An innovative sensing solution for the detection of bacteria on surfaces

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Contamination detection is of paramount importance in both the food industry, environmental monitoring and wastewater treatment. Such detection would ideally be performed using imaging systems, however this is difficult in practice. Imaging systems have not been successfully used to detect bacterial contamination caused by food residues on surfaces, and sensors used in wastewater treatment rely upon immersion. This means that such sensors cannot provide desirable continuous monitoring.

Oxford researchers have developed a novel sensing solution providing high sensitivity for the detection of bacteria on surfaces and removing the requirement for immersion in wastewater monitoring. This development will be of interest to developers of portable instrumentation for relevant industries.

Contamination detection

Contamination detection is important both on surfaces and in the monitoring of liquid waste. Imaging systems have been developed to provide such detection, particularly in the food industry where they could be used to detect food residues on surfaces or food preparation equipment following cleaning.

Despite these developments, the standard test for cleanliness still relies on swabbing a small sample region of the surface. This test does not enable detection across the entire surface and is also unreliable, depending upon a number of uncontrollable factors.

Existing biological oxygen demand (BOD) sensors, used to monitor the quality of water, require immersion in the water. However, fouling of these sensors then precludes continuous monitoring, and the sensors can only be used to sample at discrete time intervals.

Contact-less monitoring

Oxford researchers have developed novel methods for performing remote contamination detection using fluorescence.

Sensors based on this technology enable:

  • reliable detection across an entire surface
  • detection of bacteria on a surface and/or food residue left on a surface following cleaning
  • no requirement for contact with the clean surface of interest
  • monitoring of contaminants in a liquid without immersion
  • continuous monitoring of waste liquids

Multiple sensor designs have been envisaged to suit various applications. Initial proof of concept work has been performed in the Department of Engineering Science.


Oxford University Innovation would welcome contact from commercial entities interested in using this technology to develop sensing systems. The technology is the subject of a UK priority patent application with scope for worldwide protection.

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