magnifying glass

Food Fraud and Adulteration Detection Using FTIR Spectroscopy

By Ryan Smith, Ph.D.
No Comments
magnifying glass

Producers of food-based products are faced with challenges of maintaining the safety and quality of their products, while also managing rapid screening of raw materials and ingredients. Failure to adequately address both challenges can be costly, with estimated recall costs alone starting around $10 million, in addition to any litigation costs.1 Long-term costs can accumulate further as a result of damage to brand reputation. A vast array of methods has been employed to meet these challenges, and adoption continues to increase as technology becomes smaller, cheaper and more user friendly. One such technique is Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, an analytical technique that is widely used for quick (typically 20–60 seconds per measurement) and non-destructive testing of both man-made and natural materials in food products. The uniformity and physical state of the sample (solid vs. liquid) will dictate the specifics of the hardware used to perform such analyses, and the algorithm applied to the identification task will depend, in part, on the expected variability of the ingredient.

Infrared spectral measurements provide a “compositional snapshot”— capturing information related to the chemical bonds present in the material. Figure 1 shows an example of a mid-infrared spectrum of peppermint oil. Typically, the position of a peak along the x-axis (wavenumber) is indicative of the type of chemical bond, while the peak height is related either to the identity of the material, or to the concentration of the material in a mixture. In the case of peppermint oil, a complex set of spectral peaks is observed due to multiple individual naturally occurring molecular species in the oil.

Mid-infrared spectrum, peppermint oil
Figure 1. Mid-infrared spectrum of peppermint oil. The spectrum represents a “chemical snapshot” of the oil, as different peaks are produced as a result of different chemical bonds in the oil.

Once the infrared spectrum of an ingredient is measured, it is then compared to a reference set of known good ingredients. It is important that the reference spectrum or spectra are measured with ingredients or materials that are known to be good (or pure)—otherwise the measurements will only represent lot-to-lot variation. The comparative analysis can assist lab personnel in gaining valuable information—such as whether the correct ingredient was received, whether the ingredient was adulterated or replaced for dishonest gain, or whether the product is of acceptable quality for use. The use of comparative algorithms for ingredient identification also decreases subjectivity by reducing the need for visual inspection and interpretation of the measured spectrum.

Correlation is perhaps the most widely used algorithm for material identification with infrared spectroscopy and has been utilized with infrared spectra for identification purposes at least as early as the 1970s.2 When using this approach, the correlation coefficient is calculated between the spectrum of the test sample and each spectrum of the known good set. Calculated values will range from 0, which represents absolutely no match (wrong or unexpected material), to 1, representing a perfect match. These values are typically sorted from highest to lowest, and the material is accepted or rejected based on whether the calculated correlation lies above or below an identified threshold. Due to the one-to-one nature of this comparison, it is best suited to identification of materials that have little or no expected variability. For example, Figure 2 shows an overlay of a mid-infrared spectrum of an ingredient compared to a spectrum of sucrose. The correlation calculated between the two spectra is 0.998, so the incoming ingredient is determined to be sucrose. Figure 3 shows an overlay of the same mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose with a spectrum of citric acid. Notable differences are observed between the two spectra, and a significant change in the correlation is observed, with a coefficient of 0.040 calculated between the two spectra. The citric acid sample would not pass as sucrose with the measurement and algorithm settings used in this example.

Mid-infrared spectrum, sucrose
Figure 2. An overlay of the mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose and a spectrum of a different sample of sucrose.
Mid-infrared spectrium, sucrose, citric acid
Figure 3: An overlay of the mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose and a spectrum of citric acid.

When testing samples with modest or high natural variability, acceptable materials can produce a wider range of infrared spectral features, which result in a correspondingly broad range of calculated correlation values. The spread in correlation values could be of concern as it may lead to modification of algorithm parameters or procedures to “work around” this variation. Resulting compromises can increase the potential for false positives, meaning the incorrect ingredient or adulterated material might be judged as passing. Multivariate algorithms provide a robust means for evaluating ingredient identity for samples with high natural variability.

Click below to continue to page 2.

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
No Comments
Data protection, security

Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.

Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.

The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.

Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.

One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.

By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.

This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.

While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.

Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.

References

  1. FDA. (2011). FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/full-text-food-safety-modernization-act-fsma.
  2. Balzano, J. (2015). “Revised Food Safety Law In China Signals Many Changes And Some Surprises”. Forbes. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbalzano/2015/05/03/revised-food-safety-law-in-china-signals-many-changes-and-some-surprises/#624b72db6e59.

Lessons Learned from Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessments (Part I)

By Frank Pisciotta, Spence Lane
No Comments

Food defense is the effort to protect food from intentional acts of adulteration where there is an intent to cause harm. Like counterterrorism laws for many industries, the IA rule, which established a compliance framework for regulated facilities, requires that these facilities prepare a security plan—in this case, a food defense plan—and conduct a vulnerability assessment (VA) to identify significant vulnerabilities that, if exploited, might cause widescale harm to public health, as defined by the FDA. Lessons learned during the conduct of food defense vulnerability and risk assessments and the preparation of the required food defense plan are detailed throughout this three-part series of articles. Part I of this series is intended to assist facilities that have not yet conducted vulnerability assessments or wish to review those already conducted, by leveraging lessons learned from assessments conducted for the largest and most complex global food and beverage facilities.

Lesson 1: VA outcomes are greatly enhanced if a physical security professional is consulted. In support of this contention, there are several physical security mitigation strategies, which can be employed to support a food defense program, that are frequently under-utilized and are not optimally managed by non-security staff. Also, the FDA seems to promote the use of cameras even though this equipment is unlikely to prevent an incident of intentional adulteration. For organizations that choose to use video surveillance, a competent security professional can help organizations engineer and operate video surveillance for maximum benefits and to meet challenging record-keeping requirements when this mitigation strategy is included in a food defense plan.

Lesson 2: Given the focus by the FDA on the insider, a formal insider threat detection program is highly recommended. Trying to promote the common, “See Something, Say Something” strategy may not be enough. For example, if employees are not clearly told what to look for in terms of uniform requirements, how to identify persons who do not belong or changes to a coworker’s baseline behavior, which may indicate moving toward a path to violence or sabotage, then “See Something, Say Something” may end up being no more than a catchy slogan.

A key element of an insider threat detection program is the completion of effective background checks for all persons who will be allowed in the facility unescorted. This includes temporary employees and contractors. A common theme in many of the recent, serious intentional adulteration incidents was that the person responsible was involved in some sort of grievance observable to coworkers and supervisors. In all insider threat detection programs, the grievance becomes an important trip wire. The Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute has published a document titled, “Common Sense Guide to Mitigating Insider Threats, Sixth Edition”. In this document is some particularly helpful guidance that can be used to stand up an insider threat detection program, but this is an effort that can take some time to fully implement.

Lesson 3: The FDA has made it abundantly clear that they believe the focus for the food and beverage industry should be the radicalized insider. A closer look at all the recently publicized contamination events suggests that there are other profiles that need to be considered. A good foundational model for building profiles of potential offenders can be found in the OSHA definitions for workplace violence offenders, which has been expanded to address ideologically based attacks. Table I applies those descriptions to the food and beverage industry, with an asterisk placed by those offender profiles that exist in recent incidents and discussed later in the text.

Class OSHA Workplace Violence Offender Description Motivation Translated to the Food and Beverage Industry
1 The offender has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employee(s). Rather, the violence is incidental to another crime, such as robbery, shoplifting, trespassing or seeking social media fame. Behavioral Health Patient *
Social Media Fame Seeker *
Copycat *
Extortion *
Economic motivation *
2 The violent person has a legitimate relationship with the business—for example, the person is a customer, client, patient, student, or inmate—and becomes violent while being served by the business, violence falls into this category. My load isn’t ready, you are costing me money
3 The offender of this type of violence could be a current employee or past employee of the organization who attacks or threatens other employee(s) in the workplace. I am upset with a coworker and adulterate to create problems for that person *
I am upset with the company and adulterate as retribution and to harm the brand *
Youthful stupidity
I am not paid enough *
4 The offender may or may not have a relationship with the business but has a personal (or perceived personal) relationship with the victim. I am upset with an intimate partner/ coworker and adulterate to create problems for that person
5 Ideological workplace violence is directed at an organization, its people, and/or property for ideological, religious or political reasons. The violence is perpetrated by extremists and value-driven groups justified by their beliefs. Radicalized Insider
Table I. A description of OSHA workplace violence offenders and how it can be applied to the F&B industry.

A supermarket in Michigan recalled 1,700 lbs. of ground beef after 111 people fell ill with nicotine poisoning. The offender, an employee, mixed insecticide into the meat to get his supervisor in trouble. In Australia, the entire strawberry industry was brought to its knees after a disgruntled supervisor “spiked” strawberries with needles. There were more than 230 copycat incidents impacting many companies. A contract employee in Japan, apparently disgruntled over his low pay, sprayed pesticide on a frozen food processing line resulting in illnesses to more than 2,000 people. A contract worker upset with a union dispute with the company at a food manufacturing plant videoed himself urinating on the production line, then uploaded the video to the Internet. Be cognizant of any grievances in the workplace and increase monitoring or take other proactive steps to reduce the risk of intentional adulteration.

Lesson 4: The IA Rule requires that every point, step and procedure be analyzed to determine if it is an actionable process step (APS). The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point flow charts are a good starting point to comply with this element of the law but cannot be counted on completely to achieve the standard of analyzing every point, step or procedure. Critical thinking and persons familiar with the production process need to be involved to ensure that no steps are missed. Oftentimes companies modify the HACCP flow diagrams after a VA.

Lesson 5: The FDA states in the second installment of guidance (here’s the full copy) to the industry that, “There are many possible approaches to conducting a VA. You may choose an approach based on considerations such as the time and resources available and the level of specificity desired. You have the flexibility to choose any VA approach, as long as your VA contains each required component (21 CFR 121.130).”

The FDA further states that the Key Activity Type, or KAT method, is an appropriate method for conducting a VA because it reflects consideration of the three required elements and the inside attacker. Using this methodology alone, however, can result in substantially more APS’s, which might otherwise be ruled out for practical purposes such as a lack of accessibility or a lack of feasibility to contaminate the product at a point, step or procedure. We have experienced up to a 90% decline in APS’s by utilizing another FDA recommended assessment approach, the hybrid approach, which assesses each point, step or procedure as first whether it is a KAT. Then to qualify as an APS, it must also trigger positively for public health impact, accessibility and feasibility to contaminate the product.

Organizations who have yet to execute vulnerability assessments (due July 26, 2020) or who may wish to reflect back on their existing VA’s in an effort to eliminate unnecessary APS’s should find these strategies helpful to focus limited resources to the areas where they can have the greatest effect. The next two articles in this series will cover more information on electronic access, the value of site tours, comparisons to drinking water security strategies, dealing with multi-site assessments and more.

Cannabis, gavel

CBD Marketplace: How Should We Navigate It?

By Richard Blau
1 Comment
Cannabis, gavel

Retired NFL player Rob Gronkowski, formerly of the New England Patriots, recently signed a deal with Abacus Health Products in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that includes buying a stake in the company and agreeing to promote its products. His decision reflects his belief that cannabidiol or “CBD” products made by the company under the brand CBDMEDIC can help others manage pain the way it has helped him.

Former world champion boxer Mike Tyson is developing a cannabis farm called “Cannabis Resort” for smokers and growers on his 40-acre land in California City. His company Tyson Holistic Holdings also owns Tyson Ranch, his own cannabis strain company and recently launched his CBD brand named CopperGel, which includes roll-on relief items.

Lifestyle maven Martha Stewart has entered into a deal with cannabis and CBD company Canopy Growth to be an adviser to the company. Her role will be to help it develop a new line of CBD-based products for both humans and animals.

Learn more about the direction of the cannabis industry at the 2019 Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, which is co-located with the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo | October 1–3, 2019 | Schaumburg, IL The involvement of these and other celebrities in the emerging CBD industry signals an escalation in the evolution of cannabis as a legal consumer product. CBD products are sold today not only through licensed dispensaries and pharmacies, but also in specialty cafes, smoke shops, grocery stores and general retailers. This reflects the degree to which cannabis has become increasingly integrated into mainstream society.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis products, and 11 states plus D.C. have legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults. Affecting industries as diverse as cosmetics, food and beverage and pharmaceuticals, the exponentially expanding CBD market has generated analyses forecasting that the collective market for CBD sales in the United States will surpass $15–20 billion by 2025, according to the firms BDS Analytics, Arcview Market Research and Cowen & Co.

Cannabis, gavel
Legal Recreational Use of Cannabis: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia
Illinois became the second most-populous state (after California) to legalize recreational marijuana in June
Vermont was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use through the legislative process. The state law allows for adults age 21 and over to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis. The sale of nonmedical cannabis is not allowed.

Yet, many government officials at the state and local levels, as well as industry members and consumers, justifiably question whether CBD products are legal. For example, in January 2019, New York City’s health department started prohibiting restaurants from adding any CBD supplement to food or drink, saying CBD was not approved by the federal government as a safe ingredient for human consumption. “The Health Department takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health,” a spokeswoman said in a February 2019 email to media outlet CNBC. “Until cannabidiol (CBD) is deemed safe as a food additive, the Department is ordering restaurants not to offer products containing CBD.”

Is CBD legal in America? The answer is: “It’s complicated.”

The Details Behind CBD, Legalization and Marketing

CBD is the acronym for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis plants—both hemp and marijuana. Unlike the chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which also is found in those plants, CBD does not induce a “high.”

The main difference between marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC in the plants. If the cannabis plant contains more than 0.3% of THC, federal law defines the plant as “marijuana.” Hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% of THC. While CBD produced from hemp often is sold as an oil, it actually is a chemical compound.

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (commonly known as the “2018 Farm Bill”) removed industrial hemp and hemp-derived CBD from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Thus, by legalizing the production of hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp and hemp seeds from the schedule of Controlled Substances maintained by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That change effectively legalized hemp-derived CBD, which contains only trace amounts of THC, subject to federal agency health and safety regulations that govern all foods, beverages, supplements and other consumer products marketed in the United States. The new law also allows for increased research and product development of CBD extracted from hemp.

Not waiting for the regulators or scientists, enthusiastic entrepreneurs have produced extraordinary growth in the creation of markets for hemp CBD oil tinctures, topical creams, edibles, pet oil tinctures, vaping-liquids and a host of other consumer products purportedly containing CBD. The increase in CBD-related medical research, as well as the decreasing stigma surrounding CBD, has led to an industry boom, enticing celebrities and generating mass market growth for CBD products and sales.

According to predictive analysis and market research company Brightfield Group, $620 million worth of CBD products were sold last year in the United States. The same research team is projecting year-over-year CBD product sales growth in the United States of 706% in 2019 to reach approximately $5 billion, and sales of $23.7 billion by 2023.

Similarly, cannabis industry research firm BDS Analytics is predicting a compound annual growth rate of 49% by 2024 for all cannabis products across all distribution channels. The industry researchers also project that the CBD market, combined with other cannabis products, will create a total U.S. market of $45 billion for cannabinoids by 2024.

Another data group, New York-based Nielsen, estimates total sales of all legalized cannabis, which includes CBD products, reached $8 billion in the United States in 2018. According to Nielsen, U.S. cannabis sales should reach $41 billion by 2025, with marijuana products accounting for $35 billion, presuming 75% of the U.S. adult population has consistent access to legal marijuana by 2025.

In this context, there was only limited surprise in the marketplace when U.S. cannabis retailer Curaleaf Holdings Inc. disclosed in March 2019 that big-box retailer CVS Health Corp. will carry its line of CBD products. CVS, which is the largest drugstore chain by total sales in the United States, already has started to sell CBD products in eight states, including creams, sprays, roll-ons, lotions and salves.

Follow the link below to access page 2 of the article, which covers Regulatory Oversight and Emerging Enforcement.

magnifying glass

Advances in GC-MS/MS Enhance Routine Detection of Dioxins and Dioxin-like Compounds in Food and Animal Feed

By Richard Law
1 Comment
magnifying glass

Dioxins are highly toxic organic compounds that can remain in the environment for extended periods. These persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which include polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), are mainly generated by the combustion or manufacture of chlorine-containing materials such as plastics. Dioxins and other closely related POPs, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are classed as carcinogenic by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and present a significant threat to human health even at low levels.

Dioxins and PCBs can enter the food chain when livestock consume contaminated animal feed, and can accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals due to their high fat-solubility. As a result, over 90% of human exposure to dioxins and PCBs is through the consumption of meat, fish, dairy and other foods of animal origin.1 Given the health risks posed by dioxins and PCBs, effective food testing workflows are essential to ensure products do not exceed regulatory-defined safe levels.

GC-MS/MS: A Robust Technique for Analyzing Dioxins and PCBs in Food and Animal Feed

To control human exposure to PCDDs, PCDFs and PCBs from the food chain, global regulatory bodies have established maximum levels (MLs) and action levels (ALs) for various POPs in food products, as well as approved analytical methods for food testing laboratories to enforce these standards. In the European Union (EU), for example, European Commission regulations 2017/644 and 2017/771 outline sampling, sample preparation and analysis protocols for the detection of dioxins and other dioxin-like compounds in food and animal feedstuffs.2,3

With food testing laboratories tasked with handling potentially hundreds of samples every day, these workflows must be supported by robust and reliable analytical technologies that can confidently identify and accurately quantify dioxins and PCBs with minimal maintenance requirements in order to minimize downtime and maximize throughput.

Thanks to ongoing improvements in the robustness and sensitivity of gas chromatography-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) systems, regulations were updated in 2014 to permit this technique as an alternative to gas chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry (GC-HRMS) for confirmatory analysis and for the control of MLs and ALs. The latest GC-MS/MS systems are capable of exceptionally reliable performance for the routine analysis of dioxins and PCBs, providing accurate and sensitive quantification of these compounds even at trace levels.

Case Study: Sensitive and Reliable Determination of Dioxins Using GC-MS/MS

The performance of modern GC-MS/MS systems was evaluated in a recent study involving the confirmatory analysis and quantification of 17 PCDDs and PCDFs, and 18 dioxin-like and non-dioxin-like PCBs in solvent standards and various food and feedstuff samples. The samples were analyzed using a triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system equipped with the advanced electron ionization source (AEI) and a TG-Dioxin capillary GC column. Two identical GC-MS/MS systems in two separate laboratories were used to assess the reproducibility of the method.

Extraction was performed by Twisselmann hot extraction or pressurized liquid extraction. The automated clean-up of the extracts was performed using a three-column setup, comprising multi-layered acidic silica, alumina and carbon columns. Two fractions were generated per sample (the first containing non-ortho PCBs, PCDDs and PCDFs, and the second containing mono-ortho and di-ortho PCBs and indicator PCBs) and these were analyzed separately. The analytical method gave excellent separation of all the PCDD, PCDF and PCB congeners in less than 45 minutes.

Given the high sensitivity of modern GC-MS/MS instruments, a calibration-based approach was used to determine limits of quantitation (LOQs) of the analytical system. Using calibration standards at the LOQ and subsequent check standards at this level enabled the performance of the method to be assessed throughout the analytical sequence. This also allowed LOQs for the individual congeners to be determined, assuming a fixed sample weight. Individual congener LOQs could be applied to upper-bound, middle-bound and lower-bound toxicity equivalence (TEQ) results by substituting the result of any congener that fell below the lowest calibration point with this value multiplied by the toxicity equivalence factor (TEF) of the congener.

To evaluate the response factor deviation over the course of the analytical sequences, standards at the specified LOQ were analyzed at the start, during and end of each run. Using a nominal weight of 2 g, and assuming 100% 13C-labeled standard recovery and all natives were less than the LOQ in the sample, a minimum upper-bound value of 0.152 pg/g WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ was determined. This met regulatory requirements for reporting at 1/5th of the ML upper-bound sum TEQ for all food and feedstuffs with a nominal intake of 2 g, with the exception of guidance associated with liver of terrestrial animals and food for infants or young children, which both have legal limits defined on a fresh weight basis. In these cases, either a larger sample intake or a magnetic sector instrument would be required. All of the calibration sequences demonstrated response factor %RSDs within EU regulations, highlighting the suitability of the method.

To demonstrate the performance of the GC-MS/MS system, six replicate extractions of a mixed fat quality control sample (QK1) were prepared, split between the two sites and analyzed at regular intervals throughout the analytical sequences (14 injections in total). The measured WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values for congener were in excellent agreement with the reference value provided by the EU Reference Laboratory for Halogenated POPs in Feed and Food, and the upper bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ value did not deviate by more than 6% from the reference value for all 14 measurements (Figure 1). The deviation between the upper-bound and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ for each measurement was consistently less than 1.2%, well below the maximum limit of 20% necessary to support compliance with EU regulations.

pper- and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values
Figure 1. Upper- and lower-bound WHO-PCDD/F-TEQ values for all 14 measurements of the QK1 mixed animal fat quality control sample, for six replicate extractions.

Robust Routine Analysis of Dioxin and Dioxin-like Compounds

To assess the robustness of the GC-MS/MS system, the PCDD, PCDF and non-ortho PCB extracts were pooled into a mixed matrix sample and analyzed more than 161 injection sequences across a period of approximately two weeks. Each sequence consisted of 40 matrix injections and 40 LOQ standards, interspersed with nonane blanks. No system maintenance, tuning or user intervention was undertaken throughout the two-week study. Figure 2 highlights the exceptional peak area stability achieved for selected PCDD and PCDF congeners.

Peak area repeatability
Figure 2. Absolute peak area repeatability over two weeks of analysis for selected PCDD and PCDF congeners in a pooled matrix sample (%RSD and amounts on column are shown for each congener).

These results highlight the exceptional levels of day-to-day measurement repeatability offered by the latest GC-MS/MS systems. By delivering consistently high performance without the need for extensive maintenance steps, modern GC-MS/MS systems are maximizing instrument uptime and increasing sample throughput for routine POP analysis workflows.

Conclusion

Developments in GC-MS/MS technology, namely the advanced electron ionization source, are pushing the limits of measurement sensitivity, repeatability and robustness to support the needs of routine dioxin and PCBs analysis in food and feed samples. By minimizing instrument downtime while maintaining exceptional levels of analytical performance, these advanced systems are helping high-throughput food testing laboratories to analyze more samples and ultimately better protect consumers from these harmful pollutants.

References

  1. Malisch, R. and Kotz, A. (2014) Dioxins and PCBs in feed and food – Review from European perspective. Sci Total Environ, 491, 2-10.
  2. European Commission. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/644, Off J Eur Union, 2017, L92 9-34.
  3. European Commission. Commission Regulation (EU) 2017/771, Off J Eur Union, 2017, L115 22-42.

Acknowledgements

This article is based on research by Richard Law and Cristian Cojocariu (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Runcorn, UK), Alexander Schaechtele (EU Reference Laboratory for Halogenated POPs in Feed and Food, Freiburg, Germany), Amit Gujar (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Austin, US), and Jiangtao Xing (Thermo Fisher Scientific, Beijing, China).

How Do Canadian Food Industries Perceive Food Fraud, and How Do They Manage the Threat?

By Virginie Barrere, Ph.D.
No Comments

Food fraud has been at the center of attention recently and has highlighted inconsistencies in the food industry and supply chain management. Both consumers and regulators are demanding or imposing new standards for assuring the authenticity of food products. In such a context, food industries have to use their knowledge, perceptions and experience to answer and comply with regulators, consumers, and (for some) GFSI requirements regarding food fraud management. However, one can ask how ready and aware food industry players are to understand, mitigate and tackle food fraud. With those questions in mind, the research team of the CIRANO at Montreal, Canada led by Professor Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and the research team of the PARERA platform at Laval University, Quebec, Canada led by Professor Samuel Godefroy had developed a survey of 52 closed questions to assess the awareness and the perceptions of Canadian food industries toward food fraud and what actions they had already implemented to mitigate their risks. The survey included six main sections:

  1. Food fraud definition
  2. Perceptions of food fraud burden globally and locally
  3. Food fraud regulations
  4. Food industry responsibility towards food fraud
  5. Their capacities to prevent and manage this aspect of food quality and safety
  6. Food fraud prevention practices, detection methods and their implementation.

A total of 398 Canadian food industries took the survey; they were food processors, producers (crop, livestock, and fisheries), and distributors (agricultural wholesalers, wholesaler-merchants, and retailers). They will be referred to as Food Business Operators (FBOs) or processors, producers, and distributors when a difference was highlighted between sectors.

What Is the Level of Knowledge of Food Fraud?

Firstly, there is no current data on knowledge of food industry operators on food fraud, hence, the research team proposed definitions and the respondents had to identify which ones could refer to food fraud (1) An intentional and deliberate act (2) False or misleading statements for economic gain and (3) An act aimed at misleading the consumer. More than nine FBOs assigned the definitions to food fraud, hence showing a good understanding of what food fraud is. In an additional question some examples of food fraud were proposed:

  1. Hidden mix of a liquid with another liquid of lower quality
  2. Hidden information about a product or one of its ingredients
  3. Hidden replacement of a product or one of its ingredients by a product of lower quality
  4. Labeling containing false claims
  5. Addition of a non-approved or illegal ingredient.

Again, more than 90% of the FBOs were able to identify those cases as food fraud. The answers to the first questions suggested that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is.

Was Your Company a Victim of Fraud?

The authors asked the respondents if they think or know that their company has already been the victim of food fraud in the past or recently. Besides, the respondents were asked to assess how safe their company is towards food fraud. More than a third of the respondents reported to have been a victim of fraud in the past, but sectors answered differently. In fact, while 40% of processors and 48% of the distributors answered it was likely or very likely that their company had been a victim, only 24% of the producers gave this answer. In parallel, one third of the respondents agreed that their business is safe from food fraud, however, the results per sector were statistically different: 42% of the producers agreed while only a quarter of the processors and the distributors felt safe from food fraud. Those results indicated a shift between producers and the two other sectors; the producers seem to feel less impacted and concerned by food fraud.

Who Is Responsible for Managing Food Fraud?

Depending on where the FBO is in the supply chain, one can make the hypothesis that this company might not feel responsible for the authenticity of the products it buys or sells. The survey authors asked respondents if they considered themselves as responsible for the products’ authenticity they would buy or sell to consumers or an intermediate. Among the three sectors, 82% of the respondents considered themselves as responsible for the products they received from the suppliers, and 80% for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. However, only half consider they are responsible for the product authenticity once it is processed or sold by a client. It was reassuring to see that FBOs understand fraud and consider themselves as responsible for ensuring food authenticity. One can argue that this perception will positively impact the robustness of their mitigation measures and the controls of food fraud.

Which Measures Have Canadian FBOs Implemented to Prevent Food Fraud?

FBOs mainly implemented a supply chain traceability system to mitigate food fraud. This result was not surprising, as traceability has to be in place to comply with current requirements for food safety and food quality. The vulnerability assessment is a recommended (or required) procedure to implement in food industries to comply with regulations and certifications such as GFSI, and 36% of the FBOs have implemented this measure (half of the processors). Finally, detection methods were implemented by only 27% of respondents. Interestingly, through another question, those three measures were seen as the more efficient way to fight food fraud according to the respondents. Also, FBOs would rely on a stable and long-term relationship based on trust with their supplier to mitigate food fraud and rated this measure as an efficient way to fight food fraud. Audits of suppliers and ingredient authenticity checking were also perceived as efficient but were not implemented as frequently. The lack of human resources, financial means, training, and time were the reasons why processors and distributors did not implement more measures to counter food fraud. Interestingly, the primary reason producers selected was “the system in place was enough” followed by lack of financial means, human resources and time and “food fraud is not an essential stake for our company.” One can relate this difference between the sectors with the observation made earlier on how safe the producers feel compared to the two other groups. Regarding detection methods, 88% of the FBOs rated their knowledge of those technologies as moderate or low, and 77% of the respondents rated the frequency of food fraud detection technologies as “never to rarely”. The reason why detection methods are not applied more was the lack of financial means, and the system in place is adequate to control food fraud.

Also, If They Identify Fraud, What’s Next?

Lastly, the authors asked what the respondent would do if their company identified an incident of fraud. Most of the respondents (69%) said they would speak to their supplier; this affirmation can be associated with the strong and long-term relationship the company would have with the supplier. The second option chosen was to change the supplier and then inform the authorities. The respondents could answer several questions, and one can hypothesize that their actions following the identification of fraud would depend on the severity of the fraud and its impacts on both the consumers and the company.

Conclusion

In summary, this survey is the first to assess the knowledge, perception and readiness of FBOs to fight food fraud. Results have indicated that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is but data is missing to support their perception that fraud is more present abroad than in Canada. Two third of the respondents feel unsafe towards food fraud which should be seen as positive point; in fact, FBOs would be keener to implement measures to protect themselves if they feel unsafe. Besides, a majority feels responsible for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. Respondents tend to implement preventive measures but perceive other measures as more efficient to counter fraud. Apparently, those measures seem to be too expensive, time-consuming and resource-consuming. Besides, lack of training on food fraud management was also reported as an impediment to fight fraud. Finally, differences have been highlighted along the survey between producers and the two others sectors: Processors and distributors. One can hypothesize that producers might feel less concerned by food fraud being at the very beginning of the food chain supply and that most food fraud cases involve their clients and not the producers directly.

Footnotes

  1. More details and more results are presented in a manuscript submitted by the research team: Food industry perceptions and actions towards food fraud: Insights from a pan Canadian study.
  2. Researchers involved in the project from the CIRANO: Yoann Guntzburger, Ingrid Peignier and Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and from the PARERA platform Jeremie Theolier, Virginie Barrere and Samuel Godefroy. Partners: r-Biopharm, EnvironeX, the Quebec consortium for industrial bioprocess research and innovation (CRIBIQ), NSF, Transbiotech, and Olymel.
Alert

Flooding and Food Safety: A Two-Part Plan for Extreme Weather Season

By Paula Herald
No Comments
Alert

The spring of 2019 saw record rain fall across North America, causing historic, severe flooding in the Great Plains, parts of the Midwest, and the Southern United States. That above-normal precipitation doesn’t look to be ending, either. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts that wide swaths of the United States could face above normal precipitation for the remainder of 2019.

In addition to disrupting power to critical equipment and damaging property, when food businesses flood, food safety is put at risk. Flood waters can be contaminated with debris, sewage, chemicals, pests and more. In a restaurant or foodservice operation, any product, object or surface that flood waters touch becomes contaminated.

Pre-Flood Preparation

Having a documented flood emergency plan in place can give location staff a step-by-step course of action to follow in times of increased stress and panic. It can also help minimize losses for a business.

For national chains in particular, it can be harder to ensure that all locations have the resources and tools available in their area. Corporate operations can assist by identifying vendors and resources ahead of time.

  • Designate roles and responsibilities. Having a clearly outlined plan with designated roles and responsibilities can prevent confusion and extra work during the crisis. Have an updated phone contact list of key contacts available for those with designated roles and responsibilities.
  • Sandbags. Placing sandbags in front of doors or other openings may help limit flood damage.
  • Vital records. Both paper and digital/electronic records can be at risk. Businesses using electronic records should ensure that files are automatically backed up regularly. Businesses using paper records should ensure that vital records are secured in such a way that they can be quickly removed to a safe place or elevated to prevent damage.
  • Equipment. Flood waters can damage or destroy expensive equipment. Have a plan in place to remove equipment to a safe place.
  • Food storage. If flood waters contact food supplies, many may need to be destroyed. Arranging for food storage in a secure place away from flood waters can help minimize losses. This may require refrigeration storage.
  • Turn off electric and gas. Turning off natural gas lines can prevent devastating damage and contamination from occurring. Turning off and unplugging equipment that uses electricity can help protect the safety of rescue workers or staff returning for cleanup.
  • Refrigeration. If it is not possible to remove food, be certain that all refrigerated units are equipped with accurate thermometers. If possible, monitor the temperature in the units during the disaster situation.

Post-Flood Recovery

Even with a rock-solid pre-storm plan in place, Mother Nature’s extreme weather events can wreak havoc on facilities. In the wake of a storm, sorting out what needs to be done to restore order to operations can be a hefty task.

Post-storm recovery can be an extensive task, especially if flooding is involved. It may require work of many staff members or outside vendors, such as remediation specialists. Safety should be absolutely paramount. No one should enter a space that has been flooded without confirmation that there are no electrical shock hazards, gas leaks or debris that could harm people. Structural damage that could lead to collapse or other injury is possible. Mold is also a risk following floods. All personnel involved in flood clean-up must wear personal protective equipment—eye protection, gloves, disposable aprons, rubber boots, and masks or respirators, etc.

The following guidelines can help prioritize steps to ensure food safety won’t be a factor holding back a location from re-opening.

  • Safe water. Facilities cannot prepare food without a clean, potable water supply. If the water system was affected by flood or the local water supply was unsafe, the local health department should be involved in clearing re-opening.
  • Disinfection of equipment. Any food equipment that was exposed to flood water or other non-potable water must be disinfected prior to use, including ice machines, which are often overlooked. Discard any ice already present in a machine. Thoroughly clean and sanitize the machine before turning it on. Once the machine is running again, discard the first two cycles of ice.
  • Disinfection of surfaces. Any surface (countertops, walls, ceilings, floors, equipment surface, etc.) that was contacted by floodwaters must be disinfected before reopening.
    • Use a commercial disinfectant with effectiveness against norovirus or make a chlorine bleach solution to disinfect affected areas.
    • Use unscented bleach and wear gloves.
    • Make fresh bleach solutions daily.
    • Food contact surfaces that are disinfected must be rinsed with clean, potable water, and sanitized before use.
    • Discard any mop heads or absorbent materials used to clean flooded areas.
  • What to discard. Inevitably, there will be items that cannot be salvaged following a flood event. The following items should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater or non-potable water or were subjected to temperature abuse due to power outages. If there is any doubt, throw it out.
    • Unpackaged food (examples: fruits, vegetables)
    • Food in permeable packaging (examples: flour in bags, produce in cardboard boxes)
    • Food packaging materials
    • Refrigerated food in a refrigerated unit where the temperature rose above 41°F for more than four hours
    • Any refrigerated product that was not temperature-controlled for more than four hours
    • Frozen food product that has thawed to a temperature of above 41°F for more than four hours
    • Canned items with damaged seams, swelling or dents
    • Items with screw tops, twist-off caps, or other semi-permeable packaging
    • Single service/use items
    • Any linens that contacted floodwaters that cannot be laundered with bleach and dried in a mechanical dryer
  • What can be safely kept. Not everything will need to be discarded.
    • Canned foods free of dents or rust can be kept after labels are removed, they are disinfected, washed, rinsed in clean water, and sanitized; cans with any signs of bulging or leaking must be discarded; canned foods should be also be relabeled with the name of the food product, as well as the expiration date
    • Linens that can be safely laundered with bleach and dried in a mechanical dryer
    • Dishes, utensils, pots and pans, and other service items that are free of rust and can be disinfected, washed, and sanitized

As climate change continues to advance, the threat of extreme weather and flooding situations may soon be a reality for areas of the United States that have never experienced them before. In the Congress-mandated Fourth National Climate Assessment, compiled by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the authors warn of the future of severe weather events.

“More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities.” – Fourth National Climate Assessment

Even for businesses that have not had to consider flooding before, it may be time to sit down and develop a flooding and food safety plan of action. The time invested in training and educating staff members may help to protect investments and keep food safe in the event of flooding and weather emergencies.

LIMS, laboratory information management system

Integrated Informatics: Optimizing Food Quality and Safety by Building Regulatory Compliance into the Supply Chain

By Kevin Smith
No Comments
LIMS, laboratory information management system

Global food supply chains offer consumers more choice than ever before. Thanks to international networks of producers, wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers, many ingredients can be sourced all year round, meaning diets are no longer limited by what’s in season. However, the increasing complexity of these supply chains means many food and beverage products are potentially more exposed to biological and chemical contamination as well as food fraud issues, putting brand reputation and human health at risk.

With consumer trust and public safety of paramount importance, global food regulators have introduced strict rules to protect the quality and authenticity of products. Regulations such as the FDA’s Food Protection Plan, for example, seek to incorporate safety measures throughout food supply chains in order to better prevent and respond to potential issues.1 These regulations are complemented by standards such as the ISO’s recently updated ISO 22000:2018 guidelines that recommend the implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to achieve the highest levels of quality control (QC).2 For businesses working within this regulatory framework, it is essential to take a coordinated approach to deliver the standards of food quality and safety that customers and regulators expect.

Every food supply chain will have its own set of product specifications and QC parameters. However, all these requirements demand that decisions on the release of goods are made using accurate and timely information. Given the growing attention from regulators on the safety and provenance of food, as well as the need for operations to run as efficiently as possible, supply chain stakeholders are reevaluating the digital platforms they use to manage, store and recall their data. Here, we consider how laboratory information management systems (LIMS) can help businesses integrate efficient data collection workflows across multiple locations to support robust QC testing and build regulatory compliance into their operations.

Meeting the Challenges Facing Modern Food Supply Chains

Assuring consistent product quality and safety is a constant challenge for food supply chain businesses, given the broad range of issues that can compromise these standards. Although most businesses adopt strict storage and handling protocols to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacterial contamination, high-profile public health stories regularly hit the headlines. The widespread use of pesticides and veterinary drugs in farming also means that ingredients are potentially exposed to a wide range of known and unknown chemical contaminants. Contamination can also occur during the handling, processing and packaging stages. Robust QC measures are therefore essential to identify issues as early as possible.

Equally, food adulteration and counterfeiting continue to be key challenges, with high-value products regularly targeted by food fraudsters. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that up to 10% of all commercially sold food products are affected by these practices, costing the industry between $10 and $15 billion each year and putting public health at risk.3 Comprehensive QC testing, supported by robust chain of custody data, is required to demonstrate quality and authenticity of goods, protect brands and safeguard consumers.

However, the extended nature of modern food supply chains can make delivering against these goals more difficult, especially if poorly integrated information management approaches are employed. As food supply chains have gone global, it has become increasingly common for businesses to operate storage, production and processing facilities across sites in multiple regions, countries and even continents. To deliver goods that meet well-defined safety and quality specifications, QC workflows must be built upon standardized protocols that are implemented correctly across the supply chain, regardless of the individual following them or the location in which they operate. These workflows must be supported by robust information exchange mechanisms that make sure the right decisions around product manufacturing and batch release can be made using accurate, complete and up-to-date information.

Improving QC Data Quality Using Integrated Data Management Solutions

With fragmented information management approaches often getting in the way of this ideal, many food businesses are looking to transform their poorly connected systems into informatics platforms that streamline operations, improve visibility and reduce errors. The latest LIMS allow businesses to bring all their QC data into a single integrated system, helping to harmonize processes and make information sharing more efficient to enhance product quality and safety.

Take the execution of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pesticide residue testing, for example. By centrally connecting instruments and storing SOPs digitally on a LIMS, processes and parameters can be downloaded directly, eliminating the need for human error-prone manual set-up and supporting the consistent collection of data. Furthermore, because these SOPs are located in a centralized system, securely accessible to authorized users across all sites and facilities, the risk of SOPs becoming out of date or out of sync is greatly reduced. With guidance on residue levels regularly updated to reflect the evolving knowledge of these threats, ensuring the latest testing protocols are applied is particularly important.

Additionally, because LIMS capture and store QC measurements directly, as it is generated, they eliminate the need for labor-intensive transcription and data transfer processes. Not only does this improve measurement accuracy by taking human error out of the equation, it also boosts efficiency and reduces the administrative burden on those responsible for collecting QC data. As a result, experienced staff can spend less time on paperwork and data entry, and more time actively optimizing processes and finding solutions to other key challenges. With access to the most accurate and up-to-date information, businesses are better placed to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and can act to resolve potential issues before they turn into more significant problems.

Supporting Well-Defined QC Processes and Regulatory Compliance

With international food regulators turning their attention to the methods used to assure the quality and authenticity of foodstuffs, supply chain stakeholders are now expected to have well-defined QC workflows that not only provide complete traceability of products from farm to fork, but also transparency around processes such as instrument calibration and data handling.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
Modern LIMS allow food businesses to visualize their workflow data using dashboards, process diagrams or facility maps. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

LIMS allow food businesses to build regulatory compliance into their processes by providing a comprehensive overview of all supply chain data, including information associated with QC steps. As all data required to support proof of compliance is organized in a single system, it can be quickly and conveniently recalled for sharing or review purposes. Some of the latest systems allow users to visualize this data holistically on process diagrams or dashboards, helping to fulfill HACCP requirements and make keeping track of active workflows as easy as possible.

Furthermore, because LIMS can be used to capture and store data automatically, they also facilitate the real-time monitoring of supply chain processes, meaning out-of-specification QC parameters can be flagged and reported earlier. The sophisticated algorithms present in some of the latest LIMS can even be used to warn businesses of small but significant trends such as the decline in performance of an aging instrument, which could cause unexpected downtime or cause product quality standards to fall over time. These alerting capabilities mean potential issues can be remedied faster, helping stakeholders more proactively protect consumer safety.

Defensible data is central to protecting brand integrity, especially when it comes to issues around food adulteration and counterfeiting. As such, food businesses need robust data management tools that support complete traceability of actions. By automatically recording every interaction with the system to generate a comprehensive audit trail and facilitating the use of e-signatures to document review procedures, LIMS can safeguard the highest levels of accountability, from data collection all the way through to results reporting. Some of the most advanced LIMS also feature powerful audit trail search functionality, allowing authorized users to recall specific actions such as unusual QC activity or potentially non-compliant behavior. With a secure record of events and a single, integrated platform for supply chain data, food businesses can focus on what’s important—optimizing processes and delivering high-quality goods.

Optimizing and Safeguarding the Food Supply Chain Using LIMS

Modern LIMS allow food supply chain stakeholders to build regulatory compliance into their workflows by standardizing QC processes and giving authorized individuals full visibility over their data. By facilitating faster and more informed decision-making using accurate and up-to-the-minute data, LIMS are helping businesses meet current industry challenges head on to maintain the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

References

  1. FDA. (November 2007). Food Protection Plan. Access April 7, 2019. Retrieved from , https://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/centeroffices/oc/officeofoperations/ucm121761.pdf .
  2.  International Organization for Standardization. (June 2018). ISO 22000:2018(en) Food safety management systems — Requirements for any organization in the food chain..
  3. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and A.T. Kearney. (2010). Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection.
Technology, apple, Birko

Electrostatic Intervention Technology: An Effective and Efficient Future for Food Safety

By Mark Swanson
No Comments
Technology, apple, Birko

Using electrostatic technology in food processing isn’t a new idea. It has been around for years, but no one has been able to effectively harness the possibilities of this method for pathogen reduction. That’s all changing thanks to the research and dedication of a food safety group made up of experts and leading protein processors.

Now, food companies of all types stand to benefit from an innovation with the potential to revolutionize the industry. For the first time, there is a way to use electrostatics to deliver antimicrobial intervention with a high level of efficacy and minimal resources.

Less water, less chemical and better coverage—it almost sounds too good to be true. But it’s a reality, and it came from a focus on providing better protection with precision application.

The Basics of Electrostatics in Food Safety

The ultimate goal of using electrostatic technology in food processing is to achieve a high level of transfer efficiency. In terms of antimicrobial use on food products, that concerns how well a processor is able to cover products with a solution over a 360-degree surface.

There’s a large amount of waste, or very low transfer efficiency, that comes with current antimicrobial intervention methodologies. Most food processing operations either use a lot of water and chemical solution to cover a less-than-ideal surface area, or they use an enormous amount in an attempt to get better coverage.

The hope for electrostatics has been that it could improve transfer efficiency by applying opposite charges to food products and antimicrobial solutions. Opposites attract. Positively charged particles are drawn to negatively charged particles, and so, an antimicrobial intervention, such as peracetic acid (PAA), should better adhere to protein products if the two have opposite charges.

In theory, the science seems very simple. But in practice, finding ways to use electrostatics effectively was an extensive, eye-opening journey. It took a team of scientists, food safety thought leaders, and participation as well as funding from three top beef processors to find the answer.

Research and Development

The food safety group, which included Keith Belk, Ph.D. of the Colorado State University Center for Meat Quality & Safety, spent years experimenting, testing and fine tuning electrostatic application technology to make it as precise as possible.

In the beginning, there was no clear indication whether the efforts would produce results. The group didn’t know which type of electrostatic technology would work, what parameters should be used or if any of it would be effective. Just as Thomas Edison experienced many failed attempts while inventing the electric lightbulb, our group went through a series of exercises that eventually led to the right type of electrostatic application. Yet just as importantly, we discovered many methods that did not work.

For example, testing showed that applying a charge at the spray nozzles was not a good way to harness the potential of electrostatics. The charge was too difficult to control using this approach. Eventually, researchers found the best way to achieve transfer efficiency was to apply a negative charge directly to the source of the antimicrobial intervention. This allowed the negatively charged solution to effectively adhere to the positively-charged meat product with maximum control of the operating parameters.

Interestingly, while the group explored a variety of ways to apply antimicrobial intervention using electrostatics, applying a charge to the source proved to be the only technique that worked. The rest had virtually no impact.

After identifying the right approach, there were still big questions researchers wanted to answer. One such question was what happens when a vacuum is applied to the process? Would it work better, worse or have no bearing on the results?

Theoretically, the group thought a vacuum might aid in the process by opening up the surface of the meat, allowing for deeper penetration and further reduction of pathogens. However, tests revealed that applying the antimicrobial solution with electrostatics in a vacuum provided no additional benefits.

The next step was developing a prototype system to support both beef and poultry processing. Finding ways to control electrostatics and achieving transfer efficiency in a pass-through system proved to be challenging. Food production lines don’t stop, which means antimicrobial intervention can’t be done in batch mode.

The final equipment design included a conveyor system that slowly rotates to expose all surfaces of the product as it moves through the line while maintaining constant line speeds.

The Results

In-plant testing at beef processing facilities proved just how much of a difference electrostatic technology will make for food companies looking to improve efficiencies and strengthen food safety efforts.

During recent tests, researchers ran the system at a high volume between 265 and 700 pounds per minute using peracetic acid at approved levels between 1600 and 1800 parts per million (ppm). The results showed a log reduction in the range of 2.1 to 2.6 with an average of 2.4 on a series of tests. That is outstanding, especially considering many facilities typically achieve a log reduction of around 1.0 to 1.5. Plus, most food manufacturers are using substantially more antimicrobial solution to achieve that sort of pathogen reduction.

Results from laboratory studies show the technology provided equal coverage to a dip tank, but it used 95% less solution. Dip tanks are common in poultry processing, but they are very inefficient and waste a tremendous amount of water and chemical. Poultry facilities switching to electrostatic intervention technology would use a fraction of the water and chemistry, greatly improving efficiency.

Beef and pork processing facilities use sprayers for antimicrobial solutions and are much less likely to use dip tanks, as they’re not a viable intervention method for an operation of that scale. However, sprayers alone may not provide adequate coverage, creating the possibility for food safety risks.

Beef and pork plants could achieve better coverage with electrostatics while using the same or even less solution. That’s because the preciseness of this innovative approach also eliminates waste that comes from over spraying.

The Potential Benefits of Adopting Electrostatic Technology

How much of an advantage a food processing facility gets from implementing electrostatics into its antimicrobial intervention process is very dependent on the type and size of the operation as well as its current approach to food safety. There are, however, several major benefits that any food company will realize after adopting the technology.

  1. Improved food safety. Processors can be confident they are achieving 360-degree coverage while bolstering efforts to eliminate pathogens on food products.
  2. Efficient use of water and chemical. The precision achieved from utilizing electrostatics has the potential to dramatically reduce waste without compromising food safety. High transfer efficiency means processors save money and resources.
  3. Reduced water treatment costs. Protein processing facilities have large amounts of waste water that need to be treated in-house. More efficient use of antimicrobial solution significantly reduces money and resources needed for water treatment.
  4. Reduced repair and maintenance costs. Because of the acidic nature of food safety chemicals such as PAA, overspray of antimicrobial solution can unintentionally land on other surfaces and equipment. The low pH levels can lead to corrosion and damage, requiring repairs or additional maintenance. But, precise application with an electrostatic method within an enclosed space reduces the overspray problem.
  5. Better indoor air quality (IAQ). Another side effect from over spraying is chemical odors in the plant. Here again, protection with precision offers a unique benefit. Minimization of overspray improves IAQ, producing a safer and healthier environment for workers.

An additional benefit of electrostatic intervention technology is that it allows for precise measurement of the degree of the charge applied at the source, the concentration of the chemical in the solution and the overall transfer efficiency. While the original food consortium involved members of the protein industry and was optimized for use by meat processors, produce and fresh-cut facilities also stand to benefit from implementing electrostatic technology.

Changing the way your plant operates may feel risky, and being among the first to adopt an innovation can come with some uncertainty. However, in this case, avoiding early adoption could put you at a disadvantage, and the food safety risks are greater than those associated with pursuing this opportunity.

Electrostatic technology for antimicrobial interventions provides impressive advances in efficiency while offering protection–for both the public’s health and safety as well as brand reputation. The future of food safety looks precise.

Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

Advances in Hygienic Design

By Angela Anandappa, Ph.D.
No Comments
Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation

The industry is taking notice and being more proactive in hygienic design thinking. Hygienic design is not a very new concept; in fact, it’s been around for almost a century when the dairy industry realized standardization was helpful with different parts. When the 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. (3-A SSI) was established in 1920, the ideals for hygiene revolved around dairy handling equipment. But today, these hygienic design principles have been adapted by other industries, and new expectations for cleanability and standards have been developed by both 3-A and the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG).

Geometry Is at the Core of Cleanliness

One of the most important factors that have helped the food industry in improving hygienic design is the use of geometry. How does math play such as huge role in hygiene? Hygiene, in the context of hygienic design for the food industry, takes the form of advanced materials formed into specific geometric positions to prevent the adhesion of particles and bacteria. A fraction of a degree angle changed in a cutting edge can make the difference between a smooth cut on a vegetable that allows it to swiftly slide off, thereby allowing the same cutting edge to be reused many more times than a cutting edge with a slightly different angle. This offers a functional benefit in achieving the optimal product quality while also reducing contact with the product and extending the time where buildup needs to be cleaned. The minimum radius of a corner for equipment parts and flooring are well defined for optimal water drainage. Similarly, the slope of a surface, the distance to angle ratios for otherwise horizonal liquid handling tubing, or the height and vertical sloping angles of a drain suitable for a processing zone are all key criteria that define hygiene. The scientific basis for why a certain angle works better than another for a specific purpose is continually being investigated to further improve design.

Standards and Guidelines Converge for Global Harmony

The effort by 3-A and EHEDG to harmonize design standards and guidelines respectively, is bringing about a convergence of approaches that benefits equipment manufacturers. EHEDG with its network of research institutes is capable of providing strong scientific principles upon which standards could potentially be developed or further enhanced. By working together to harmonize standards and guidelines, equipment manufacturers have even more incentive to adopt hygienic design principle. The 3-A SSI offers the 3-A Symbol authorization which helps third parties readily recognize that the equipment conforms to a given 3-A Sanitary Standard for equipment. So an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is then not only encouraged to adopt hygienic standards, but also incentivized by the breadth of technical data available to them, making the excuse of costs associated with adhering to 3-A standard or EHEDG approval a thing of the past. Given that food safety depends on preventing contamination, new equipment or modifications that do not work to maintain hygiene are risks to the product.

In this new age, an equipment purchase that lacks the third-party nod of approval by a hygienic standards organization is a liability.

Equipment designed to be more easily wet cleaned by allowing for rapid disassembly while not always integrated into standards, is generally understood as a must for modern equipment. Moving equipment in and out of a single-use room for multiple processes is another benefit provided by equipment designed to accommodate quick changeovers. Accessibility is the key to cleaning success, as operators need to be able to fully access, clean and inspect the cleanliness of the equipment. Specifications for easements around equipment for cleanability are important.

Regulatory Requirements Should Inspire Equipment Design

FSMA brought sweeping changes to finally update the federal requirements for food safety that pointed to key areas that promote the use of sanitary conditions for producing, handling and transporting food. Prior to this, the meat industry had already been driving numerous best practices to cleaning equipment that have brought USDA inspected facilities a long way. The dairy industry’s focus on hygiene has been the gold standard for liquid handling, and the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) set expectations for makers and inspectors to be familiar with good hygienic design, requiring it when it was absent.

But regulations always seek to provide broad guidance that is better executed by non-profits, NGOs and companies that serve to encourage adherence to standards, or those playing a pivotal role in buying decisions. Closely examining the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations and its references to sanitary design points to a vision for improving the state of equipment, facilities and transportation conditions to meet a higher threshold for hygiene that needs to be integrated into engineering designs by the OEM.

Materials Make All the Difference

Stainless steel has been used for over a century and is the standard metal used widely due to its corrosion resistance, formability and ability to be polished and renewed. The Nickel institute reports that two thirds of global nickel production is used in manufacturing stainless steel, forming an alloy that is suitable for food contact equipment and in healthcare.

The hygienic character of the material is directly proportional to the cleanability, moisture resistance and corrosion resistance. Rounded corners, super smooth finishes, slopes and numerous other criteria have been defined for a variety of equipment, surfaces, flooring, etc., in combination with a plethora of materials that provide water resistance, antimicrobial activity, metal detectable or flexible disposable seals, novel elastomers that provide heat resistance for O rings and joints have brought design to a higher level of sophistication than ever before.

Similarly, metallurgy is another area in which innovative alloys have been developed for softer or harder parts of a variety of equipment. Not all stainless steel is the same and while a 304 grade stainless steel works for most food contact equipment, other grades of stainless steel find their best uses in certain other parts of a hygienic facility. And pulling it all together, the design criteria for metal joints, especially those that come into contact with food, are best put together by skilled technicians who understand micro resistance design that promotes food safety.

Education and Awareness

The revolutionary aspect of today’s hygienic design really has more to do with a concerted effort to focus the industry on prevention. Several noteworthy contributions to this effort lay in the hands of organizations like the American Institute of Baking (AIB), North American Meat Institute (NAMI), American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), and Commercial Food Sanitation (CF-SAN) that have individually or through partnerships with other key organizations, elevated the level of knowledge, accessibility of training and awareness that solid hygienic design for facilities and equipment are the foundations for prevention. And so, as we move forward, this really is an exciting time to be a student of good design and apply engineering talents to the food industry.

Third-Party Assessments

Hygiene can be defined as a set of activities or behaviors geared at preventing disease. Some of the earlier well documented instances of hygiene (or lack thereof) relating to food have their roots in cholera, dysentery associated with the industrial revolution and the need for human beings clustering into smaller and more populated regions, namely cities. But the notion of personal hygiene is inextricably joined to the production of food and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Assessing the hygienic condition of a food production environment is not the same as a food safety audit. To elaborate, a hygienic assessment requires comprehensive knowledge of sanitation systems, equipment design and evaluation criteria, which although included in general terms, are not well scoped in any of the GFSI schemes. In fact, facilities that have passed certain GFSI audits frequently fall seriously short on their ability to produce safe food.
A specialized hygienic assessment is a worthwhile option for big buyers, food service giants and large-scale processors to drive for predictable quality. These specialized audits conducted by organizations that have developed a focus for equipment design are being more frequently utilized as a preventive measure. When done right, they can also be powerful tools for driving positive food safety culture and developing long-term supplier relationships.