Food labs – both within food manufacturing companies and external contract labs – are facing a multitude of challenges: Increasing regulatory changes and compliance pressures; greater volume of testing; newer technologies and testing methods; demand for faster, and more efficient results….. How are labs and lab managers keeping track of, and apace with, all these changes?
David White, Chief Science Officer and Research Director at U.S. Food and Drug Administration (left, in the picture); Dave Evanson, President, EMS (middle); and Alvin Lee, Director, Center for Processing Innovation at the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), Illinois Institute of Technology (right), talked about these issues in a panel discussion moderated by Marc Carter, President of MC2, Inc. at Food Safety Tech’s Food Labs Conference organized last month in Chicago. We present some excerpts from the discussion below.
What’s keeping you up at night?
Globalization of the food chain is a significant concern. FDA’s David White talked about the emphasis that FDA places on testing food products globally, increasing standards to get global labs on par with FDA’s accepted levels of testing, and using equivalent methods.
“Southeast Asia and China, and the testing done in such regions, will be critical. This will need time and resources, but we should all collectively aim to get there,” White added.
What keeps him up at night? White described that food labs of the future need to help companies be one step ahead of the next contamination. “Who would have thought about melamine, for instance? We need to consider which other products would be ideal for substitution and companies need to identify where their vulnerabilities lie. Everyone has a part to play in food safety – FDA doesn’t have the resources to do everything by themselves. Testing for the unknown, what’s the next melamine, that’s what keeps me up at night,” White explained.
What’s the impact of FSMA regulations on the food lab market?
Getting labs to have in place specific food testing methodologies, HACCP and verification, plans to reduce contamination etc., will all improve under FSMA regulations.
All these will take some time, says White, “but we are communicating to labs about where we stand and how the new rules can help take them to where they need to be.”
IFSH’s Alvin Lee feels that there will be a lot more demand for documentation because of the new regulations: “Labs will have to establish certain processes or steps with a plan for preventive control, and find effective ways to control and manage data and documentation.”
Echoing this sentiment, White said that labs need to figure out figure out how to manage databases more efficiently. “How do we create and store data, and produce it in a format that’s user-friendly? All these will be key challenges,” White described.
How do food labs manage data currently?
Dave Evanson felt that there is a good history of LIMS being available and used. “Some labs have done a pretty good job of embracing that. But at the other end of the spectrum, there are some labs that still use a lot of paper. But many of these are starting to make changes.
“There is also a lot of interest in going beyond just getting data, and learning more. And there is a push toward the producer of the data to get more information. New generation LIMS need to address this,” Evanson explained.