Atwill Water & Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory

Detection Dog Project

The need for more effective approaches to detect fecal contamination of produce has never been more critical. Multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with contaminated raw produce continue occur, with the adulterating cause often not identified during outbreak investigations. This difficulty in identifying contaminated foods prior to harvest can result in the public continuing to ingest the contaminated item, leading to continued foodborne illness. Prompt detection of fecal contamination on or near fields growing produce might indicate that product was contaminated with pathogens, allowing intervention before distribution to consumers. Scent detection dogs can be trained to detect fecal contamination of minimally processed foods such as leafy greens (e.g., lettuce and cilantro) and other vegetables such as tomatoes that are frequently consumed raw. The superior olfactory capability of the canine has been established by their use in search and rescue, missing persons, and in law enforcement. This project will measure the ability of scent detection dogs to identify produce commodities contaminated with animal feces prior to distribution for human consumption, which if successful can assist governmental agencies during outbreak investigations and the produce industry to more quickly identify the adulterated food item and better resolve the originating cause of the fecal contamination.