Tag Archives: detection

Manuel Orozco, AIB International
FST Soapbox

Detecting Foreign Material Will Protect Your Customers and Brand

By Manuel Orozco
No Comments
Manuel Orozco, AIB International

During the production process, physical hazards can contaminate food products, making them unfit for human consumption. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the leading cause of food recalls is foreign material contamination. This includes 20 of the top 50, and three of the top five, largest food recalls issued in 2019.

As methods for detecting foreign materials in food have improved over time, you might think that associated recalls should be declining. To the contrary, USDA FSIS and FDA recalls due to foreign material seem to be increasing. During the entire calendar year of 2018, 28 of the 382 food recalls (7.3%) in the USDA’s recall case archive were for foreign material contamination. Through 2019, this figure increased to approximately 50 of the 337 food recalls (14.8%). Each of these recalls may have had a significant negative impact on those brands and their customers, which makes foreign material detection a crucial component of any food safety system.

The FDA notes, “hard or sharp foreign materials found in food may cause traumatic injury, including laceration and perforation of tissues of the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestine, as well as damage to the teeth and gums”. Metal, plastic and glass are by far the most common types of foreign materials. There are many ways foreign materials can be introduced into a product, including raw materials, employee error, maintenance and cleaning procedures, and equipment malfunction or breakage during the manufacturing and packaging processes.

The increasing use of automation and machinery to perform tasks that were once done by hand are likely driving increases in foreign matter contamination. In addition, improved manufacturer capabilities to detect particles in food could be triggering these recalls, as most of the recalls have been voluntary by the manufacturer.

To prevent foreign material recalls, it is key to first prevent foreign materials in food production facilities. A proper food safety/ HACCP plan should be introduced to prevent these contaminants from ending up in the finished food product through prevention, detection and investigation.
Food manufacturers also have a variety of options when it comes to the detection of foreign objects from entering food on production lines. In addition to metal detectors, x-ray systems, optical sorting and camera-based systems, novel methods such as infrared multi-wavelength imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance are in development to resolve the problem of detection of similar foreign materials in a complex background. Such systems are commonly identified as CCPs (Critical Control Points)/preventive controls within our food safety plans.

But what factors should you focus on when deciding between different inspection systems? Product type, flow characteristics, particle size, density and blended components are important factors in foreign material detection. Typically, food manufacturers use metal and/or x-ray inspection for foreign material detection in food production as their CCP/preventive control. While both technologies are commonly used, there are reasons why x-ray inspection is becoming more popular. Foreign objects can vary in size and material, so a detection method like an x-ray that is based on density often provides the best performance.

Regardless of which detection system you choose, keep in mind that FSMA gives FDA the power to scientifically evaluate food safety programs and preventive controls implemented in a food production facility, so validation and verification are crucial elements of any detection system.

It is also important to remember that a key element of any validation system is the equipment validation process. This process ensures that your equipment operates properly and is appropriate for its intended use. This process consists of three steps: Installation qualification, operational qualification and performance qualification.

Installation qualification is the first step of the equipment validation process, designed to ensure that the instrument is properly installed, in a suitable environment free from interference. This process takes into consideration the necessary electrical requirements such as voltage and frequency ratings, as well as other factors related with the environment, such as temperature and humidity. These requirements are generally established by the manufacturer and can be found within the installation manual.

The second step is operational qualification. This ensures that the equipment will operate according to its technical specification. In order to achieve this, the general functions of the equipment must be tested within the specified range limits. Therefore, this step focuses on the overall functionality of the instrument.

The third and last step is the performance qualification, which is focused on providing documented evidence through specific tests that the instrument will performs according to the routine specifications. These requirements could be established by internal and industry standards.

Following these three steps will allow you to provide documented evidence that the equipment will perform adequately within the work environment and for the intended process. After completion of the equipment validation process, monitoring and verification procedures must be established to guarantee the correct operation of the instrument, as well procedures to address deviations and recordkeeping. This will help you effectively control the hazards identified within our operation.

There can be massive consequences if products contaminated with foreign material are purchased and consumed by the public. That’s why the development and implementation of a strong food safety/ HACCP plan, coupled with the selection and validation of your detection equipment, are so important. These steps are each key elements in protecting your customers and your brand.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

By Susanne Kuehne
No Comments
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Camel, cow, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Due to its health benefits, camel meat is gaining in popularity for consumers but unfortunately also for fraudsters for economic gain. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technologies allow quick and accurate detection of specific meat types, including processed and cooked meats. This newly developed PCR lateral flow immunology method found adulteration of camel meat with beef in 10% of the 20 samples that were investigated in this Chinese study.

Resource

  1. Zhao, L., et. al. (July 30, 2020). “Identification of camel species in food products by a polymerase chain reaction-lateral flow immunoassay”. Food Chemistry. Science Direct. Volume 319.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Marzipan Or Persipan, That’s the Question

By Susanne Kuehne
No Comments
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, almond tree
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Both Prunus species produce similar flavor and sensory profiles, but have significantly different costs—the 50% cheaper apricot kernels are sometimes used as an adulterant, replacing almonds in products such as marzipan, almond oil or almond powder. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method shows that the DNA barcode of almond shows significant differences from other Prunus species and can therefore be used to detect adulteration of almond products.

Resource

  1. Uncu, A.O. (March 2, 2020). “A trnH-psbA barcode genotyping assay for the detection of common apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) adulteration in almond (Prunus dulcis Mill.)” Retrieved from Taylor & Francis Online.
Raj Rajagopal, 3M Food Safety
In the Food Lab

Pathogen Detection Guidance in 2020

By Raj Rajagopal
No Comments
Raj Rajagopal, 3M Food Safety

Food production managers have a critical role in ensuring that the products they make are safe and uncontaminated with dangerous pathogens. Health and wellness are in sharp focus for consumers in every aspect of their lives right now, and food safety is no exception. As food safety becomes a continually greater focus for consumers and regulators, the technologies used to monitor for and detect pathogens in a production plant have become more advanced.

It’s no secret that pathogen testing is performed for numerous reasons: To confirm the adequacy of processing control and to ensure foods and beverages have been properly stored or cooked, to name some. Accomplishing these objectives can be very different, and depending on their situations, processors rely on different tools to provide varying degrees of testing simplicity, speed, cost, efficiency and accuracy. It’s common today to leverage multiple pathogen diagnostics, ranging from traditional culture-based methods to molecular technologies.

And unfortunately, pathogen detection is more than just subjecting finished products to examination. It’s become increasingly clear to the industry that the environment in which food is processed can cross-contaminate products, requiring food manufacturers to be ever-vigilant in cleaning, sanitizing, sampling and testing their sites.

For these reasons and others, it’s important to have an understanding and appreciation for the newer tests and techniques used in the fight against deadly pathogens, and where and how they might be fit for purpose throughout the operation. This article sheds light on the key features of one fast-growing DNA-based technology that detects pathogens and explains how culture methods for index and indicator organisms continue to play crucial roles in executing broad-based pathogen management programs.

LAMP’s Emergence in Molecular Pathogen Detection

Molecular pathogen detection has been a staple technology for food producers since the adoption of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests decades ago. However, the USDA FSIS revised its Microbiology Laboratory Guidebook, the official guide to the preferred methods the agency uses when testing samples collected from audits and inspections, last year to include new technologies that utilize loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) methods for Salmonella and Listeria detection.

LAMP methods differ from traditional PCR-based testing methods in four noteworthy ways.

First, LAMP eliminates the need for thermal cycling. Fundamentally, PCR tests require thermocyclers with the ability to alter the temperature of a sample to facilitate the PCR. The thermocyclers used for real-time PCR tests that allow detection in closed tubes can be expensive and include multiple moving parts that require regular maintenance and calibration. For every food, beverage or environmental surface sample tested, PCR systems will undergo multiple cycles of heating up to 95oC to break open DNA strands and cooling down to 60oC to extend the new DNA chain in every cycle. All of these temperature variations generally require more run time and the enzyme, Taq polymerase, used in PCR can be subjected to interferences from other inhibiting substances that are native to a sample and co-extracted with the DNA.

LAMP amplifies DNA isothermally at a steady and stable temperature range—right around 60oC. The Bst polymerase allows continuous amplification and better tolerates the sample matrix inhibitors known to trip up PCR. The detection schemes used for LAMP detection frees LAMP’s instrumentation from the constraints of numerous moving pieces.

Secondly, it doubles the number of DNA primers. Traditional PCR tests recognize two separate regions of the target genetic material. They rely on two primers to anneal to the subject’s separated DNA strands and copy and amplify that target DNA.

By contrast, LAMP technology uses four to six primers, which can recognize six to eight distinct regions from the sample’s DNA. These primers and polymerase used not only cause the DNA strand to displace, they actually loop the end of the strands together before initiating amplification cycling. This unique looped structure both accelerates the reaction and increases test result sensitivity by allowing for an exponential accumulation of target DNA.

Third of all, it removes steps from the workflow. Before any genetic amplification can happen, technicians must enrich their samples to deliberately grow microorganisms to detectable levels. Technicians using PCR tests have to pre-dispense lysis buffers or reagent mixes and take other careful actions to extract and purify their DNA samples.

Commercialized LAMP assay kits, on the other hand, offer more of a ready-to-use approach as they offer ready to use lysis buffer and simplified workflow to prepare DNA samples. By only requiring two transfer steps, it can significantly reduces the risk of false negatives caused by erroneous laboratory preparation.

Finally, it simplifies multiple test protocols into one. Food safety lab professionals using PCR technology have historically been required to perform different test protocols for each individual pathogen, whether that be Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli O157:H7 or other. Not surprisingly, this can increase the chances of error. Oftentimes, labs are resource-challenged and pressure-packed environments. Having to keep multiple testing steps straight all of the time has proven to be a recipe for trouble.

LAMP brings the benefit of a single assay protocol for testing all pathogens, enabling technicians to use the same protocol for all pathogen tests. This streamlined workflow involving minimal steps simplifies the process and reduces risk of human-caused error.

Index and Indicator Testing

LAMP technology has streamlined and advanced pathogen detection, but it’s impractical and unfeasible for producers to molecularly test every single product they produce and every nook and cranny in their production environments. Here is where an increasing number of companies are utilizing index and indicator tests as part of more comprehensive pathogen environmental programs. Rather than testing for specific pathogenic organisms, these tools give a microbiological warning sign that conditions may be breeding undesirable food safety or quality outcomes.

Index tests are culture-based tests that detect microorganisms whose presence (or detection above a threshold) suggest an increased risk for the presence of an ecologically similar pathogen. Listeria spp. Is the best-known index organism, as its presence can also mark the presence of deadly pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. However, there is considerable skepticism among many in the research community if there are any organisms outside of Listeria spp. that can be given this classification.

Indicator tests, on the other hand, detect the presence of organisms reflecting the general microbiological condition of a food or the environment. The presence of indicator organisms can not provide any information on the potential presence or absence of a specific pathogen or an assessment of potential public health risk, but their levels above acceptable limits can indicate insufficient cleaning and sanitation or operating conditions.

Should indicator test results exceed the established control limits, facilities are expected to take appropriate corrective action and to document the actions taken and results obtained. Utilizing cost-effective, fast indicator tests as benchmark to catch and identify problem areas can suggest that more precise, molecular methods need to be used to verify that the products are uncontaminated.

Process Matters

As discussed, technology plays a large role in pathogen detection, and advances like LAMP molecular detection methods combined with strategic use of index and indicator tests can provide food producers with powerful tools to safeguard their consumers from foodborne illnesses. However, whether a producer is testing environmental samples, ingredients or finished product, a test is only as useful as the comprehensive pathogen management plan around it.

The entire food industry is striving to meet the highest safety standards and the best course of action is to adopt a solution that combines the best technologies available with best practices in terms of processes as well –from sample collection and preparation to monitoring and detection.

Crop spraying, Ellutia

From Farm to Fork: The Importance of Nitrosamine Testing in Food Safety

By Andrew James
No Comments
Crop spraying, Ellutia

N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), or nitrosamines, have once again made headline news as their occurrence in some pharmaceuticals has led to high profile product recalls in the United States.1 Nitrosamines can be carcinogenic and genotoxic and, in the food industry, can compromise a food product’s quality and safety. One nitrosamine in particular, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), is a highly potent carcinogen, traces of which are commonly detected in foods and may be used as an indicator compound for the presence of nitrosamines.2

NOCs can potentially make their way into the food chain in a number of ways, including (but not limited to): Via the crop protection products used to maximize agricultural yields; via the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve certain meats from bacterial contamination; as a result of the direct-fire drying process in certain foods; and via consumption of nitrates in the diet (present in many vegetables due to natural mineral deposits in the soil), which react with bacteria and acids in the stomach to form nitrosamines.3

The crop protection and food manufacturing industries are focused on ensuring that levels of nitrosamines present in foods are minimal and safe. Detection technology for quantitating the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in a sample had not advanced in nearly 40 years—until recently. Now, a thermal energy analyzer (TEA) —a sensitive and specific detector—is being relied on to provide fast and sensitive analysis for players throughout the food supply chain.

Regulatory Landscape

Both NDMA and the nitrosamine N-nitrososodiethylamine (NDEA) have been classified by national and international regulatory authorities as ‘probable human carcinogens’.3 NDMA in particular is by far the most commonly encountered member of this group of compounds.7

In the United States there are limits for NDMA or total nitrosamines in bacon, barley malt, ham and malt beverages, yet there are currently no regulatory limits for N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in foods in the EU.7

Developers of crop protection products are required to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantify the amount at ppm levels to ensure they are within the accepted guidelines.

Crop Protection

The presence of nitrosamines must be traced and risk-managed along the food’s journey from farm to fork. The issue affects testing from the very beginning – particularly at the crop protection stage, which is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. Without crop protection, food and drink expenditures could increase by up to £70 million per year and 40% of the world’s food would not exist.7

Development of a new crop protection product (herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or seed treatment) involves several steps: Discovery and formulation of the product, trials and field development, toxicology, environmental impacts and final registration. New product registration requires demonstration of safety for all aspects of the environment, the workers, the crops that are being protected and the food that is consumed. This involves comprehensive risk assessments being carried out, based on data from numerous safety studies and an understanding of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).

One global producer of agrochemicals uses a custom version of the TEA to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantitate the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in its active ingredients. The LC-TEA enables high selectivity for nitro, nitroso and nitrogen (when operating in nitrogen mode), which allows only the compounds of interest to be seen. Additionally, it provides very high sensitivity (<2pg N/sec Signal to Noise 3:1), meaning it is able to detect compounds of interest at extremely low levels. To gain this high sensitivity and specificity, it relies on a selective thermal cleavage of N-NO bond and detection of the liberated NO radical by the chemiluminescent signal generated by its reaction with ozone.

The customized system also uses a different interface with a furnace, rather than the standard pyrolyser, to allow for the additional energy required and larger diameter tubing for working with a liquid sample rather than gas.

The system allows a company to run five to six times more samples with increased automation. As a direct result, significant productivity gains, reduced maintenance costs and more accurate results can be realized.

Food Analysis

Since nitrite was introduced in food preservation in the 1960s, its safety has been debated. The debate continues today, largely because of the benefits of nitrite in food products, particularly processed meats.6 In pork products, such as bacon and cured ham, nitrite is mostly present in the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve the meat from bacterial contamination. Although the meat curing process was designed to support preservation without refrigeration, a number of other benefits, such as enhancing color and taste, have since been recognized.

Analytical methods for the determination of N-nitrosamines in foods can differ between volatile and non-volatile compounds. Following extraction, volatile N-nitrosamines can be readily separated by GC using a capillary column and then detected by a TEA detector. The introduction of the TEA offered a new way to determine nitrosamine levels at a time when GC-MS could do so only with difficulty.

To identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) approached Premier Analytical Services (PAS) to develop a screening method to identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing.

A rapid and selective apparent total nitrosamine content (ATNC) food screening method has been developed with a TEA. This has also been validated for the known dietary NOCs of concern. This method, however, is reliant on semi-selective chemical denitrosation reactions and can give false positives. The results can only be considered as a potential indicator rather than definitive proof of NOC presence.

In tests, approximately half (36 out of 63) samples returned a positive ATNC result. Further analysis of these samples by GC-MS/MS detected volatile nitrosamine contamination in two of 25 samples.

A key role of the TEA in this study was to validate the alternative analytical method of GC-MS/MS. After validation of the technique by TEA, GC-MS/MS has been proven to be highly sensitive and selective for this type of testing.

The Future of Nitrosamine Testing

Many countries have published data showing that toxicological risk from preformed NOCs was no longer considered an area for concern. Possible risks may come from the unintentional addition or contamination of foods with NOCs precursors such as nitrite and from endogenous formation of NOCs and more research is being done in this area.

Research and innovation are the foundations of a competitive food industry. Research in the plant protection industry is driven by farming and the food chain’s demand for greater efficiency and safer products. Because the amount of nitrosamines in food that results in health effects in humans is still unknown, there is scope for research into the chemical formation and transportation of nitrosamines, their occurrence and their impact on our health. Newer chromatographic techniques are only just being applied in this area and could greatly benefit the quantification of nitrosamines. It is essential that these new approaches to quality and validation are applied throughout the food chain.

References

  1. Christensen, J. (2020). More popular heartburn medications recalled due to impurity. CNN.
  2. Hamlet, C, Liang, L. (2017). An investigation to establish the types and levels of N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in UK consumed foods. Premier Analytical Services, 1-79.
  3. Woodcock, J. (2019). Statement alerting patients and health care professionals of NDMA found in samples of ranitidine. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
  4. Scanlan, RA. (1983). Formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food. Cancer res, 43(5) 2435-2440.
  5.  Dowden, A. (2019). The truth about nitrates in your food. BBC Future.
  6.  Park, E. (2015). Distribution of Seven N-nitrosamines in Food. Toxicological research, 31(3) 279-288, doi: 10.5487/TR.2015.31.3.279.
  7.  Crews, C. (2019). The determination of N-nitrosamines in food. Quality Assurance and Safety of Crops & Foods, 1-11, doi: 10.1111/j.1757-837X.2010.00049.x
  8. (1989) Toxicological profile for n-Nitrosodimethylamine., Agency for Toxic substances and disease registry.
  9. Rickard, S. (2010). The value of crop protection, Crop Protection Association.
Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2020 Expectations: More Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Technology Advances in Food Safety Testing

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments
Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2018 and 2019 were the years of the “blockchain buzz”. As we enter the new decade, we can expect a stronger focus on how technology and data advances will generate more actionable use for the food industry. Food Safety Tech has highlighted many perspectives from subject matter experts in the industry, and 2020 will be no different. Our first Q&A of the year features Sasan Amini, CEO of Clear Labs, as he shares his thoughts on tech improvements and the continued rise consumer expectations for transparency.

Food Safety Tech: As we look to the year ahead, where do you see artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain advancing in the food industry?

Sasan Amini: AI, ML, and blockchain are making headway in the food industry through advances in supply chain management, food sorting and anomaly detection, and tracing the origin of foodborne outbreaks. On the regulatory side, FDA’s focus on its New Era of Smarter Food Safety will most likely catalyze the adoption of the above mentioned technologies. On the private side, a few of the companies leading the charge on these advancements are IBM and Google, working in partnership with food manufacturers and retailers across the world.

Along those same lines, another area that we expect to grow is the use of AI and ML in tandem with robotics—and the value of new troves of data that they collect, analyze and distribute. For example, robotics for the use of environmental monitoring of potential contaminants, sorting techniques and sterilization are valuable because they ensure that end products have been through thorough testing—and they give us even more information about the lifecycle of that food than ever before.

At the end of the day, data is only valuable when you can transform it into actionable insights in real-time with real-world applications, and we expect to see more and more of this type of data usage in the year ahead.

FST: Where do you think food safety testing technologies will stand out? What advancements can the industry expect?

Amini: In 2020, technology is going to begin to connect itself along the entire supply chain, bringing together disparate pieces and equipping supply chain professionals with action-oriented data. From testing advances that improve speed, accuracy and depth of information to modular software solutions to promote transparency, the food safety industry is finally finding its footing in a data-driven sea of technological and regulatory advances.

Right now, legacy testing solutions are limited in their ability to lead food safety and quality professionals to the source of problems, providing insights on tracking recurring issues, hence having a faster response time, and being able to anticipate problems before they occur based on a more data heavy and objective risk assessment tools. This leaves the industry in a reactive position for managing and controlling their pathogen problems.

Availability of higher resolution food safety technologies that provide deeper and more accurate information and puts them in context for food safety and quality professionals provides the food industry a unique opportunity to resolve the incidents in a timely fashion with higher rigour and confidence. This is very in-line with the “Smarter Tools and Approaches” that FDA described in their new approach to food safety.

FST: How are evolving consumer preferences changing how food companies must do business from a strategic as well as transparency perspective?

Amini: Consumers are continuing to get savvier about what’s in their food and where it comes from. Research suggests that about one in five U.S. adults believe they are food allergic, while only 1 in 20 are estimated to have physician-diagnosed food allergies. This discrepancy is important for food companies to consider when making decisions about transparency into their products. Although the research on food allergies continues to evolve, what’s important to note today is that consumers want to know the details. Radical transparency can be a differentiator in a competitive market, especially for consumers looking for answers to improve their health and nutrition.

Consumers are also increasingly interested in personalization, due in part to the rise in new digital health and testing companies looking to deliver on the promise of personalized nutrition and wellness. Again, more transparency will be key.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

Amini: Looking ahead, we expect that smaller, multi-use, and hyper-efficient tools with reduced physical footprints will gain market share. NGS is a great example of this, as it allows any lab to gather millions of data points about a single sample without needing to run it multiple times. It moves beyond the binary yes-no response of traditional testing, and lets you get much more done, with far less. Such wealth of information not only increases the confidence about the result, but can also be mined to generate more actionable insights for interventions and root cause analysis.

This “multi-tool” will be driven by a combination of advanced software, robotics, and testing capabilities, creating a food safety system that is entirely connected, driven by data, and powerfully accurate.

baby

Keeping Baby Food Safe: Sensitive Pesticide Residue Quantitation Beyond Maximum Residue Levels Using GC-MS/MS

By Paul Silcock
No Comments
baby

There are more than 1000 different pesticides in use around the world. While these chemicals are designed to target insects, weeds and other pests, residual amounts can remain on food that is subsequently eaten by consumers. The effects of pesticides on the population can be acute or chronic depending on the exposure. Acute over-exposure can cause poisoning and result in long-term effects such as cancer or reproductive issues. Chronic, lower dose exposure to pesticides has been associated with health issues such as respiratory problems, skin conditions, depression, birth defects, cancer and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

People who face the greatest risk for adverse health outcomes from pesticide exposure are those in agricultural roles, who are more likely to come into direct contact with these chemicals. However, developing fetuses, infants and children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers and women of childbearing age are at increased risk of experiencing negative health effects due to the presence of unsafe levels of pesticides in food. Exposure throughout a child’s development¬–including in the womb, infancy, early childhood, and puberty–can be particularly dangerous, affecting hormone regulation and brain development.

To minimize adverse health effects, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Union (EU) impose strict regulations on the amount of pesticides that can be applied to a crop, in order to limit the residue exposure downstream. Pesticides are assigned maximum residue levels (MRLs) depending on their toxicity, with the majority typically set at 10 µg/kg. However, due to the greater risk of certain compounds affecting the healthy development of infants and young children, some pesticides are controlled further: For instance, in the EU, specific pesticides are restricted in baby foods with MRLs of between 3–8 µg/kg.

Triple Quadrupole GC-MS/MS: Meeting the Needs of Pesticide Analysis

In order to test foods for pesticide residues at these very low levels, food safety laboratories require sophisticated analyte detection technologies. Gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS) is a powerful analytical technique that offers the sensitivity and selectivity required to detect and identify pesticide residues at levels that often go beyond those mandated by regulatory authorities, even in complex sample matrices such as baby food. Indeed, GC-MS/MS can detect multiple residues within samples at levels as low as 0.025 µg/kg, much lower than the MRLs of regulated pesticides.

The sensitivity of the latest triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS systems is enabling levels of detection so low that many food testing laboratories have been able to adopt more efficient and universally-applicable sample preparation procedures based on QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged and Safe) methods. Combining these modern GC-MS/MS systems with QuEChERS sample preparation techniques allows food samples to be analyzed directly, significantly reducing workflow complexity. Furthermore, the specificity of triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS can easily compensate for the additional matrix components or residual acetonitrile carried over from sample preparation.

EU SANTE Criteria for Pesticide Residue Quantitation

When it comes to the detection of pesticides in baby foods, workflows must comply with rigorous quality control and method validation standards. The EU SANTE/11813/2017 criteria outline three specific requirements that pesticide residue analysis methods must satisfy to achieve compliance.

Firstly, a minimum of two product ions must be detected for each pesticide with a peak signal-to-noise ratio greater than 3 (or in case noise is absent, a signal must be present in at least five subsequent scans), and the mass resolution for precursor ion isolation must be equal to or better than unit mass resolution. Secondly, the retention time of an analyte within a sample must not differ by more than 0.1 minutes compared with standards in the same sequence. Finally, the relative ion ratio for each analyte must remain within 30% of the average of calibration standards from the same sequence.

Fortunately, modern triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS systems are ensuring food safety testing laboratories comply with these criteria. In terms of peak detection and resolution, the specificities achieved using the latest triple quadrupole instruments meet or exceed the EU SANTE requirements by providing consistent data points regardless of sample preparation approach or matrix type. Precise detection at the ultra-low concentrations required for pesticide residue quantitation is routinely achieved using modern triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS systems, with analyses offering qualitative identification of each analyte among a large group of residues. Furthermore, the latest systems deliver stable ion ratios that are well within the required 30% range at the default 10 µg/kg MRL across multiple injections.

Ultra-low-level Quantification of Pesticides Using Triple Quadrupole GC-MS/MS

In a recent study that put the capabilities of the latest triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS systems to the test, samples of baby food (carrot/potato and apple/pear/banana) spiked with a mixture of more than 200 pesticides at three concentrations (1.0, 2.5 and 10.0 μg/kg) were analyzed using the Thermo Scientific TSQ 9000 triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system fitted with an Advanced Electron Ionization (AEI) source. Prior to injection into the instrument, the homogenized spiked samples were prepared for analysis using a QuEChERS method that included an acetonitrile extraction step, a clean-up step involving primary secondary amine (PSA) and dispersive solid phase extraction (dSPE), followed by acidification with 5% formic acid in acetonitrile.

The triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system met all SANTE criteria at the three spiking concentrations in both food matrices. More than 97% of the target pesticide residues in the 1 μg/kg spiked sample had recoveries in the range of 70%–120%, highlighting the broad applicability of the method. The recoveries of the target pesticides from the apple/pear/banana sample spiked at 10 μg/kg are shown in Figure 1.

GC-MS/MS system, pesticide residue analysis
Figure 1. Recovery and precision data for apple/pear/banana extractions (n=6) at a concentration of 10 μg/kg, obtained using TSQ 9000 triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system fitted with an advanced electron ionization (AEI) source.
GC-MS/MS system
(Figure 1 continued)

Triple Quadrupole GC-MS/MS: Supporting Exceptional Limits of Detection

To determine the limits of detection of the system, baby food samples prepared by the previously-described QuEChERS method were spiked with the same mixture of pesticides at 14 concentrations ranging from 0.025 to 250 μg/kg. Using the triple quadrupole GC-MS/MS system, the SANTE criteria were met for all of the pesticides targeted at the default MRL of 10 μg/kg. Additionally, more than 90% of the target compounds had a limit of identification (LOI) satisfying all SANTE requirements below 0.5 µg/kg, and more than 60% of the target residues met these criteria below 0.1 µg/kg (Figure 2).

Pesticide residue analysis
Figure 2. Number of target residues satisfying the EU SANTE requirements (carrot/potato sample matrix). IDL, instrumental detection limit; LOI, limit of identification.

Instrumental detection limits (IDLs) were also determined for each pesticide residue by performing 10 replicate injections of the lowest matrix-matched standard of carrot/potato that met all SANTE criteria. IDLs were then evaluated using one-tailed student t-tests, taking into account the concentration and absolute peak area %RSD for each compound. The evaluated IDLs ranged from approximately 5 fg (for chlorobenzilate) to 2.0 pg (for bioallethrin), with over 95% of the residues exhibiting an IDL of less than 500 fg on the column (equivalent to 0.5 µg/kg in each sample extract). These results highlight the exceptional performance of the system, offering quantitative analysis of more than 200 pesticides over up to five orders of magnitude.

Conclusion

Enforcing regulations on the amounts and types of pesticides used is essential to limit our exposure to safe levels. The latest GC-MS/MS systems are capable of detecting and identifying pesticide residues at levels far beyond those required under regulatory standards, helping food testing laboratories efficiently ensure the food our children eat is always safe to consume.

Chelle Hartzer, Orkin
Bug Bytes

Stored Product Insects Are Costly Consumers

By Chelle Hartzer
No Comments
Chelle Hartzer, Orkin

How much can pest issues cost? The truth is, it changes based on the pest, the size of the population and the prevalence throughout your food processing facility and products. If you want to protect your bottom line, you need to know which pests are the biggest threat and take steps to prevent them. Let’s focus on one major threat to food processing facilities: Stored product insects.

Believed by some pest control providers to be the costliest pests for food manufacturing and processing businesses, stored product insects can put a huge dent in your profits. What’s worse, these pests can be tough to discover by an untrained eye, and they’re incredibly difficult to control without the help of a pest management professional.

According to the USDA and the University of Wisconsin, “stored product pests can damage, contaminate, or consume as much as 10% of the total food produced in the U.S. alone, while in developing countries that rate has been estimated at 50% or more.”

That’s an astronomical figure for such small insects! Can you imagine the impact on your bottom line if 10% of your product was ruined?

For any business in need of an updated prevention plan, the first step is to review the current integrated pest management (IPM) program to ensure a proactive approach has been implemented to monitor for, and react quickly to, any pest issues around the facility. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for an IPM program; each program should be customized to meet the needs of the individual business. Different geography, construction and food products being produced can all create different pest pressures.

According to another study conducted by CEBR on the impact of pests on the global food supply, disruptions caused by pest infestations resulted in $9.6 billion in operating costs in the countries surveyed and 84% of U.S. businesses reported a net impact on revenue due to pest infestation across a five-year period. Diving deeper, 28% of food manufacturers and processors reported pest-related costs associated with contamination of raw materials leading to replacement costs.

In other words, having stored product insects around is expensive. If there were ever any doubts about the value of a proactive IPM program, these statistics prove it. So, let’s take a closer look at how you can work to protect your business against stored product insect—some of the most likely and costly invaders.

Types of Stored Product Insects

The term stored product insect covers a range of insect species that can be broken up into three main subcategories: External feeders, internal developers and secondary feeders. Each category has its own distinct characteristics, which are important to know for detection and proper identification.

External Feeders

This group develops on the outside of products, including damaged grains and processed foods. As they feed, they damage product and leave behind frass (insect droppings) as they make their way through.

Some of the most common external feeders include Indian meal moths and flour beetles.

Adult Indian meal moths are roughly 9 mm long and have a wingspan of 14–20 mm. The front wings on the adults are bicolored, with two main tones: Reddish-brown at the wing tip and silver-grey at the base. If you don’t see the pest itself, you may notice a messy silk webbing spun by the larvae.

Red and confused flour beetles, two of the most common beetle species, are 3–4 mm in length and also have a reddish-brown color. They’re rectangular-shaped beetles and can often be found in grain bins infested with internal developers. This is because flour beetles like to feed on the kernels other stored product insects, like borers, have already broken up. They can also be found in processing lines and finished products.

Internal Feeders

Internal feeders lay eggs inside or outside of kernels of grain but develop entirely inside those kernels. As they develop, they hollow out the kernel, then the adults can go on to damage other kernels.

Some of the most commonly encountered internal developers are lesser grain borers and rice, maize and granary weevils. Weevils measure about 5 mm in length and are usually brown in color with a distinct elongated “snout.” Lesser grain borers, the most common internal feeder across the United States infesting wheat, are a bit smaller and don’t have the snout that weevils do. Both weevils and lesser grain borers have pitted patterns on their bodies, and all can fly except the granary weevil. As the larvae and pupae develop inside grain kernels, damage becomes especially evident when the adult chews out and leaves a distinctive perfectly round hole.

Secondary Feeders

This group typically eats from the outside in and feeds on the mold and fungus that can grow on out-of-condition grain and damp product.

Two of the most common secondary feeders are the foreign grain beetle and sawtoothed grain beetle. Foreign grain beetles love mold, and resemble flour beetles in size and color. To tell them apart, look for two “bumps” on the top corners of the thorax. Eliminating molds and damp conditions that facilitate mold growth is generally enough to help prevent infestations from secondary feeders.

Sawtoothed grain beetles can feed on many types of products and while they can’t physically penetrate packaging, the adults will find holes less than 1 mm in diameter, lay eggs, and the larvae will squeeze through the tiny openings to get to the product. They prefer processed food products like bran, chocolate, oatmeal and even pet foods, but will feed on whatever they can access. Sawtoothed grain beetles are smaller than flour beetles (3 mm) and have distinctive “teeth” on the margins of the thorax.

Prevention, Monitoring & Detection, and Removal

The best way to protect a facility from stored product insects is to employ numerous different tactics. Specifically, it’s important to proactively mitigate pest attractants, monitor for activity in key areas around the facility, and establish thresholds and action plans when pests are detected.

First and foremost, educate all employees about the pests most common around your facility and what to do should they spot one. Your pest sighting log is a great tool, but only if people use it! Have a clear escalation plan for any pest issues spotted. In addition, create a sanitation schedule to ensure all areas and equipment are cleaned to remove food and moisture buildup attractive to pests on a regular basis. While you can’t possibly eliminate all food (you are of course storing and processing food!), the aim is to minimize the amount and the access these insects have to that food source.

Next, make sure all incoming shipments and packages are inspected closely in a sealed off unloading area away from other products. Make sure employees know to check for signs of damage, especially holes caused by boring pests. Taking the time to inspect anything entering your facility in this way will give you a chance to spot pests before they have the chance to spread to your other products. Use the first-in, first-out (FIFO) approach for all goods to ensure older product doesn’t sit. The longer product sits, the more chance it can be infested and it may start deteriorating, and this is especially attractive to stored product insects.

For ongoing monitoring, talk to a pest management professional about deploying pheromone traps strategically around your facility. Pheromone traps are the best tool to monitor for stored product insects, as they will give you an idea of which pests are present, in what numbers, where they are, and they can help you track trends in pest activity over time. If any stored product insects are ever spotted, contact your pest management professional immediately. If there’s a chance of having stored product insects on your product, you absolutely should have pheromone trap monitoring in place.

The Total Cost of Stored Product Pest Problems

The impact of pest issues caused by stored product insects isn’t limited to the cost of paused operations and replacing contaminated product. These pests are tough to spot, and could be passed along to partners further down the supply chain. Naturally this could hurt the trust between supply chain partners, which is never a good thing!

If your facility gets a reputation of having problems with stored product insects, it’s going to hurt your brand—and that’s going to be another knock to your bottom line. Stored product insects can spread quickly between products placed closely together. So, if pests are mistakenly shipped to a partner’s facility or a store and then on to a customer, now THEY are going to have to deal with stored product insects, too. Being proactive is the best approach, and careful documentation can help you and your supply chain partners track pest issues to the source so they can be resolved quickly and minimize the impact on profits.

It becomes easy to see stored product insects can cause both short-term and long-term effects on the profitability of a business. Don’t let that be your facility and your reputation! Be proactive and partner with a pest management provider to help ensure your facility operations run smoothly and your customers stay happy.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Look at the Latest Targets

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
No Comments
Karen Everstine, Decernis

Recent food fraud news includes the seizure of a million bags of fraudulently labeled and expired rice in Kenya, fraudulent spices found in a warehouse in India, and a U.S. grocery store chain sued for selling manuka honey that wasn’t 100% manuka. In Spain, tuna intended for canning was dyed and diverted to be sold as fresh and in China, 8,000 bottles of counterfeit wine were seized by the local food and drug administration. In Greece, 17 teenagers became ill after drinking alcoholic beverages containing methanol. Recently published journal articles on detection methods have looked at adulteration of honey with sugar syrups, meat adulteration with other species, authentication of products containing truffles, and Arabica coffee authenticity. One group of researchers evaluated a method to authenticate the botanical and geographic origin of hops.

Vanilla prices have been high, increasing the incentive to substitute natural vanilla extracts with similar flavors. A search of the Food Fraud Database shows a range of fraudulent adulterants associated with vanilla extract: Coumarin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin, maltol, vanillic alcohol, and vanillin (natural or synthetic). Recently published authentication methods include GC-VUV and analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and hydrogen (with GC-IRMS).

In 2004 (another period of high vanilla prices), a company that sourced vanilla beans from Indonesia for use in manufacturing vanilla extract identified mercury contamination in two lots of beans they had received. Mercury was presumably added to increase the weight of the beans. The company quarantined all beans and products that had been manufactured from them. They also had to shut down flavor production to clean and decontaminate the processing equipment.

Due to their high value and physical form (they are often sold in ground or liquid extract form), herbs and spices have a long history of fraudulent adulteration. Many countries have publicly reported being affected by food fraud in herbs and spices over the past 10 years.

Food Fraud incidents, spices
Incidents of food fraud reported in the Food Fraud Database for the past ten years in the category “Herbs, Spices, and Seasonings” (68 total).1

Mitigation measures for products at high risk for fraud include putting in place raw material specifications that include authenticity criteria, implementing analytical surveillance, establishing strong supplier relationships and audit programs, and increasing supply chain transparency.

Resource

  1. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media publications, judicial records, and trade associations from around the world and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification.
X-ray systems

Production and Inspection: What to Do When Contamination Occurs

By Chris Keith
1 Comment
X-ray systems

As much as food manufacturers take precautions to avoid all types of contaminants, there can still come a moment when you realize that your best efforts have failed. Maybe you find a broken blade or a missing wire during a sanitation break, but the product has already gone through your inline inspection machines—and nothing was detected.

This is the freak-out moment that no plant manager or quality assurance manager wants to have. Knowing that there’s possible contamination of your food product (and not knowing where that contaminant might be) creates a hailstorm of possibilities that your plant works hard to avoid. And you’re probably wondering how this could have happened in the first place.

X-ray systems
In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

Understanding How Contaminants Get Past Detection

To prevent physical contamination from occurring, it’s important to understand the reasons why it happens. In-house inspection systems often fail to detect contaminants for the following reasons:

  • The equipment isn’t calibrated to detect contaminants to a small enough degree, or the contaminants are materials that aren’t easily detected by the in-house machinery (glass, rubber, plastic, etc.)
  • The machines aren’t constantly monitored
  • The speed of the production line doesn’t allow for detecting small particles

Metal detectors are the most commonly used inline inspection devices in food manufacturing, and they depend on an interference in the signal to indicate there is metal contamination in the product.
Despite the fact that technology has progressed to deliver fewer false positives, the machines can still be deceived by moisture, high salt contents and dense products that could provide interference in the signal. When that continues to occur, it’s common for manufacturers to recalibrate the machine to get fewer false positives—but that also decreases its effectiveness.

Another limitation of the metal detector is that, as the name indicates, it can only find metal. That means contaminants like plastic, glass, rubber and bone won’t be found through a metal detector, but will hopefully be discovered through some other means before the product is shipped out.

Oftentimes, contamination or suspected physical contamination is discovered when a product, such as cheese or yogurt, goes through a filtration system, or when a piece of machinery is inspected during a sanitation break.
If the machinery is found to be missing a part, such as a bolt or a rubber gasket, the manufacturer then has to backtrack to the machinery’s last inspection and determine how much, if any, of the product manufactured during that time has been contaminated.

X-ray inspection
X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. In this image, you can see foreign material detected in canned goods.

What To Do When Contamination Occurs

Once a food manufacturer discovers that it may have a physical contamination problem, it must make a decision on how to handle the situation. Options come down to four basic choices, each of which comes with its own risks and benefits.

Option 1: Dispose of the full production run

The one advantage of disposing of a full production run is that it entirely eliminates the possibility of the contaminated product reaching consumers.

However, this is an expensive solution, as the manufacturer has to pay for the cost of disposal in a certified landfill and absorbs the cost of packaging, labor and ingredients. It also presents the risk of lost revenue by having a product temporarily out of stock.

Option 2: Shut down your production lines for re-inspection/re-work

Running the product through inline inspections a second time may result in finding the physical contaminant, but there’s also a risk that the contaminant won’t be found—and now the company has lost money through overtime pay and lost productivity.

If the inspection equipment was not sensitive enough to find the contaminant the first time around, it may not find it the second time, which puts the manufacturer back at square one. The advantage to this method is that the manufacturer maintains complete accountability and control over the process, although it may not yield the desired results.

Option 3: Risk it and ship the product to retailers

There’s always a chance that a missing bolt didn’t make its way into the product. Sometimes, if a metal detector goes off and the manufacturer can’t find any contaminants upon closer examination, they will choose to ship the product and take their chances.

The advantage for them is that, on the front end, this is the least expensive option—or it could be the costliest choice of all if a consumer finds a physical contaminant in their food. In fact, the average cost of a food recall is estimated at $10 million; lawsuits may push that cost even higher and result in a business being closed for good.

Option 4: Use third-party X-ray inspection

X-ray inspection is the most effective way to find physical contaminants. In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

When a food manufacturer has a contamination issue, it can have the bracketed product inspected by a third-party X-ray inspection company and only dispose the affected food, allowing the rest of the product to be distributed. This option allows the manufacturer to maintain inventory and keep food deliveries on schedule while still eliminating the problem of contamination.

X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. When X-ray beams are directed through a food product, the rays lose some of their energy, but will lose even more energy in areas that have a physical contaminant. So when those images are interpreted on a monitor, the areas that have a physical contaminant in them will show up as a darker shade of gray.
This allows the workers monitoring machines to immediately identify any foreign particles that are in the food, regardless of the type of material.

Detection is Key to Avoiding Contamination Issues

Handling contamination properly is vital to every food manufacturing company. It affects the bottom line and the future of the company, and just one case of a physical contaminant reaching the consumer is enough to sideline food companies of any size. As X-ray technology continues to evolve, it remains an effective and efficient form of food inspection.

Educating plant managers and quality managers on what to do if inline inspection machines fail to detect contaminants should include information on how X-ray technology can be a food company’s first line of defense. While physical contaminants can’t always be avoided, they can be detected—and the future of your company may depend on it.