There is no question that many microbiological tests are being conducted nationally and internationally on food, pharmaceutical products, environmental samples, and water. The most popular tests are total viable cell count, coliform/E. coli count, and yeast and mold counts. A large number of tests are also performed on pathogens such as salmonella, listeria and Listeria mono-cytogenes, E. coli O157:H7, Staphylococcus aureus, campylobacter, and other organisms.
Applied microbiologists working in medical, food, environmental, and industrial settings in government, academia, and the private sector are interested in the numbers and kinds of microbiological tests being done annually on local, regional, national, and international scales.
Strategic Consulting, Inc. (phone: 802-457-9933; e-mail: [email protected] strategic-consult.com; Woodstock, VT) produced three major reports on the market for microbiological testing [25-27]. This group researched diagnostic testing companies through public records and interviews of hundreds of practitioners of applied microbiology by phone or other means to obtain estimated data to compile the reports. Readers are advised to contact Strategic Consulting, Inc. for details of these reports. Below is information that the author received permission to use for this article.
In 1998 the number of worldwide industrial microbiological tests was estimated to be 755 million with a total market value of US$1.1 billion, assuming the average price per test to be US$1.47. They also estimated that 56% of the tests were for food; 30% for pharmaceuticals; 10% for beverages; and 4% for environmental water tests . Of these tests, 420 million were done in food laboratories with 360 million for "routine tests'' (total viable cell counts, coliform counts, and yeast and mold counts) and 60 million for "specific pathogen tests'' (salmonella, listeria, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli O157:H7 tests). Approximately one third of all the tests were done in the U.S., another third in Europe, and the rest were performed in the rest of the world.
It was projected that from 1998 to 2003 there would be a 24.6% increase in the number of tests; 17% increase in the price per test, and 45.8% increase in the total revenue of the testing market by 2003. Of the 50 or so diagnostic companies reviewed, there seems to be no absolute dominance of the field by any one company, although there are clear leaders in the area . The situation is quite fluid since some companies are constantly acquiring products from other companies. Many new companies are also emerging in this area as new technologies are developed.
The 2000 U.S. food industry market study  indicated that the total number of microbiological tests per year was 144.3 million, total number of tests for pathogens was 23.5 million, with a market value of US$53.4 million, and the average selling price per test was US$2.27. These data were obtained from a survey of 5,979 food processing plants with an average of 464 tests per plant per week, and 24,128 tests per plant per year. The percentage of microbiological testing performed on selected food categories was as follows: processed foods, 36.2%; dairy, 31.8%; meat, 22.3%; fruits/vegetables, 9.7%. The number of test to be done in the future for fruits and vegetables will certainly increase due to recent foodborne outbreaks related to these food commodities.
Another valuable set of data is the proportion of routine to pathogen tests which is 83.7% versus 16.3%. Further breakdown of these data revealed that the total viable count represented 37.2% of all tests; coliform/E. coli, 30.8%; yeast and mold, 15.7%; and pathogens, 16.3%. The percentage for pathogen testing is an increase from 15% reported in the 1998 review . It is projected that this number will increase further in the years to come.
Estimation of the use of "rapid methods'' versus "conventional methods'' is hard to obtain. From the author's experiences, about 70% of microbial tests are currently done using manual or conventional methods and 30% using rapid methods. By 2008, for total testing, about 50% will be using conventional methods, and 50% will be using rapid tests. However, for pathogen testing 60 to 70% will be some form of rapid test, and 30 to 40% will the conventional tests. These projected changes are attributed to the current and future improvement of rapid methods.
The newest global test volume predictions for industrial microbiological testing (per year) for 2008 are: food, 715.6 million tests (47.5%, total); beverages, 137.0 million tests (9.1%); pharmaceuticals, 311.1 million tests (20.7%); personal care products, 249.1 million tests (16.5%); environmental, 55.9 million tests (3.7%); and material processing, 36.5 million tests (2.4%) .
It is safe to say that the field of rapid methods and automation in microbiology will continue to grow in number and kinds of tests to be done in the future due to the increased concern about food safety.
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