Quantifying the sensitivity of scent detection dogs to identify fecal contamination on raw produce

J Food Prot. 2014 Jan;77(1):6-14. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-13-249.


Consumption of raw produce commodities has been associated with foodborne outbreaks in the United States. In a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report outlining the incidence of food-related outbreaks from 1998 to 2008, produce of all kinds were implicated in 46% of illnesses and 23% of deaths. Methods that quickly identify fecal contamination of foods, including produce, will allow prioritization of samples for testing during investigations and perhaps decrease the time required to identify specific brands or lots. We conducted a series of trials to characterize the sensitivity and specificity of scent detection dogs to accurately identify fecal contamination on raw agricultural commodities (romaine lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and roma tomatoes). Both indirect and direct methods of detection were evaluated. For the indirect detection method, two dogs were trained to detect contamination on gauze pads previously exposed to produce contaminated with feces. For the direct detection method, two dogs were trained to identify fecal contamination on fresh produce. The indirect method did not result in acceptable levels of sensitivity except for the highest levels of fecal contamination (25 g of feces). Each dog had more difficulty detecting fecal contamination on cilantro and spinach than on roma tomatoes. For the direct detection method, the dogs exhibited >75% sensitivity for detecting ≥0.25 g of feces on leafy greens (cilantro, romaine lettuce, and spinach) and roma tomatoes, with sensitivity declining as the amount of feces dropped below 0.025 g. We determined that use of a scent detection dog to screen samples for testing can increase the probability of detecting ≥0.025 g of fecal contamination by 500 to 3,000% when samples with fecal contamination are rare (≤1%).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Feces*
  • Food Contamination / analysis*
  • Food Inspection / methods
  • Food Inspection / standards*
  • Limit of Detection
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Smell / physiology*
  • United States
  • Vegetables* / chemistry