The manufacture of food products entails many details that need attention, but one of, if not the most important responsibilities a facility needs to address is food safety. Recalls and foodborne illnesses have been high recently and it has damaged the reputation of companies, as well as scared the American consumer. Foodborne pathogens exist and will continue to exist. The best way to handle them comes by way of detection and prevention. To do that, facilities must know where they stand and what they are up against.
“When considering various technologies, food processors need to be confident that a pathogen detection solution will work with their specific food product types as well as fit well into their workflow,” says Kevin Habas, scientific marketing and education manager at 3M Food Safety. “For those reasons, they typically conduct an extensive in-house evaluation to ensure that a given method’s performance and accuracy meets expectations before purchasing.”
Need to Know
When considering foodborne pathogen detection, facilities should address the key points before implementing a system. The specific food product or environmental sample and the specific pathogen to be tested for are critical factors in detection, Habas says. Inhibitors specific to certain foods will compromise and interfere with the accuracy of certain tests. Other factors that facilities face are the time crunches created by competitive and economic pressures. “In addition, time to result, ease-of-use, productivity, and system throughput are also importance considerations,” Habas says. “For example, while culture methods have been traditionally used for pathogen testing, they cannot meet the time-to-result and throughput needs many of our customers have today.”
The traditional culture method of pathogen detection consists of growing a sample’s microorganisms, transferring that sample to an agar medium in a petri dish, incubating the agar plate and allowing the bacterial colonies to grow. A tester must then interpret the colonies based on color, shape and size. The culture method proves accurate, but requires time, labor and a trained eye for interpretation. Because of the challenges associated with the traditional culture method, other, more modern methods have sprung up and given those in need of testing alternatives.
“These challenges with conventional methods and the development of novel technologies have driven a trend toward using rapid molecular methods,” Habas says. “That trend is continuing to accelerate across the world.” Molecular, DNA-based methods provide testers with faster results, the ability to test more specifically along with ease-of-use and interpretation. “These rapid methods allow for more productivity in the lab, improved decision-making speed and ability, and faster product release,” Habas adds.
It’s always best to consult those who make the rules when trying to ensure compliance with those rules. Because the federal government creates the guidelines and regulations, production facilities should start with the government when looking for helpful resources that will aid them in conforming. “The FDA’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual (BAM) describes the methods most commonly used to isolate various organisms from foods, whether they are pathogenic or non-pathogenic,” Habas says. “In many cases, it recommends molecular testing to identify many genes.”
Another place that producers can go to for insights is the industry. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is a collaboration of multinational food industry professionals organized as a resource to develop certain benchmarking criteria leading up to the full certification that is recognized broadly by the entire global supply chain, Habas says.
Companies that develop food safety detection methods also offer educational support to producers. “For example, 3M not only provides ongoing technical service to its customers, but offers free monthly educational webinars to any interested in improving their preparedness and compliance for FSMA,” Habas says. “The webinar series is hosted in conjunction with The Acheson Group, a consultancy founded by a former FDA director that helps assess and manage operational, reputational and regulatory risk on behalf of food and beverage companies worldwide.”
While it’s always best to start with detection and prevention, having a plan in place in the case that a contamination does take place for crisis communication and product recall.