resulting product recalls can lead to significant financial loss and possible charges of criminal liability for the companies involved, the researchers said.
Current Salmonella detection methods can take 72 hours to yield results and often require artificial alteration of the bacteria colonies. But the BARDOT system identifies bacteria colonies by using light to illuminate their natural characteristics, preserving the colonies for later study, the researchers said.
The machine can be operated with minimal training and used in locations with limited resources, Bhunia added.
The paper was published in mBio and is available at http://mbio.asm.org/content/5/1/e01019-13.