Maryland startup helps consumers ‘romaine’ calm about food safety

When Maryland founder Javier Atencia set out to create his company in 2014, he had a singular goal: to create a better system for detecting foodborne illnesses-causing pathogens with the help of tech.
Nearly a decade later, his company, Pathotrak, has raised over $1 million, was named Invention of the Year in Life Sciences by the University of Maryland (UMD), and has backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and TEDCO.

But Atencia didn’t necessarily see himself on the founder path. It was only when he partook in the I-Corps programs at the NSF and George Washington University that he thought of being a founder.

“I’m a convert and used to do only science,” Atencia told “I did the I-Corps program once, and then I did it altogether five times, so I’ve interviewed over 500 people from all over the state. That’s when I made a decision to quit my job and go for it in the company.”

Pathotrak, based in College Park, Maryland, is a food-tech startup that measures the safety of food from growers and producers. The company developed several tests to measure food safety and prevent outbreaks; Its foodborne pathogen enrichment test kits can measure the safety of a piece of lettuce in as little as six hours. Last month, the company nabbed AOAC Performance Tested certification for the kits’ ability to detect salmonella and E. coli in romaine lettuce. It plans to add four additional leafy greens to that capacity.


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