Top Trends to Increase Food Safety

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Top Trends to Increase Food Safety

October 2010

Scott Scdoris, Director, Food and Beverage, Celsis Rapid Detection, as featured in Food Safety

Increasing product quality and safety are goals of most food and beverage manufacturers. As someone involved in quality assurance and product safety for your company, you probably spend much of your time and energy working to ensure that only the very best products make it to market. But how often do you take a step back from the day-to-day of your product testing operations to look at the bigger picture? What impact do changes in other areas of your operations have on how you define the requirements for your food safety program? How current are the strategies you’re relying on to ensure the safety of your products?

Rapid microbial methods (RMMs) have typically been viewed as simply a means to faster micro results. But there are additional benefits to RMMs that shouldn’t be overlooked in light of current industry trends towards sustainability, connectivity and the increasing conversion to aseptic packaging. There are RMM options that help you safely get your products to market faster while providing you with better access to critical data that you need to manage day-to-day; all while saving money and reducing environmental impact. What if being on the cutting edge can also mean saving money?

Your biggest concern today may not be whether your product testing practices are at the forefront of the latest trends, and that’s understandable with everything else you have to worry about. But consider the following trends that will not only take your product testing to the next level; they will also make your job easier, your company leaner and your balance sheet more attractive.

Trend #1: Increasing Sustainability by Reducing Waste
Sustainability and ‘green projects’ are hot topics everywhere right now and the area of food safety should be no exception. Your company may be implementing programs and practices to help cut down on waste and be more environmentally friendly. But have you taken a look at your company’s micro lab? If you are still using traditional testing methods, your lab is likely producing a measurable portion of your company’s overall waste. Testing just one product via the traditional agar method uses and discards stacks of Petri dishes, media jars, pipettes and plastic dilution blank bottles, plus it contributes to increased water and energy consumption. Over time, this waste not only builds up in landfills and hazardous waste sites, but can also lead to significant expenses for both lab supplies and waste removal.

The solution? RMMs. Briefly, rapid microbiological methods are faster, easier, more reliable alternatives to the traditional, time-consuming method of culturing and observing samples for growth of microorganisms. 

While rapid methods are just that, rapid, they can also help you reduce the waste currently being created by your micro lab. They don’t require samples to be cultured, so you’ll no longer have to wade through a sea of Petri dishes each time you visit the lab. You will see a drop in the amount of hazardous waste produced, too, with a dramatic decrease in the amount of specific agar media used for testing.

But physical waste isn’t the only thing you’ll reduce by making the switch to rapid methods. You will also save time and money. Faster test results mean earlier response to contamination, which lessens the potential cost of a contamination event. Since your production cycle will be moving much faster, you’ll save time and money by reducing inventory investment and getting your products to market faster. Also, because you won’t be required to hold as much inventory in micro hold awaiting approval to be shipped, you’ll open up more warehouse space. And, unlike the routine agar plate examinations required with traditional methods, RMM systems are automated, user-friendly and require less time for training.

A company that implements rapid microbial methods in just one plant can typically realize a 5-year net present value of approximately $500,000 and see a return on their investment in the RMM system in just 6-9 months. Now that’s a green project that deserves attention.

Trend #2: Connectivity
Technology helps keep you connected to important information in what seems like every facet of your life, but how connected is your food safety process? Food and beverage testing hasn’t typically been linked with cutting-edge communication tools, but new trends are beginning to change that.

While many companies must rely on after-the-fact reports and updates from the quality department to monitor product testing, there is now software available that provides secure access to the test results of any product at any testing site from any networked computer equipped with the software. This means you can have access to test results 24/7, whether you’re on-site, across the street or around the world.

This software is an advanced feature available with some rapid microbial detection systems. It works by incorporating a multi-user interface that enables multiple RMM instruments to send results to one centralized, secure online location. Users can then access the database anywhere, anytime. This expanded access allows for improved visibility, increased efficiency and faster response in the event of a contamination.

Another area that has traditionally suffered from a lack of connectivity is compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration track-and-trace regulations. The software that supports some of today’s new RMM systems helps companies simplify and streamline compliance by allowing manufacturers to track and trace products and access testing data onsite or remotely. Instead of poring through volumes of lab books with manually entered testing data results, a few clicks of the mouse will enable the user to quickly find, sort and filter testing data on screen and generate custom reports. Additionally, the newest versions of this software integrate smoothly with your company’s existing laboratory information management and enterprise resource planning systems and can export data to common database programs, including Excel and Access. Compliance has never been so easy!

Trend #3: Aseptic Packaging
The food and beverage market is experiencing increased consumer demand for healthy, ‘fresh’ products that are natural, organic and preservative-free. At the same time, consumers are increasingly attracted to the convenience of shelf-stable products.

As a result, an increasing number of food and beverage manufacturers are embracing the benefits of aseptic packaging. This simply means that both the product and the container are sterile throughout the packaging process. Aseptic packaging types that are becoming more widely accepted include brick packaging, blow-fill-seal, pouches, bag-in-box and more. Adoption of aseptic packaging is growing exponentially worldwide, especially in Europe and Asia, and is on the rise in the U.S.

There are many products that are currently packaged aseptically, including milk, juice, cooking stocks and broths, isotonics, fruit and vegetable concentrates, soups, heat-and-serve dishes, flavored waters, liquid cheese, sauces and nutraceuticals. The opportunities continue to grow as new beverages and ready-to-eat products are developed.

Because aseptic packaging often comes in the form of a stackable or ‘brick’ container, it efficiently reduces shelf and warehouse space and cuts shipping costs. Additionally, because aseptic packaging does not require refrigeration, it reduces energy expenditures, allows for shipping to greater distances and, in some instances, enables products like milk to be supplied to countries without developed distribution infrastructure as well as to areas of emergency. Aseptic packaging also tends to be more sustainable and has a lower impact on the environment.

There are testing implications for aseptically packaged products as well. Because the goal is to produce a sterile product, products are far less likely to have any microbial bioburden present. This means there is rarely a need to identify any contaminants, making it ideal to have a simple, automated screen that provides an indicator of the presence or absence of microbial contamination quickly. Earlier test results mean rapid release of product that meets specification, but also a faster response to contamination when it occurs. The benefits of RMMs amplify the cost benefits associated with aseptic packaging.

Rapid microbial methods have been contributing to operational efficiency for over a decade. In today’s atmosphere of ‘clean’, ‘lean’ and ‘green,’ they make more sense than ever.

 

Scott Scdoris serves as the Director, Food and Beverage for Celsis Rapid Detection. Experienced in microbiological testing procedures for the dairy and beverage industry, Mr. Scdoris has been with Celsis for more than 10 years and works closely with Celsis’ business development managers and technical support representatives to help prospective customers successfully implement rapid methods. He helps quantify the value of implementing Celsis Rapid Detection systems and assists customers with system installation and validation. Prior to joining Celsis, he spent 15 years in quality control for the dairy industry, most recently as Quality Manager for Morningstar Foods, a division of Dean Foods in Gustine, CA. A graduate of Portland State University, Mr. Scdoris holds a bachelor’s degree in biology. He can be contacted at sscdoris@celsis.com.

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