Ask The Expert

Cronobacter Regulation and Detection


As we saw with the recent large scale recalls of infant formula, Cronobacter has become a pathogen of growing public health concern for vulnerable populations. Our guest experts, Sally Powell Price, Regulatory Expert Food and Beverage Safety at MilliporeSigma, and Andrew Lienau, Food Regulatory and Validation Senior Expert at MilliporeSigma, detail the importance of Cronobacter in food manufacturing, summarize detection solutions and provide a glimpse into the future of this potentially deadly pathogen.

Why is Cronobacter detection important?

Cronobacter are ubiquitous pathogens that have been isolated from a wide variety of sources including dried herbs and spices, soil, starches and milk products. They are found naturally in the environment, for example, in our yards, kitchens and living rooms. They even can live on surfaces including kitchen counters, sinks and food facility manufacturing equipment.

Andrew Lienau
Andrew Lienau

Infant formula, as we have seen in recent years, can be contaminated by this type of bacteria. While Cronobacter infections are rare, they can be fatal to newborns and immunocompromised individuals. When these infections are diagnosed in infants, they are often linked to consumption of powdered formula.

According to CDC, the potential mortality rate for Cronobacter infection is 40%. It has high risks for newborns, especially low-birth weight infants. Cronobacter is highly resistant to stress and can survive in products such as powdered infant formula for more than two years, which is the major risk factor. Almost all Cronobacter species are linked to human infections (adults and infants).

How is MilliporeSigma’s Assurance® GDS method fit-for-purpose for detection of Cronobacter?

Ensuring an assay is robust is a lengthy process. Microbiology methods are reviewed and approved by standards or certification bodies. Certification organizations for food microbiology include AOAC International and Health Canada in North America and AFNOR Groupe and MicroVal in Europe. Approved testing methods undergo rigorous, systematic scientific scrutiny and validation to ensure they are credible and legally defensible and thus can be used with confidence by industry, regulatory agencies, research organizations, testing laboratories and academic institutions. It is important during this validation process to demonstrate that the methods are reproducible and provide consistent results across a variety of sites and users.

MilliporeSigma logo

During the certification process, methods are compared against standard reference methods or a “gold standard.” For example, there is a reference method developed by ISO for enrichment of Cronobacter from foods. Through the certification process, the MilliporeSigma Assurance® GDS method performed as well as the reference method. But the GDS Cronobacter method requires less time, materials and personnel to obtain comparable results. This certification improves both industry confidence and access to a rapid, reliable method for detection of Cronobacter in food.

The GDS for Cronobacter method has been reviewed and approved by both MicroVal (MicroVal 2017LR77) and AOAC International (AOAC PTM 121903; AOAC OMA 2021.08). These review processes can take more than one year from initial submission of protocol to generation of the validation data, including final review of the results by the certification organization. Outside expert peers also review the method for approval.

This year MilliporeSigma was honored that the Assurance® GDS Cronobacter method was recognized as the Method of the Year Award in Microbiology by AOAC International.

What are the regulatory implications and outlook for Cronobacter & infant formula?

The recent move towards restructuring the FDA and Human Foods Program was in part driven by the high-profile recalls and subsequent infant formula shortages due to Cronobacter contamination. Over the next year, we can expect to see continued regulatory scrutiny of Cronobacter and similar pathogens or analytes that put infants and other vulnerable populations at risk.

Sally Powell Price
Sally Powell Price

Last year, the U.S. FDA released a strategy to help prevent Cronobacter illnesses, and in 2023, they expanded their approach by increasing inspection capacity and updating the Infant Formula Compliance program.

Beginning in 2024, Cronobacter infection will be a nationally notifiable disease as recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The FDA will collaborate with states and public health labs to bolster testing efforts. This will provide more clinical isolates, complementing the FDA’s environmental and product sample collection and sequencing strategies. It will also increase sequencing data available in the NCBI database in hopes of bridging scientific gaps related to Cronobacter.

Furthermore, the FDA is reviewing existing testing criteria to potentially enhance finished product safety with a focus on infant formula regulations led by the Office of Critical Foods. The Agency is collaborating with Congress to explore legal avenues to require firms to report Cronobacter-positive product test results, among other requirements.

For infant formula manufacturers it’s not all about regulation, however. Manufacturers and stakeholders now have expanded opportunities for collaboration with the FDA and related working groups like the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF). These partnerships offer a unique chance for productive dialogue and the potential to engage in valuable initiatives aimed at providing scientific insights into Cronobacter and its prevention, including elective surveillance programs. Additionally, stakeholders in the infant formula industry can strengthen efforts to be transparent with consumers. They may actively participate in public meetings and engage with industry associations such as the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) or The Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE), fostering open discussions and sharing best practices to enhance safety and quality standards in the production and preparation of powdered infant formula. This proactive engagement not only fosters consumer confidence but also contributes to a safer environment for infants and vulnerable populations.










Jennifer Allen
Food Safety Attorney

Food Labeling Requirements for Natural Flavors

By Jennifer Allen
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Jennifer Allen

Natural flavors are ubiquitous in foods today, and chances are, at least one of the products that your company manufactures contains them. But what are they, and how should they be identified on your packaging?

Natural flavors are defined at 21 CFR 101.22(a)(3) as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” In short, a natural flavor is a substance the purpose of which is simply to add flavor, which is extracted from a food through one of a certain number of processes.

The astute among you may be asking yourself right now, “Why are so many consumers critical of natural flavors? From this definition, they seem pretty natural to me.” Well, consider that the above regulation applies only to the flavor. But when you take a natural flavor off the shelf to incorporate it into your product, that flavor is contained in some kind of solvent, with certain additives for functionality. The solvent and additives are not required to be in any way “natural.” This may be why some consumers are skeptical about how “natural” natural flavors really are.

Labeling Nuances

As with all ingredients, natural flavors must be identified as such on your product’s ingredients panel. If those flavors don’t make up the primary characterizing flavor of the product, but are included simply to make your product juicier, to enhance mouth-feel or to supplement the flavor imparted by the other food ingredients, then identifying them as “natural flavors” on the ingredients panel is sufficient.

But under certain circumstances, they must also be identified more prominently on the principal display panel. As the regulations explain at 21 CFR 101.22(i), if your product has a certain primary characterizing flavor (the example the regulations use is strawberry shortcake), and most or all of that characterizing flavor comes not from the food itself but from natural flavors derived from that food, then those flavors must be clearly identified. The name of the flavor must be included. It may have the word “natural” in front of it, but it must have the word “flavored” after it. So, to use the strawberry shortcake example, if your shortcake is predominantly flavored with actual strawberries, then your label would read “strawberry shortcake.” But if it is primarily or solely flavored by natural flavor derived from strawberries, then it must be labeled: “natural strawberry flavored shortcake,” or “strawberry flavored shortcake.

What if you are flavoring your product with natural flavors that are not derived from the food that is the characterizing flavor? For example, what if your product is a lemon pie, but you flavor it only with natural flavors derived from limes? In that case, you must either include by the product name the identity of the actual flavor (for example, “with natural lime flavor”), or you must identify it as being artificially flavored. You read that correctly. Even if you are using a natural flavor, if it isn’t from the food that is the characterizing ingredient in your product, then it is considered an artificial flavor. What about a lemon pie flavored with natural lemon flavor but also with natural lime flavor. In that case, your label would include the words “natural lemon flavor, with other natural flavors.”

As a rule of thumb, if your product’s principal display panel contains the name of a food item, or a picture of a piece of fruit or other food item that the consumer would understand to be the primary recognizable flavor in the product, but the product does not in fact contain that fruit or other food item, or is predominantly flavored with natural flavors, then you must comply with the labeling requirements above. But if your product is predominantly flavored by the food item itself, with the natural flavors simply enhancing the flavor or serving a secondary flavoring function, then you need only identify the presence of natural flavors in the ingredients panel.


Don't Eat Poop logo
Food Safety Culture Club

Human Skills: The Key Ingredient of Food Safety Culture

Don't Eat Poop logo

Building relationships and trust with your team are the backbone of strong leadership. But these skills are seldom part of a food safety and quality assurance professionals training. At the 2023 Food Safety Consortium, Jill Stuber and Tia Glave, founders of Catalyst, a food safety consultancy that offers leadership training programs, sat down with Matt Regusci and Francine Shaw, co-hosts of the “Don’t Eat Poop” podcast to discuss strategies leaders can use to build their “human skills” as well as the lack of respect often seen in today’s workplace.

“The technical skills are very important in food safety, and we are consistently building them, but we are missing the human side,” said Glave. One danger of missing this human side is a lack of respect toward team members that translates to high turnover and low productivity.

You have to respect your people, which means saying “Please,” “Thank you,” working alongside them and understanding their unique goals and responsibilities. “If you want someone to work on Black Friday, you may have to work around a track schedule or a baseball schedule,” said Shaw. “If you want them to give up part of their Christmas, maybe you only have two-hour shifts. It is a give and take not a constant take, and leaders have forgotten that.”

One exercise Glave and Stuber use to help new leaders build their human skills is The Three Ps. “It’s all about learning what people are Passionate about Professionally and Personally,” said Stuber. “And we hear from attendees that their people are opening up to them because they started using this process and team members are working more cooperatively with them.”

One of the key frustrations of new leaders is that they feel bogged down by constantly having to deal with the “people stuff.” Welcome to leadership, says Stuber. “People will say to us, ‘I can’t get any work done because it’s all talking with people, and we say, ‘Your job is people now, welcome to the change!’”

Listen to full conversation here:






Rick Biros
Biros' Blog

The Rising FSQA Phoenix

By Rick Biros
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Rick Biros

Last month, the Food Safety Tech team wrapped up a very successful Food Safety Consortium Conference. While I could name drop many of the who’s who of food safety who presented this year, Erik Mettler, Assistant Commissioner for Partnerships and Policy in the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, gave a great keynote address in tandem with Sandra Eskin, Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety at USDA FSIS. Erik stayed for the full conference and participated in two additional panel discussions, one on Succession Planning and the second on Recalls. Sandy stayed for two days and made herself accessible to the delegates.

As the conference director I’m also the emcee. I introduce the speakers and panelists, but I also have the opportunity to be a participant and observe the interplay between delegates. What I observed at the Consortium was great networking, conversations and mentoring but what really stood out was a real energy among the delegates, something I haven’t seen at any food safety conference in the last few years. I believe that energy is an indicator that FSQA (food safety and quality assurance) is coming back from the devastation and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, on the topic of FSQA auditing and inspections, Covid significantly reduced the amount and type of internal and supplier audits as well as FDA inspections. Many auditors who were independent contractors just quit. They moved on because there was no work. This left a huge void in trained and experienced auditors.

Our session on Succession Planning for Inspectors and Auditors included panelists from government, academia, industry and industry associations. They discussed the increase in inspections and audits coming in 2024 and thus, the real need to fill the void in inspectors and auditors left from the pandemic, as well as the need to train and nurture those folks.

Another theme at the Consortium was the continued evolution of Food Safety Culture. Delegates were looking for ways to take Food Safety Culture to the next level and apply metrics to it. We did a post conference survey, and the feedback we received supports this. Here are some of the direct responses:

Q: What were your top takeaways from the Food Safety Consortium?

  • Transparency from regulators and ways to foster growth and culture.
  • Food Safety Culture is in the forefront, as evidenced by the numerous panels. I attended nearly every one pertaining to this subject. It is a difficult subject because it is subjective and difficult to measure and quantify.
  • Food Safety Culture is ever evolving and becoming a more important factor every year. We need a new system but are unwilling to scrap or majorly overhaul the current one … FSMA was supposed to drastically reduce foodborne illness incidents. It doesn’t seem to be working, and we are nearing the time for FSMA 2.0. While it doesn’t appear that we are getting better at reducing the number of incidents, we are getting better at detecting them.

Q: What Topics should we plan for next year’s Food Safety Consortium?

  • Updates from the FDA and USDA on current projects
  • How to demonstrate Food Safety Culture. How to build a program and maintain momentum was discussed this year. But how do we show results to auditors? We need guidance and expertise on proving a solid FSC to auditors.

My takeaway from this year’s Food Safety Consortium is that the FSQA community is on the cusp of a resurgence in activity, training and investments—like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of Covid. But even before the pandemic, there was an overall sense of FSMA and GFSI fatigue. I am seeing a collective increase in FSQA activity that has not been present in many years, and that’s a good thing!

In 2024, we will see accelerated digital transformation. Data analytics will play a greater role in FSQA strategies. Getting an entire industry and supply chain ready for FSMA 204 in two years will be a huge undertaking. Also, Food Safety Culture will evolve to provide metrics and data for accountability.

Food Safety Tech continues to publish original weekly articles on these emerging trends. We are introducing a new FSQA Auditor Training program in Q1, and next year’s Food Safety Consortium conference will be held October 20-22, 2024, in Washington, DC, continuing the conversations, debates and discussions.

You can be part of this new wave of FSQA energy by contributing an article to Food Safety Tech or submitting an abstract for the 2024 Food Safety Consortium conference.

This new wave of energy has inspired me. It’s been a while since I last wrote this column, way too long. And FSMA 2.0, that will be the subject of a future column. Also, I’ll share my thoughts on the new food safety agency, our new podcast partners from Don’t Eat Poop and many other topics. Until next time…

All the best!

Rick Biros, Founder, Publisher, Conference Director



peanuts, allergens
Allergen Alley

Allergen Advisory Labeling

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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peanuts, allergens

We’ve all seen the vague warnings on food labels, such as “May contain tree nuts” or “This product was made in facility that also processes dairy.” At the Food Safety Consortium in October, Steven Gendel, principal of Gendel Food Safety and former FDA Food Allergen Coordinator, offered guidance on when and how these advisory—also known as precautionary—labels should be used by food companies. In his presentation “Allergen Advisory Labeling,” Gendel made clear that these statements are not regulatory requirements and are not to be used for a company’s benefit (i.e, to shield the company from liability). They are for consumers and should be used only to protect consumers in situations where there is a potential risk of cross contamination that cannot be controlled through regulated cross contamination efforts and may cross the threshold of safe levels for allergic consumers.

Steve Gendel, USP
Steven Gendel

When to Use Allergen Advisory Labels

Advisory labels are to be used after a company has taken all necessary steps to eliminate allergen cross contamination and ensure the absence of allergens, and is unable to prevent the risk of cross contamination. “Companies should have a written justification for using an advisory label statement,” said Gendel.

How to Calibrate Risk

The risk to consumers with allergies is based on a combination of how much of the allergen is present and how much of the product is likely to be consumed. This means that risk should be based on how much of the product the consumer is likely to consume, not the labeled serving size. Take, for example, a small bag of chips that includes nutritional information for two servings per bag. If the consumer is more likely to eat the entire bag in one sitting, the allergen dose should be based on the exposure from one full bag of chips. “The dose can justify use of an allergen advisory label,” said Gendel. (For guidance on dose, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has established allergen threshold levels.)

It is also important to note that precautionary or advisory labels are for potential cross contamination risks only. “There is no minimum dose for an ingredient,” said Gendel. “If an allergen is an actual ingredient in the product, it must be on the ingredient label.”



Paul Bradley
Ask The Expert

Ask the Expert: Five Steps for Success in Digitization and Technology Selection

By Paul Bradley
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Paul Bradley

Across the food and beverage industry, organizations are undertaking a wide variety of data-oriented technology initiatives. There are a host of reasons for the trend, and indeed the convergence of multiple factors is likely behind the growing urgency for digitization within many food and beverage brands, manufacturers and supplier organizations. To be sure, ongoing supply chain instability over the last three or more years has put a focus on supply chain resilience and the need for more nimble and flexible supply networks. A dynamic and ever-changing global regulatory landscape is driving compliance and reporting requirements that are increasingly difficult to meet without a solid digital strategy in place. ESG initiatives are driving the need for increased visibility into global supply chains. Evolving consumer preferences create pressures on R&D organizations for continued product innovation, all of which needs to take place within acceptable safety, quality and risk management parameters. And of course, hovering over all of this is a tight (and increasingly costly) labor market, putting increased focus on opportunities for automation and increased efficiently.

Alongside these macro-level global trends, technology itself is moving forward at a rapid pace. The global food and beverage value chain has become more interconnected than ever before, with massive amounts of information moving around the world at remarkable speed. And of course, no discussion of technology is complete without a mention of artificial intelligence (AI). While by no means a new idea—many mature AI-based technologies have existed within the industry for years—AI is evolving quickly. Generative AI technologies, hardly known prior to 2023, are now appearing across the technology landscape, and dominating discussions around technology investment and strategy.

Confronted with all of this, food and beverage industry leaders could be forgiven for feeling a bit overwhelmed. Not only is more information (some valuable, some less so) available than ever before, but a profusion of technology solutions are vying for attention, nearly all promising new levels of insight and productivity. The landscape is complex, but there are a few basic steps that teams can take to help ensure that any potential technology investments are pointed in the right direction and are set up for long term success. Let’s examine five basic, but important steps that can help guide digitization efforts to a strong outcome.

TraceGains Five steps graphic

1. Starting with the end in mind. The objective of a technology implementation should never be to implement a platform. Usually, technology investments start with a business problem that needs to be solved. For food safety teams, this can encompass a range of possibilities, from a desire to reduce error and gain efficiencies in processes, to a need for better real-time monitoring of processes already in place, to a desire to decrease global risk exposure in an increasingly diverse supplier environment. Whatever the situation, teams can substantially de-risk technology investments by being crystal clear on the business objectives (not simply the implementation goals) of a given initiative. Clearly defining a “north star” in terms of expected business outcomes, and revisiting those goals often, can help keep projects focused, and avoid costly missteps and poor prioritization decisions along the way.

2. Defining stakeholders. Though seemingly obvious, it can be surprisingly easy for teams to launch an initiative without a clear view of impacted stakeholders. Typically, a given technology solution will have relatively well-understood functional owners within an organization. But it’s equally important to understand downstream groups that may have to interact with the solution or its outputs. Direct users, too, are a stakeholder community that can easily be overlooked. A solution that does its job on paper but doesn’t align with the working conditions of an end-user community is going to run into challenges. External stakeholders may also need to be considered, as suppliers, customers, contract manufacturers and other entities can all become obstacles to program success if their buy-in hasn’t been considered early in the process.

3. Supplementing (vs. replacing) human intelligence. With all the buzz around AI, it’s easy to get excited about the longer-term possibilities of the technology. And that’s appropriate – AI has already had notable effects on industry technologies and will continue to do so in the years to come. But it’s equally important to consider the current state of generative AI solutions, and be realistic about the limitations and risks of the technology as it exists today. A useful framework for this approach can be to think in terms of how AI can help supplement, even maximize, the intelligence and expertise of human users. Can it consolidate data that would be cumbersome to organize and collate? Can it scan information and flag likely priorities for further investigation?

In the high-stakes environment of food safety and quality, the overlay of hard-earned human knowledge and awareness is going to remain necessary for a long time to come. At the same time, AI-based solutions are already present in the space, and those who use them wisely may very well realize a significant market advantage over those who shy away entirely.

4. Getting real about data quality. Whether the discussion is about AI, data insights, analytics, compliance reporting or automation, most technologies run on data. Put another way, most technologies aren’t any better than the data they consume. The ancient saying, “garbage in, garbage out” remains depressingly current, many decades after the dawn of computing.  As a result, it’s important to take a hard look at the quality, completeness, consistency and structure of the information that a potential technology solution will need to access in order to deliver on its promise. On the positive side, qualified technology providers should be able to provide assistance and clear guidance through the data side of any implementation, and in an increasingly networked world, providers may even be able to come to the table with useful industry data and data management practices that make this part of the digitization journey easier and faster. But it’s important not to skip this step; many are the solutions that never lived up to their potential because the data they needed to consume wasn’t workable.

5. Lastly, as initiatives come together, it’s important to loop back to the original business objectives that were clarified in the first step. Have those objectives been met and, crucially, can that be measured? If it can, the project has likely succeeded, and is positioned to yield insights toward the next step in the technology journey.

The good news is that as digitization continues across the food and beverage industry, it creates a greater opportunity for brands, manufacturers and suppliers to move away from the antiquated model of static, linear supply chains, and toward a more interconnected future based both on shared data and shared values. Explore the world’s largest network of F&B brands and suppliers at TraceGains Gather™, and learn more about the growing community of committed safety professionals worldwide.

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Anthony Zapata
FST Soapbox

High Pressure Processing Automation Improves Line Productivity, While Reducing Food Risks

By Anthony Zapata
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Anthony Zapata

High Pressure Processing (HPP), also known as high pressure pascalization or cold pasteurization, is a nonthermal (5ºC – 20ºC) food and beverage preservation method that reduces the risk of pathogen contamination and achieves an increased shelf life while maintaining the optimum attributes of fresh products.

It is based on the use of high isostatic pressure transmitted by water of up to 6,000 bar /600MPa /87,000 psi, held for a few minutes. This pressure is transmitted uniformly and instantaneously throughout the product, therefore achieving an effect equivalent to pasteurization, without the use of heat. A highly versatile technology, HPP can be applied to a wide range of foods.

As a post-packaging process, HPP requires the loading of packaged products into baskets, which is traditionally a manual process. After loading and processing, the baskets then exit through an outfeed conveyor, where then again, the packaged product needs to be manually retrieved.

This manual batch process has become a challenge for many processors operating HPP machines due to the difficulty of sourcing labor.

Streamlining Operations with HPP Automation

Hiperbaric Automation Systems provide operational efficiencies and substantial labor reduction, while increasing productivity and providing strict traceability.

An HPP automation line consists of specialized software and hardware that work together to automate key parts of the HPP treatment process:

  • Product Loading/Unloading: Automated systems use conveyors, robots and tilting stations to move product in and out of HPP vessels, avoiding the ergonomic strains and throughput bottlenecks of manual loading.
  • Material Handling Equipment: Material handling is known to be tedious and labor-intensive. Companies can optimize production, improve efficiency and promote operator safety by using custom carriers, carrier carts, elevators, turntables, tote-dumpers, pre-feeders and dryers.
  • Minute RFID & Data Matrix: RFID tags and Data Matrix codes placed on the HPP baskets can help manufacturers track inventory, automate setup, and provide strict traceability and reliability, ensuring that all products are processed.

Why HPP Automation?

Automating the HPP process offers many advantages including increased productivity, cost savings, traceability and operator safety.

Improved Efficiency & Throughput. Without automation, HPP processors struggle to maximize machine runtime. Manual loading/unloading and basket reconfiguration make it hard to start cycles quickly. This downtime curtails throughput. HPP automation helps maximize production productivity by increasing throughput, production line speed and efficiency.

Reduced Labor Requirements. Manual HPP requires extensive labor to keep the machine constantly loaded and running. An automated system can cut labor requirements by more than half. With machines doing the repetitive, heavy lifting, staff can be redeployed to more value-adding tasks.

Prevent Handling Errors. Manual loading/unloading leaves room for human error. Operators may improperly load products. Automation standardizes these processes and minimizes direct handling to prevent human error. Automated data capture also gives full traceability for quality assurance. Ultimately, automation can provide strict traceability and reliability ensuring that all products are processed correctly.

Improved Workplace Safety. Repetitive activities like loading heavy baskets subject workers to ergonomic strains and injury over time. By reducing direct human-machine interaction, automation protects worker health and safety. The facility is a more attractive workplace to retain talent.

Case Study: Evolution Fresh Advances HPP with Automation

Evolution Fresh, a Bolthouse Farms subsidiary, is a premier cold-pressed juice company. The company partnered with Hiperbaric, a high pressure processing equipment manufacturer, to produce juices with fresh quality, clean label and extended shelf life.

Bolthouse Farms acquired Evolution Fresh from Starbucks in May 2022, expanding its beverage offerings from “nutrient-dense, plant-powered juices and smoothies to include a full lineup of primarily organic cold-pressed, premium juices,” according to Bolthouse Farms.

The company is using HPP to keep its juice safe by inactivating foodborne pathogens. Since it is a non-thermal process, it also helps protect the nutrients and delicious, vibrant taste of the premium quality, cold-pressed juices.

The HPP process enables shelf life expansion from three to five days to 55+ days, without preservatives, allowing expanded distribution to grocery channels.

With manual HPP, the company saw multiple stress injuries each year due to lifting and repetitive motion. By moving to automation, the company reduced its reliance on manual labor and made the processes more ergonomic. They eliminated 16,000 lbs. of lifting per day per person. Automation also helped with social distancing requirements due to COVID-19, allowing employees to spread out. Eliminating waste from triple handling and staging also enabled a continuous system rather than a batch process.

Automating the HPP process through an automated solution has enabled Evolution Fresh to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and drive revenue:

  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) increased 15%
  • Injuries reduced by more than 90%
  • Waste reduced by more than 50%
  • Line labor reduced more than 50%

Post-HPP automation equipment includes a fully automated robotic arm that empties baskets and robots that assist in sorting and placing bottles upright. Today, Evolution Fresh uses nine employees on the processing line per shift compared to about 19 previously, a more than 50% reduction.

The Future of HPP Automation

The next step in automation will incorporate big data and analytics to create models for predictive maintenance and auto diagnosis. Computing advances and apps will allow real-time control over the automation process. Lastly, augmented reality will enable remote assistance and mixed-reality learning experiences.

Automation for HPP technology addresses many of today’s production challenges by increasing production line speed and efficiency, improving safety, reducing labor costs and injuries, and delivering accountability.

Rodrigo Malig
Ask The Expert

Why Customized Food Safety Programs Featuring AI and Molecular Testing Are Essential

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Rodrigo Malig

Everyone understands the importance of a robust food safety program. It should ensure the safety of the product and environment, backed by solid, traceable data. The food industry is vast, stretching from the farm all the way to our plates, and includes a diverse array of foods and drinks. Different segments of this industry have specific needs, whether it’s unique spoilage tests or specialized predictions based on distinct data. Unfortunately, current services haven’t delivered a trustworthy solution for these needs.

Rodrigo Malig is the Chief Product Officer at TAAG Genetics. He oversees both the artificial intelligence and molecular diagnostic teams. In this column, Rodrigo discusses the crucial roles of AI and molecular testing in crafting a reliable, tailored solution for food safety.

What are common deficiencies in current food safety and quality programs?

Malig: Common shortcomings in Food Safety and Quality programs (and frustrations for hardworking FSQA professionals) include:

Lack of Customization: Many programs don’t adapt or customize to specific industry needs.

Routine Sampling Issues: Environmental sampling is often random, lacking intelligent risk-based criteria. There’s also an insufficient adaptive process after each sampling cycle.

Paper files
Relying on paper files makes keeping track of data, trending it and analyzing it more difficult and time consuming.

Testing Targets: The targets for environmental and finished product testing are often insufficient. For instance, industries need specific tests for spoilage microorganisms, but many don’t have access to these tests and rely instead on general aerobic plate counts, and yeast and mold.

LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) Limitations: These systems often don’t offer accurate digitized mapping, customization or ability to adapt, leading them to inaccurately represent a facility or its changing needs.

Outdated Methods: Some programs still rely on outdated technologies and methods. Let’s take plate counts for example. There’s a focus on mere quantitative results without the specificity of what those organisms are. This prevents facilities from taking precise corrective and preventive actions. Additionally, we all know plate counts can be time consuming with long incubation times, have limited sensitivity, lack genetic information, require manual labor (thereby creating additional risk for contamination) and increase overall costs. It is essential to determine when plate counts need additional support or substitution, such as with PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).

Comparison to FDA Standards: Many confirmation methods are inferior compared to the FDA’s Whole Genome Sequencing.

PCR Kit Issues: When using PCR, many kits test for only a single microorganism. This limitation requires multiple tests to be run, leading to increased turnaround times and costs.

Traceability Concerns: A significant deficiency is the lack of traceability in many programs, requiring additional documentation to be performed on paper.

Incomplete data and analysis: Antiquated data management systems result in insufficient data collection and digitization. Many in the industry still manually write on paper or use Excel spreadsheets, which makes keeping track of data, trending it and analyzing it more difficult and time consuming.

Reactive and not predictive: Because of the deficiencies detailed above, food safety programs become reactive and insufficient to address risk.

How can we improve current food safety and quality programs?

Malig: An improved food safety and quality program must become predictive (and not reactive), by embracing and implementing technology featuring customization, molecular testing and AI. Below is a basic checklist for food companies to follow:

Data analysis smartphone
An ideal food safety and quality program should be digital, implement artificial intelligence and molecular testing, be comprehensive, and most importantly be simple and mobile!

Customized Software & Testing: Utilize software and tests tailored to your unique requirements.

Advanced Environmental Sampling: Embrace sampling that’s customized, risk-based, predictive and adaptive. Employ digitization and AI to efficiently map, record, analyze and predict sampling schemes. This system should also adapt after each cycle and accommodate changes in the environment, equipment and processes.

Molecular Testing: Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing is a molecular biology technique with several advantages, including:

  • Sensitivity: PCR is highly sensitive and can detect very small amounts of genetic material (DNA or RNA) in a sample. This makes it effective for detection even when the pathogen is present in low concentrations.
  • Specificity: PCR is highly specific, meaning it can accurately identify and differentiate between different microorganisms or genetic variants. This specificity reduces the likelihood of false-positive results.
  • Speed: PCR can provide results relatively quickly, often within a few hours, depending on the type of PCR used (e.g., real-time PCR or RT-PCR). This rapid turnaround time is crucial for time sensitive decisions in the food industry.
  • Cost: PCR can be cost efficient, especially with multiplex PCR kits that detect multiple pathogens in a single reaction, which essentially cuts time, labor, use of lab equipment and space, and overall cost.

Industry-Specific Microorganism Testing: Ensure you’re testing for microorganisms relevant to your industry, processes and products. This is especially crucial if your products are susceptible to spoilage by specific microorganisms.

Adaptive LIMS: Your Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) should be both customizable and adaptive. It should digitally represent your facility with accuracy and adapt to any changes or needs.

Dynamic Microbiological Programs: Move away from reactive and repetitive testing schemes. Most current microbiological programs tend to test the same samples repeatedly. With the help of AI algorithms, we can now implement preventive and risk-based microbiological programs.

This real-life case study illustrates how a Fortune 100 Company implemented the solutions above to improve their food safety and quality program.

TAAG Contact Us


Francine Shaw
FST Soapbox

Unlocking the Promise of IoT in Food Safety and Transparency

By Francine L. Shaw
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Francine Shaw

In today’s fast-paced world, ensuring food safety and efficiency is crucial for food businesses. Fortunately, technological advancements, including the Internet of Things (IoT), have revolutionized the way the food industry operates. By leveraging IoT, food businesses can drive efficiency, enhance food safety, mitigate risks and boost transparency throughout the supply chain. All food businesses should be embracing IoT innovations to optimize their operations, improve efficiency, maximize safety and drive key performance indicators (KPIs), including consumer satisfaction, loyalty and sales.

The benefits of using IoT in the food industry include:

  • Enhancing food safety. IoT enables real-time tracking and monitoring of food products throughout the supply chain. With the help of connected sensors and devices, businesses can monitor crucial variables including temperature and humidity to ensure optimal storage conditions. Both companies and consumers benefit from this heightened level of food safety and quality assurance.
  • Improving supply chain transparency. IoT enhances end-to-end visibility and traceability. By employing sensors and radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags, businesses can track the movement of food products all along the supply chain, from farm to fork. This transparency helps identify the origin of any issues or recalls, significantly reducing the impact on public health. Moreover, it enables quicker and more targeted responses to any potential food safety breaches, mitigating risks, preventing foodborne illness outbreaks and ensuring consumer trust in the food supply chain.
  • Optimizing shelf life for product inventory. IoT devices collect data on product conditions, such as temperature, humidity and light exposure. This information empowers businesses to optimize inventory management, implement dynamic pricing strategies and reduce waste (and associated costs) by ensuring products are sold or consumed before expiration. By minimizing food waste, companies contribute to sustainability efforts and consumers benefit from fresher and safer products.
  • Upgrading real-time monitoring and predictive analytics. IoT devices provide real-time data on critical factors, including equipment performance, energy consumption and production processes. Businesses can detect patterns and predict potential issues by leveraging advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms. By identifying risks in advance, companies can proactively address them, preventing downtime and improving overall operational efficiency.
  • Elevating the customer experience. IoT can also improve the customer experience. Smart shelves equipped with sensors, for example, can offer personalized recommendations, nutritional information and/or recipe suggestions based on customer preferences. Connected devices in restaurants or food delivery services can streamline the ordering process, improve order accuracy and provide real-time status updates, making the customer journey smoother and more convenient.

It’s clear that IoT offers significant benefits for food companies. Following are five important considerations as you investigate these innovative solutions:

  1. Assess your organization’s specific needs. Identify areas of your food business that can benefit from IoT technology. Consider cold chain management, quality control, inventory management and any other aspect of operations or supply chain that can be optimized. Define the specific goals you want to achieve through IoT implementation.
  2. Choose reliable technology. Select IoT devices and solutions that are reliable, scalable and aligned with your business requirements. Prioritize factors such as data security, interoperability, ease of integration and ongoing support. Ensure that the technology you choose meets industry standards and regulations. Work only with trusted tech vendors.
  3. Examine your data management and analytics processes. Develop a robust data management strategy to collect, store and analyze the vast amounts of data that will be generated by the IoT devices. Employ analytics tools to derive actionable insights from the data, and use these insights to make more informed decisions.
  4. Collaborate with the right partners. Explore partnerships with technology providers, industry associations and regulatory bodies to stay updated on emerging standards, best practices and compliance requirements related to IoT technologies in the food industry. Collaborating with experts and industry peers can accelerate your IoT implementation journey.
  5. Prioritize data security. Implement robust security measures to protect your IoT devices and the data they collect. This includes network security, encryption, authentication protocols and regular monitoring for potential vulnerabilities. Safeguarding data privacy and complying with regulations is vital in maintaining trust with customers and partners.

Avoiding IoT-driven technologies in the food industry is no longer an option. These devices have become necessary to drive efficiency, enhance food safety, meet regulatory requirements and consumers’ evolving expectations, and stay competitive. By leveraging IoT solutions, businesses can optimize their processes, improve transparency, reduce waste and provide exceptional customer experiences. However, successful implementation requires a strategic approach, careful planning, ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement. By prioritizing food safety and communication, and identifying areas of greatest need for improvement, the food industry can unlock the full potential of IoT technology and pave the way for a safer future.



Frank Meek, Orkin
Bug Bytes

How To Keep Stinging Pests out of Your Food Processing Facility

By Frank Meek
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Frank Meek, Orkin

Particularly active during summer months when the temperatures are warmer, stinging pests can cause major concerns for your facility operations. Stinging insect populations can grow rapidly if nests are not treated as soon as they are discovered. Hundreds of small, but ferocious pests can disrupt productivity and potentially harm employees with their painful stings.

These stings can sometimes cause more serious health issues including swelling, infections, nausea and/or allergic reactions, so it is important to stay proactive if stinging pests are reported around your facility. Here are some common stinging insects to look out for in and around food processing facilities.

  • Bees: Most bees rarely sting humans. Stings normally occur when the insects are accidentally contacted by swatting them, grabbing them or finding them in an area unexpectedly. Many bees are considered beneficial and should be safely relocated by a professional when found if they are in an area with people.
  • Paper Wasp: These pests may at first appear to be yellow jackets with their black bodies and yellow markings. However, they are easily identified by their signature yellow antenna. Preferring to live in dark, void areas, they can be attracted to the dimmer parts of your facility. Paper wasps will sting to protect their colony, releasing toxins that can be harmful to humans and can cause severe allergic reactions.
  • Hornet: Hornets are some of the more aggressive stinging pests you’ll When perceiving threats, hornets are known to deliver painful stings or even squirt out venom that can sometimes cause temporary blindness to their victim. If you see a hornet’s nest, it is important to stay proactive and contact your pest control provider immediately for treatment and handling.
  • Yellow Jacket: Known for their signature black bodies and yellow markings, yellow jackets are highly aggressive stinging insects. These pests can cause property damage to wooden surfaces and even drywall. If you see a few adult yellow jackets around your facility, there is likely a nest nearby.
  • Ants: Some ant species can deliver a painful and sometimes dangerous sting. Fire ants, harvester ants and Asian needle ants for example. These are primarily outdoor ants, but they will come inside at times to look for food and water.

So, how can you help protect your food manufacturing and handling facility—and your employees—against stinging pests? By implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.

IPM programs focus on preventive techniques like exclusion, sanitation and maintenance to keep pests where they belong—outside your business. Most food processing facilities have customized IPM programs in place, especially if they undergo regularly third-party food safety audits. These programs are implemented by qualified pest control technicians in collaboration with a facility’s food safety and quality assurance team to help deter pest activity and prevent infestations.

When it comes to stinging pests, there are a variety of techniques that can help keep these pests at bay:

  • Maintain your property grounds. Beautiful blooms and elaborate landscaping make your property more attractive to employees, potential clients and flying, stinging pests alike. Trimming overgrown branches, keeping plants from touching the exterior of your building and removing excess wood mulch can help limit the presence of stinging pests.
  • Secure your exterior. Perhaps the most important preventive measure you can take when it comes to helping eliminate pests inside your facility is implementing exclusion tactics. Exclusion refers to techniques that include the repairing, sealing off, and shutting down of any common entry points for pets around your facility. Make sure to inspect your exterior with your pest control provider to determine where you can continue to secure your facility.
  • Keep it clean. Maintaining a clean facility cannot be overstated when it comes to helping keep any pests at bay. Make sure you clean your facilities daily, wiping down surfaces, removing clutter and emptying trash cans. Exposed trash and food debris can inadvertently attract stinging pests to your facility. Keep the exterior clean also by not allowing materials and old equipment to accumulate.
  • Train your staff. Investing in a staff training plan that teaches your employees how to spot signs of stinging pests is also an effective way to help prevent an infestation on the front end. Your employees see and hear more than you might know, which makes them invaluable in helping identify pest issues. Most pest control providers offer complimentary staff training, making this tactic cost-effective for your operations. Once your staff knows the types of stinging pests that frequent your facility, persistent hot spots and the process for reporting pest activity, they’ll be able to help you address pest issues quickly and effectively.

In case of a stinging pest infestation, it is important to quickly notify your pest control provider. Keeping detailed records of where they were seen and high activity times of day can assist them in quickly diagnosing the issue and removing the threat. In cases of extreme infestation, more aggressive pest treatments such as fumigation may be necessary. For certain pests, such as honeybees that are highly beneficial to the environment, relocation/removal done by a professional is paramount. If a hive is disturbed through improper removal, it can prompt an aggressive, antagonistic and perhaps medically hazardous response from the hive. Be sure to check local regulations regarding honeybees. Many states have legal restrictions in place protecting these bees.

Now that you understand some of the types of stinging pests you may encounter and ways to help prevent and control a growing population at your facility, don’t forget to review your unique IPM plan with your pest control provider. If you don’t have an IPM program in place or a reliable pest control provider, now’s the time to implement one before it becomes a costly pest issue—or worse, brings harm to your employees and customers. Staying on top of stinging pests can help keep your product protected, employees safe and business running smoothly.