Florida-based eMerge Interactive Inc has developed an electronic camera that can scan raw beef for traces of microscopic contaminants that harbour deadly bacteria.

The new device successfully underwent trials at the Oklahoma State University in June and at the University of Florida last month, and discussions are being held to make the camera available for on-site testing in beef production plants at the beginning of next year, said the company in a statement released yesterday [Wednesday].

The beef industry already has well-established procedures to remove bacterial contaminants from meat, but outbreaks of food poisoning still occur. Bacteria such as E.coli 0157:H7 cause diseases that are responsible for 76 million illnesses and 5,000 deaths a year, according to co-inventor of the camera Tom Cassey, who is also a microbiologist for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

President and COO of eMerge, Scott Mathews, commented: "This technology is proving itself a powerful tool for helping packers detect and virtually eradicate this contamination before beef products leave the plant."

eMerge develops management and marketing software for the US beef production industry, which is worth US$40bn a year.