An improved system and method is provided for detecting viable bacteria in a suspension sample. A sample of a suspension in which bacterial presence is suspected is collected from a source and a portion of the sample transferred to a microfluidic unit. A series of analysis signals at different frequencies are applied to the sample portion. An impedance is measured via a signal analyzer for the sample portion for each of the analysis signals to define an impedance data set. An initial bulk capacitance value is determined for a model circuit based on the impedance dataset. After a predetermined time period, a new bulk capacitance value is determined for on another portion of the sample. The difference between the new bulk capacitance and the initial bulk capacitance value is compared to a threshold value to determine if viable bacterial is present in the sample.