Irish company makes biggest breakthrough for microbiology testing

The biggest breakthrough globally for microbiology testing in the dairy industry in 100 years has been unveiled with the launch of Oculer technology.

The Ballina, Co. Tipperary based dairy technology company and spin-off from the Technopath Group has revealed a ground-breaking system for detecting Thermoduric Bacteria in dairy products that will save the dairy industry in Ireland up to €200million annually through reduced farmer penalties, superior product shelf-life and enhanced protein concentration.

Joey English, Micro Technician, Oculer shows Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government some of the process at Oculer.''Pic Sean Curtin Fusionshooters.

Joey English, Micro Technician, Oculer shows Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government some of the process at Oculer.''Pic Sean Curtin Fusionshooters.

The Oculer technology will cut detection times for Thermoduric Bacteria from the current global standard of 72 hours to 24 hours, with an alarm to signal potential risk of the presence of the bacteria triggered in as little as six hours.

Officially launched by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly, the company will create at least 20 jobs in sales, R&D and engineering over the next two years. The revolutionary high-throughput, rapid microbiological method for testing incoming raw milk, in-process milk and dairy produce will target a global Thermoduric Bacteria testing market valued at €150m per annum.

Milk Test New Zealand, the independent laboratory that carries out Thermoduric Bacteria testing for over 97% of the NZ Dairy industry, is scheduled to receive a system in Hamilton early in the New Year. Oculer is already reporting a very strong level of interest in its new technology from several of the largest industry players around the world.

Thermoduric Bacteria are naturally occurring bacteria that survive the pasteurization process and are responsible for downstream issues such as spoilage of finished products, reduced shelf life and reduced protein concentrations – all of which have huge economic impact on the world’s dairy manufacturers.

Rapid detection of the bacteria will significantly reduce spoiling of product and help eradicate shelf-life issues and advance the elimination of the bacteria entirely in other milk related products, such as milk powder destined for the infant formula industry.

In addition to testing for the presence of Thermoduric Bacteria in milk, the Oculer technology also identifies the source of the Thermoduric Bacteria – i.e. whether they have originated from the milking machine at farm level or from ineffective cleaning of animal’s teats immediately prior to milking – enabling the farmer to isolate the source of the bacteria and take remedial action to avoid reoccurrence.

The Oculer instrument will analyse up to 2,400 samples simultaneously – several times more than can be tested in Ireland’s largest laboratory facilities that currently perform Thermoduric testing. In addition to boosting overall milk quality coming into the system, dairy processors can now be more proactive with respect to which product stream and treatments the incoming milk is directed towards within the plant.

Launching the product, Minister for Environment Alan Kelly said, “Oculer’s achievement in this international breakthrough for microbiology diagnostics is huge validation of Ireland’s place as a global leader in dairying. With sales of dairy products forecasted to reach $494 billion in 2015, this breakthrough has the potential to reach into every single market in the world.

“It also again proves Ireland is a leading international player for research and development, spinning out some of the smartest technology companies on the planet. At a local level I am immensely proud that one such company is here on our own doorstep and have been delighted to work with the team here over the past two years as they build towards this monumental day that will bring positive change for the industry across the world.”

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney, who could not attend due to prior commitments in Brussels, said of the breakthrough, “Oculer’s new technology to detect and enumerate thermoduric bacteria in milk promises to reinforce Ireland’s acknowledged reputation as a premium dairy producer in international markets. That reputation is underpinned by the quality of the milk produced by Irish suppliers, supported by the massive investment underway by dairy producers. Naturally occuring thermoduric bacteria cost Irish farmers, and the global industry, millions of Euro each year. Oculer’s cutting-edge technology stands to reduce costs for all of the industry’s stakeholders while boosting Ireland’s work in selling our milk and dairy products with confidence.

“Milk Test New Zealand has been in dialogue with Oculer for over a year now regarding the development of a novel rapid high-volume assay for the detection and enumeration of Thermoduric Bacteria in raw milk”, a Milk Test New Zealand spokesperson said. “During the coming months Oculer will be installing the technology at our laboratory facilities in Hamilton, near Auckland for initial testing. We see strong potential for the Oculer system to deliver operational efficiencies to our labs in New Zealand and for the global dairy industry”, she added.

Said Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Tom Hayes, “With this technology, Oculer is illustrating a real pursuit of excellence on behalf of the dairy industry. It will benefit dairy farmers, processors and consumers and send a very positive signal across the world about Ireland and its global leadership in dairying.”

Brian Byrne, CEO of Oculer, added: “Not only will test results be available to milk suppliers in 24 hours, Oculer will enable Co-ops and dairy processors to react faster to positive results than they currently can by using the traditional agar method - but it also informs milk farmers where the source of the problem originated. Thermoduric bacteria can only be effectively eliminated when the source of the problem is accurately and reliably identified.”