Every day, food safety labs are challenged to balance accurate, reliable results with operational efficiency. Food safety professionals are responsible for testing the quality of manufactured food — a step that’s critical but, depending on the approach, can be time consuming.

Many labs use agar plates and manual counting of colonies by technicians, but this approach can be tedious. Technicians sometimes encounter difficult-to-interpret indicator tests, making it a challenge to quickly count colonies. Some labs may also lack the software infrastructure to turn data into actionable insights.

That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. The advent of AI has enabled the development of automated colony enumeration systems that can provide colony counts that are practically equivalent to a trained microbiologist count.

3M Solution Utilizes Artificial Intelligence for Faster Plate Enumeration

Inspired to help labs achieve faster food safety testing results, 3M introduced the 3M Petrifilm Plate Reader Advanced, which utilizes fixed artificial intelligence networks that were trained by a 3M microbiologist to count colonies using a wide assortment of foods.

The system enumerates 10 different 3M Petrifilm Plates and can process up to 900 plates per hour. Providing results in 6 seconds or less, it can reduce the time it takes to enumerate results by up to 94%. The system also provides results tracking, trending and analysis, enabling users to create reports and graphs to assist in compliance and proactively facilitate actionable insights and continuous process improvement.

Studies Demonstrate Potential Productivity Increase

In comparison to manual counting, 3M internal and external studies have demonstrated a potential productivity increase based on reduced time to enumerate 3M Petrifilm Plates when using 3M™ Petrifilm™ Plate Reader Advanced. One study, using third-party food testing laboratories and funded by 3M, compared the time required for manual counting versus the time required for counting by the 3M Petrifilm™ Plate Reader Advanced. The study used 3M Petrifilm Aerobic Count Plates and 3M Petrifilm Rapid Aerobic Count Plates that contained low, medium and high levels of colonies.

Overall, when combining the 3M Petrifilm Aerobic Count Plates and 3M Petrifilm Rapid Aerobic Count Plates, the study demonstrated time savings with the 3M™ Petrifilm Plate Reader Advanced of 91% to 94% on average, for plates with high inoculum levels and 83% or greater for plates with medium inoculum levels. Even for plates with low inoculum levels, time savings of 56% or greater were observed when using the 3M Petrifilm Plate Reader Advanced.

Productivity is Priceless

Now more than ever, productivity is priceless. Advanced food testing technology like the 3M Petrifilm Plate Reader Advanced can help streamline operations and position food safety testing laboratories for success by enabling more productivity and increased capacity.