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Hygiena: Innovating to Improve Food Safety

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In the early 1990s, DuPont spun off a small outfit called Qualicon Diagnostics. It was based around a new food safety test — the RiboPrinter System, designed to identify and differentiate contaminating bacteria. 

The spinoff soon added another product: the BAX System, designed to give quick results in testing for foodborne pathogens like salmonella, listeria and E. coli. By 2017, Qualicon had suffered layoffs; then, as part of the Dow-DuPont merger, it was sold to Hygiena, a California-based food-testing company.

Hygiena moved Qualicon’s manufacturing activity out to Camarillo; then, the firm invested millions in renovations at Boulden Circle in Wilmington last year, adding new office and lab space. It was a strong commitment to keep the heart of the Qualicon business in the First State.

Steve Nason | Photo c/o Hygiena

“The science has stayed,” says Hygiena Global Product Manager Shannon Bullard. “Now we have a clear home with a company whose mission is to keep the global food supply safe.” The 30 employees at the Wilmington location continue research and development on BAX System products; the office also handles customer service and technical support for all of Hygiena, which has facilities around the world and sells in more than 90 countries.

Bullard notes that the strong concentration of PhDs in Delaware was a major factor in the decision to keep the R&D here. Adds Hygiena CEO Steve Nason, “Science has been core to the BAX System for over 20 years, and our scientists are invaluable to the business. Hygiena’s world-class team of scientists have made Delaware their home, and as a result Hygiena chose to invest in building a world-class laboratory for our scientists to develop new, innovative products and applications.”

Hygiena’s other major product line besides the BAX System tests for Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), essentially to confirm sanitation procedures at food processing and manufacturing facilities are effective. Through acquisitions in 2018 and 2019, the company also added food allergen testing; sterility testing for ultra-high pasteurization systems in the dairy industry; and mycotoxin testing, which looks for certain kinds of molds in food. And, in addition to food safety, the company deals in water quality, health care and other industries.

“Our mission,” says Bullard, “is to be the global leader in rapid industrial diagnostic testing by providing innovative technologies that are simple, easy to use and accurate, with excellent customer service and support.”

And, while the BAX System is celebrating two decades on the market, Hygiena is busy rolling out a new innovation, developed in Wilmington. The new product, SalQuant, uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to provide quantified data about how much of a pathogen is present at a food manufacturing or processing facility. Traditionally, PCR testing has only sought a binary result — either pathogens were present, or they were not. “We were the first ones that brought PCR food testing into the marketplace, which increased the speed of results for the end user, so now they could get a result in days instead of weeks,” says Bullard. Having quantified test results will enable food manufacturers and processors to take action to reduce salmonella at their facilities and reduce the likelihood of foodborne illness.

Hygiena believes the new product will mark a step forward in the food safety business. “For over 20 years, food manufacturers have trusted the BAX System for accurate detection of the presence of pathogens in their products,” says Nason. “In the poultry industry, regulators have been working with industry to reduce the prevalence of salmonella. With Hygiena’s introduction of BAX System SalQuant, poultry producers now have rapid, actionable and quantifiable data to improve interventions and the safety of their products from farm to fork.”

—Matt Ward

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