Tag Archives: Focus Article

Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
Retail Food Safety Forum

Three Reasons your Restaurant Needs to Take Food Safety Seriously

By Courtney Bosch-Tanguy
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Courtney Bosch-Tanguy

Food that is not only fresh and delicious but is also safe to eat is a must for any restaurant. Foodborne illnesses are a real threat to consumers and can permanently mar the reputation of the chain or restaurant who spreads them. If you’re at risk for serving up a chicken breast with a side of Salmonella or a burger crawling with E. coli, it is just a matter of time before someone gets sick. According to the CDC, about one in six Americans will get sick from a foodborne illness each year; more than 125,000 people per year become ill enough to be hospitalized.

Beyond the moral obligation to serve up quality food and to make sure your customers don’t get sick, attention to food safety can also prevent a public relations nightmare for your brand. The very mention of foodborne illness triggers a connection with Chipotle, even though many of the brand’s news-making outbreaks were over three years ago. Keeping customers, your business, and your reputation safe are just three reasons to incorporate food safety best practices into your daily routine.

Promote Customer Safety

You’re in business to serve your community or a specific population, so it is in your and their best interests to ensure the food you are serving up is not only tasty, but safe as well. Proper attention to everything from handwashing, to choosing the right cutting surfaces, to serving and storing food at the proper temperature, and properly labeling prepared foods and ingredients ensures you’re not harming the very customers you are trying to serve.

When you can be confident that your sanitation, storage and labeling process are the best they can be, you can serve every customer with pride, knowing you’ve provided them with the best possible meal or item. Your customers will know they can patronize your establishment with confidence that you take their safety seriously and are consistently dedicated to quality.

Protect Your Reputation

Chipotle, Taco Bell, and other brands found out the hard way: News spreads fast. In this era of smart phones and instant communication, that hair attached to your pasta is horrifying for more than just the patron who ordered it. With social media at the ready, one mistake could be broadcast to an audience of thousands in just seconds.

In 2015, Chipotle made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The brand had outbreaks in multiple locations, spanning 11 states. Even after a public and thorough store sanitation and cleansing, consumers and media still question the level of food safety in the brand’s locations and how these outbreaks were handled by the company. Chipotle had a more recent incident this summer. The chain committed to retraining all of its restaurant workers nationwide on food safety after nearly 650 customers became ill from eating at one of its Ohio restaurants. Tests showed sickened customers had Clostridium perfringens, which is a foodborne disease that occurs when food is left at an unsafe temperature.

Taco Bell has been under investigation for foodborne illness multiple times in the past few decades, dating back to 1995. From Salmonella to E.coli, the brand continues to struggle with food safety, making it a frequent target of both the news media and comedians cracking jokes at the brand’s expense.

Protect your Business

Chipotle suffered in more ways than one during that series of publicized outbreaks. The company’s stocks and profits plummeted, even after the outbreak appeared to be over. Jack in the Box never fully recovered after a tragic case of E. coli outbreak that resulted in the deaths of four children almost two decades ago.

Consumers have long memories, and there is no such thing as an isolated incident anymore. Focusing on food safety in this digital, social-media-powered era is more important than ever before. Simple steps, from properly training your employees about food safety, to implementing the right tools and technology to manage a food safety program, to properly labeling and testing food before you serve it, can help your brand maintain its sterling reputation and keep your customers safe.

Every step you take towards implementing proper food safety protocol is a step in the right direction for your customers, your business, and your reputation.

Frank Yiannas, Walmart

Stephen Ostroff to Retire from FDA, Walmart’s Frank Yiannas to Take the Reins

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Frank Yiannas, Walmart

Today it was announced that FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Stephen Ostroff, M.D. is retiring and Frank Yiannas, vice president of foods safety at Walmart, will join FDA as the Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. made the announcement in an email to agency employees. Yiannas will have a different title than Ostroff’s, which is reflective of the reorganization at the agency—FDA will reportedly be creating a new office called the Office of Food Policy and Response. Yiannas will also reportedly take on the role of senior scientific advisor to Commissioner Gottlieb on issues related to food safety and supply chain.

Ostroff will retire in January 2019 and will assist in the transition of Yiannas into his new role at FDA.

The Future of Food Safety: A Q&A with Walmart’s Frank Yiannas

 

Tim Lozier, EtQ, Inc.
FST Soapbox

How to Mitigate Risks and Issues in Your Supply Chain

By Timothy Lozier
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Tim Lozier, EtQ, Inc.

As business becomes more global, effective and efficient, supply chain management is more vital than ever. Even if you’ve optimized your supply chain, uncertainty can cause issues when sourcing raw materials, goods and services, which could ultimately impact on your business, customers, revenue and reputation.

Fortunately, forward-looking risk management can help you understand potential problems in the supply chain and allow you to create contingency plans or take mitigating actions. Supplier risk management will let you ensure quality at every stage, help you prepare for potential issues, and deliver goods and services to the quality and deadlines your customers expect.

An Overview of the Supply Chain

The supply chain is the process through which you source raw materials, goods, services and other key functions from your suppliers. It has multiple facets:

  • Identify the right suppliers and vendors.
  • Negotiate prices, terms and conditions.
  • Place orders with suppliers.
  • Arrange for transport of goods and services to your business or to other manufacturers.
  • Make payments to suppliers.
  • Receive products and services into your business for onward provision to end customers.

If you want to avoid problems and maximize quality throughout the supply chain, you will need to explore each of these areas.

Key Risks to Effective Supply Chain Management

Here are the main risks on the supplier side, and how to manage potential issues.

Poor Quality Supplier Challenges

Risks with poor quality suppliers include:

  • Goods, services and raw materials that do not meet your requirements.
  • Delays in sending out your orders.
  • Unreasonable demands made to your business.
  • Hidden, detrimental terms and conditions.
  • Damaged vendor relationships.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting recommendations from other organizations that are sourcing similar items or services.
  • Insisting on samples of the items you are planning to purchase.
  • Reading reviews of suppliers and feedback from other customers.
  • Ensuring you have robust contracts in place that clearly define the relationship.
  • Employing a vendor manager who can ensure that relationships and negotiations run smoothly.

Unexpected Prices or Supply Challenges

Risks with pricing and supply include:

• Volatile pricing and potential overcharging.
• Suppliers not being able to source and provide what you have ordered.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Locking in guaranteed pricing for specific areas and predefined lengths of time.
  • Auditing of invoicing and costs versus agreements and contracts.
  • Getting backup suppliers in place if your original supplier has a supply issue.
  • Guaranteeing with the supplier that they will hold a certain amount of inventory for your specific needs.
  • Insisting on regular reports of stock levels that you can draw down from.

Cultural, Environmental and Economic Challenges

Risks with culture, environment and the economy include:

  • Language and cultural barriers with suppliers leading to misunderstanding.
  • Local laws that impact on a supplier’s ability to meet your needs.
  • Environmental factors like natural disasters
  • Unstable political movements.
  • Societal unrest and conflict.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting backup suppliers in place if your original supplier has a supply issue.
  • Using local expertise to understand and deal with any potential legal or political issues.
  • Creating a contingency plan in the event of a natural disaster or economic issues.
  • Using a relationship manager who can understand and deal with differences in language and culture.

Transportation and Distribution Challenges

Risks with transportation and distribution include:

  • Inefficient logistics and distribution, leading to delays or loss.
  • Unexpected costs of transportation, import and export, including tariffs and customs.

You can mitigate these risks through:

  • Getting backup distributors in place if your original distributor has an issue.
  • Reading reviews of distributors and feedback from other customers.
  • Ensuring you have robust contracts in place that clearly define the relationship.
  • Understanding potential costs throughout the supply chain.
  • Creating a contingency plan in the event of supplier issues.

Examples of Supply Chain Risks and Issues in the Food Industry

Let’s dig into some potential risks to food supply chains, and how you might mitigate them.

Unusual Weather Patterns Lead to Smaller Harvests and Lower Yields
Food manufacturers rely on a steady supply of raw materials to make the products consumers eat every day. However, weather and climate can be anything other than predictable, and have several associated risks. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Identifying early climate trends that could impact a region and seeking out alternative sources.
  • Having backup contracts with other suppliers if the crops from one region fail to meet appropriate yields.
  • Developing alternative products that use fewer of a particular type of raw material or ingredient.
  • Stockpiling vital ingredients in secure, long-term storage.

Tariffs Impact Import and Export Prices
Political uncertainty can result in increased customs tariffs to trade in certain goods. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Importing or exporting a surplus of goods before the tariffs come into effect.
  • Seeking out alternative routes for food supply chains that do not go through impacted countries.
  • Diversifying into food production that’s not impacted by specific tariffs.
  • Moving part of manufacturing to regions not affected by tariffs.

Unexpected Production Issues Impact Food Safety
Food safety is critical to consumer confidence and a food manufacturer’s reputation. Despite stringent quality in the ingredient and manufacturing process, the global food supply chain can sometimes introduce contamination or other risks. Potential mitigation plans include:

  • Clear, objective, verified, regular testing of all raw ingredients, independent of origin, type or destination.
  • Labeling, batch numbers and other identifiers so all goods can be tracked through the supply chain to allow for easy identification of contaminant sources.
  • st recall process so any products that are in stores can be easily removed and returned for testing.
  • Exceeding FDA regulations and guidelines for safe food manufacturing.

When you’re managing risk in the supply chain, it is vital to capture all potential issues and prioritize them in terms of likelihood, impact and any other variables that are critical to your business. You can then get risk mitigation plans in place, and ensure your stakeholders and cross-functional teams have the resources they need to resolve your supply chain risks.

magnifying glass

How Workflow Advances Raise the Bar in LC-MS/MS Veterinary Drug Quantitation

By Ed George
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magnifying glass

In the modern world, it’s often taken for granted that consumers can head to their local grocery store and fill their baskets with a broad range of meat, poultry, fish and dairy produce. Yet the plentiful availability of these products is possible, to a large extent, thanks to modern farming methods that rely on veterinary drugs to promote healthy animal growth, protect livestock from contracting diseases, and in some cases provide aesthetic qualities to food.

Despite the important role veterinary drugs play in farming and food production, usage must be carefully controlled, as their inappropriate administration can have adverse effects on animals, the environment and human health. A particular concern is the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, which can be promoted in the environment by the overuse of some of these veterinary drugs.

As a result, the analysis of veterinary drugs forms an important part of routine food safety and quality control testing. However, the wide range of residue concentrations required to be quantified, along with the diverse sample matrices and chemical properties of multiple classes of veterinary drugs placed in a single analytical method, pose significant analytical challenges. The latest multi-residue, multi-class analytical workflow solutions using a generic sample preparation method and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) are overcoming these issues to provide a robust, sensitive method for the extraction, detection, confirmation, and quantitation of veterinary drugs below their required maximum residue limits (MRLs).

Meeting the Needs of Veterinary Drug Analysis Workflows

Given the need to accurately and reliably quantify veterinary drugs in food, testing workflows must be both sensitive and operationally robust. Importantly, workflows must be amenable to a variety of different matrices, including meat, fish and dairy, and should be capable of screening for drug molecules with a broad range of physicochemical properties. The sample preparation protocols that are employed must minimize the loss of analytes and be sufficiently simple and cost effective to enable routine laboratory use. Additionally, the separation steps that are employed must be sufficiently rugged and should ideally be able to handle any analyte and matrix. Finally, the methods used to identify and quantify samples must be sufficiently selective and sensitive to detect and confirm drug molecules and their metabolites at trace levels.

Developing methods that can meet all of these criteria for a wide range of drug molecules and food matrices, while minimizing the potential for false positive and negative results, is not straightforward and has proven challenging for the industry. As a result, many analytical methodologies have emerged that are typically limited in scope to a limited number of residues or specific chemical classes, are labor intensive, and require extensive sample preparation and clean-up. Fortunately, ongoing advances in veterinary drug analysis workflows are helping to drive the adoption of standardized protocols that have universal applicability.

QuEChERS: Making Sample Preparation Quick, Easy and Reliable

Sample preparation is a key first step in veterinary drug analysis workflows, but its importance is often overlooked. Even with the most advanced downstream separation and detection technologies, workflows are liable to generate poor quantitative results without reliable residue extraction methods.Having robust sample preparation protocols is especially important given the heterogeneous nature of the sample matrix and the different physicochemical properties of the residues that must be extracted.

Traditional approaches, based on sample homogenization and multi-step solvent extraction procedures, were time-consuming and did not always produce consistent results. The loss of residues during sample grinding or through the formation of insoluble drug-matrix complexes would often impact the accuracy of measurements. Moreover, the need for labor-intensive sample cleanup steps, based on separation methods such as gel permeation chromatography, added additional complexity to workflows.

The widespread adoption of universal sample preparation protocols based on QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged and Safe) methods has simplified the process of extracting veterinary drugs from matrix samples. These approaches have been specifically designed to be quick and easy to implement, and enable high extraction efficiency with a very broad range of chemical properties from a variety of matrices. As a result, QuEChERS has proven to be a very reliable means of preparing samples for veterinary drug analysis.

The universal suitability of the QuEChERS approach has reduced the complexity of sample preparation workflows to such an extent that many suppliers now offer kits containing pre-weighed reagents that can be used straight from the box. Moreover, because they only require small amounts of sample and solvent, and little in the way of equipment, these easy-to-use methods are helping laboratories minimize waste and make workflows more cost-effective.

Triple Quadrupole MS: Design Improvements Driving Exceptional Sensitivity

LC-MS/MS has rapidly established itself as the go-to technique for sensitive and reliable veterinary drug analysis, with set-ups based on ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) systems and triple quadrupole mass spectrometers proving to be particularly effective. With drug residues typically on the parts per billion scale, these systems have proven to be more than capable of delivering the level of performance that’s required when working with analytes that require low detection limits.

What’s more, recent advances in triple quadrupole mass spectrometer technologies are pushing the limits of quantitation even further. Improved instrument designs based on segmented quadrupoles, more powerful electron multipliers and enhanced ion transmission optics are enabling food analysis laboratories to achieve even greater levels of experimental sensitivity, mass accuracy, selectivity and precision. These performance improvements are allowing analysts to make more confident decisions around every sample.

ion chromatogram, salmon extract sample
Figure 1. Total extracted ion chromatogram of salmon extract sample at 1× STC. Results obtained using a Thermo Scientific Vanquish Flex Binary UHPLC system and a Thermo Scientific TSQ Altis triple quadrupole mass spectrometer. (Click to enlarge)

The capabilities of the latest generation of triple quadrupole LC-MS/MS systems for quantitative veterinary drug analysis were put to the test in a recent study. More than 170 veterinary drugs were added directly to a variety of homogenized matrices, including bovine muscle, milk, and salmon fillet using a QuEChERS sample preparation protocol to create a series of matrix extracted spikes (MES). The concentration of residues in the MES samples referenced a chosen screening target concentration (STC), which was typically one-third to one-quarter of the defined European Union MRL for each residue/matrix combination. Figure 1 presents the total extracted ion chromatogram for an MES sample of salmon fillet at the STC, obtained with a binary UHPLC system and a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer.

For each analyte, calibration curves were constructed using replicate measurements of each of the MES samples at seven concentrations ranging from one-fifth to five times that of the STC. Figure 2 highlights the calibration curve constructed for ethyl violet, a therapeutic dye used in aquaculture, in

Calibration curve, salmon extract
Figure 2. Calibration curve generated for ethyl violet in salmon extract (0.2–5.0 ng/g). (Click to enlarge)

the range 0.2 to 5.0 ng/g (STC = 1 ng/g). The calculated method detection limit of 0.03 ng/g for this compound in salmon fillet demonstrates confidence in the results well below the minimum required performance limit (MRPL).

LC-MS/MS: Leading the Way in Workflow Robustness

With potentially hundreds of samples to analyze every week, veterinary drug analysis workflows not only demand the highest levels of sensitivity, but also exceptional speed and robustness.
One way in which greater throughput can be achieved is by using shorter instrument dwell times, an experimental optimization that allows more compounds to be analyzed within a given timeframe during a chromatographic separation. Traditionally, the use of shorter dwell times would typically require sacrificing some measurement sensitivity. However, the latest advances in triple quadrupole instrument design are ensuring short dwell times no longer come at the expense of analytical performance.

Timed selected dreaction monitoring (SRM) is an effective strategy that allows analysts to overcome this challenge to achieve sensitivity with high throughput. Using timed SRM, data acquisition occurs within a short retention time window. This reduces the number of transitions that are monitored in parallel for each residue peak, while ensuring consistent quantitation even at low concentrations. Instrument control system software can automatically optimize the SRM conditions across the chromatographic run, maximizing operational efficiency with minimal need for manual input.

Instrument uptime is another factor that is of paramount importance for veterinary analysis workflows. With large workloads and tight turnaround times, regular instrument recalibration and frequent maintenance can be a major frustration for busy food testing laboratories. UHPLC is renowned for its operational robustness and suitability for fast-paced routine screening workflows, and the latest instruments are taking this reputation to an even higher level.

Comparison of injections of bovine muscle extract
Figure 3. Comparison of injections of bovine muscle extract MES at 3× STC over 500 injections (A: injection #20; B: injection #260; C: injection #500). Analytes shown: cyromazine (black), ciprofloxacin (red), sulfamethoxazole (green) and flunixin (blue). (Click to enlarge)

Figure 3 compares injections of bovine muscle extract at 3× STC over a 500-injection run that took place over a period of one week, obtained using the experimental set-up described earlier. Despite continuous operation over this extended period, the peak shape, intensity and retention time stability are maintained. These results further highlight the robustness of the LC-MS/MS system for routine veterinary drug testing.

Conclusion

Enforcing the responsible use of veterinary drugs in farming and food production depends upon comprehensive, sensitive, robust and reliable workflows capable of delivering quantitative results. Advances in sample preparation techniques and LC-MS/MS technologies are setting new standards when it comes to confident multi-residue veterinary drug analysis. From the development of reliable easy-to-use QuEChERS protocols, through to robust UHPLC separation methods and sensitive triple quadrupole mass spectrometers, improvements across the workflow are driving exceptional performance—whatever the matrix, whatever the residue.

Data management, food manufacturing

FSMA and the Importance of Data Visibility and Management in Food Manufacturing

By Jeff Budge
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Data management, food manufacturing

Implementation of FSMA has prompted many organizations to take a closer look at sanitation practices, documentation of food safety plans and the traceability of materials and ingredients used to create food products.

Meanwhile, shifts in technology, such as cloud migration as well as the rise of big data and analytics platforms, present both opportunities and challenges in food manufacturing.

In many cases, digital transformation, including the adoption of a multi-cloud strategy, occurs as part of a roadmap set forth by a food company’s software vendors. Tech giants, including Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, are driving digital transformation through the modernization of ERP systems and dictating how food companies should utilize applications, data and software.

In those situations, digital transformation is not a choice, it’s a requirement. CIOs and IT professionals are seeking help. They are looking to understand the dynamics and characteristics of these new environments because they are compelled to change.

Yet, there are also organizations that would rather do more than simply follow the lead of their software vendors. Instead, they choose their own destiny in terms of IT modernization. They’re looking for opportunities by leveraging data to make better business decisions.

Before a food manufacturer can get to that point, however, there must be a strategy for gathering, storing, connecting and presenting different types of data across an organization as well as to external customers and business partners.

Managing the data required for FSMA compliance is an ideal example of the importance of pursuing digital transformation.

Food Safety Data and FSMA Compliance

A major component of FSMA involves having detailed documentation of a food safety plan and the ability to produce data proving adherence to that plan when the FDA shows up for a plant inspection. Food manufacturers need to show best practices are being followed, and that corrections are being made when concerns emerge. Otherwise, the FDA may impose fines or temporarily shut down production, which cuts into the bottom line.

Because of FSMA mandates such as the Sanitary Transportation Rule, your documented food safety plan needs to be communicated to key participants throughout the supply chain as responsibility for food safety problems typically falls back to the manufacturer.

For that reason, food processors need solutions allowing them to track and trace their product from the farm field to store shelves, or to any other final customer.

Imagine being a food manufacturer trying to document sanitation in a basic spreadsheet or even on paper. The extra work involved with specifying food safety tests, collecting and archiving results, and validating sanitation procedures would be overwhelming. Yet, just as perplexing of an issue is being a digitized food manufacturer with poor visibility and management of all the information that various IT systems and platforms provide.

Most companies acknowledge that the cloud is a necessity in today’s world. Organizations often need multiple cloud solutions to accomplish business objectives, from regulatory compliance to finances, inventory control and distribution.

CIOs, technology professionals and food safety/sanitation leaders should work with existing IT solutions partners or find consultants and experts who can ensure the following questions can be answered:

1. Is the location of your data known?

Data visibility in the cloud is the first step in the process, and it is a challenge for many organizations. You need to know where your data lives, that the right people have access to it and that it is secure. When you know where your data lives, you’ll better understand how to use and protect it.

2. Is your data in a location that allows for integration?

Can the different applications your company uses talk with each other, or is all the information siloed across different cloud providers and departments in the organization? Is it integrated? Can certain information, such as food safety plans, be communicated with partners including suppliers, distributors and your carrier network?

3. Can your data be put into a framework allowing it to be extracted, visualized and leveraged?

Data doesn’t help anyone if you’re unable to take that information and use it to make better business decisions. Whether it’s food safety, operational efficiency, forecasting needs or developing new ideas, the most successful food manufacturers will leverage integrated data to move the organization forward.

Data management, food manufacturing
Managing the data required for FSMA compliance is an ideal example of the importance of pursuing digital transformation in food manufacturing facilities. (Image courtesy of One Neck IT Solutions, LLC

The Advantages of Pursuing Digital Transformation

If you were to go back about a decade and observed a small- to mid-sized food manufacturer using Microsoft as its data platform, that manufacturer would likely have been running applications for the business that created data while receiving little guidance pertaining to how the information should be interpreted and used. Fortunately, that has changed.

Today, companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP actively focus on the use of data rather than only data collection. The right IT solution, coupled with expert partners, allows you to eliminate the guesswork and leverage data to your advantage.

FSMA mandates are complicated, and compliance is crucial, but the pursuit of digital transformation supports the efforts of food manufacturers who are prepared to improve transparency and responsibility surrounding food safety.

Digital transformation represents change, which is never easy, but it will be worth the effort. Start by evaluating your organization’s technology needs as they relate to FSMA compliance as well as additional business objectives. Then, identify areas of internal strength and areas where improvements are needed.

Some food manufacturers partner with an IT solutions provider for support developing a cloud migration plan and a subsequent strategy for operating in multi-cloud environments. Others need managed services, helping them handle day-to-day IT needs through outsourcing so in-house resources can develop high-value solutions. Still, others are looking for consultative guidance to help them understand what changes in technology truly mean to their organization.

You want your people to focus on what they do best. Many food manufacturers are in locations where there’s a lack of technical resources for hire. That’s why they turn to IT consultants and service providers who understand their business, can provide expertise that fills the talent gap and are able to interpret business needs into technology solutions.

Digital transformation isn’t one big project, it’s an ongoing journey, a series of waves of new technologies and new ways to use applications and data. Make sure you find trustworthy allies to give you the guidance and solutions you need, not only for regulatory compliance but for growth and continued success.

Recall

Meat Recall Roundup: Listeria, Salmonella and Allergens the Culprits

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

The meat industry has been on alert over the past few days, much of which has been due to Salmonella and Listeria concerns. The following are the Class I recalls that have hit:

  • JBS Tolleson, Inc. recalls 6,937,195 pounds of raw non-intact beef products over concerns of Salmonella Newport contamination. According to the CDC, there are currently 57 reported cases across 16 states. No deaths have been reported. A traceback investigation involving store receipts and shopper card numbers enabled FSIS to trace the reported illnesses to JBS “as the common supplier of the ground beef products”.
  • Johnston County Hams recalls more than 89,000 pounds of RTE deli loaf ham products over concerns of adulteration with Listeria monocytogenes. The CDC and other health agencies are monitoring the outbreak, which has thus far infected four people, and one death has been reported. Recalled products were produced between April 3, 2017 and October 2, 2018. Also connected to this event is the recall of Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, which may contain ham from Johnston County Ham.
  • Canteen/Convenco recalled more than 1700 pounds of RTE breaded chicken tenders with BBQ sauce and hot sauce. The products were misbranded, as they may contain milk, and this was not declared on the finished product label. [https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-case-archive/archive/2018/recall-086-2018-release] Thus far there have been no reported cases of adverse reactions due to consuming the products.
  • Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods has recalled more than 18,200 pounds of RTE meat and poultry deli-sliced products over concerns of product adulteration with Listeria monocytogenes. The products were produced and packaged from September 14–October 3, 2018. No confirmed illnesses have been reported to date.
Stephanie Pollard, ClearLabs
In the Food Lab

The Power of Advanced NGS Technology in Routine Pathogen Testing

By Stephanie Pollard
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Stephanie Pollard, ClearLabs

The food industry is beginning to transition into an era of big data and analytics unlike anything the industry has ever experienced. However, while the evolution of big data brings excitement and the buzz of new possibilities, it also comes coupled with an element of confusion due to the lack of tools for interpretation and lack of practical applications of the newly available information.

As we step into this new era and begin to embrace these changes, we need to invest time to educate ourselves on the possibilities before us, then make informed and action-oriented decisions on how to best use big data to move food safety and quality into the next generation.

Stephanie Pollard will be presenting “The Power of Advanced NGS Technology in Routine Pathogen Testing” at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium | November 13–15One of the big questions for big data and analytics in the food safety industry is the exact origins of this new data. Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is one new and disruptive technology that will contribute significantly to a data explosion in our industry.

NGS-based platforms offer the ability to see what was previously impossible with PCR and other technologies. These technologies generate millions of sequences simultaneously, enabling greater resolution into the microbial ecology of food and environmental surfaces.

This represents a seismic shift in the food safety world. It changes the age-old food microbiology question from: “Is this specific microbe in my sample?” to “what is the microbial makeup of my sample?”

Traditionally, microbiologists have relied on culture-based technologies to measure the microbial composition of foods and inform risk management decisions. While these techniques have been well studied and are standard practices in food safety and quality measures, they only address a small piece of a much bigger microbial puzzle. NGS-based systems allow more complete visibility into this puzzle, enabling more informed risk management decisions.

With these advances, one practical application of NGS in existing food safety management systems is in routine pathogen testing. Routine pathogen testing is a form of risk assessment that typically gives a binary presence/absence result for a target pathogen.

NGS-based platforms can enhance this output by generating more than the standard binary result through a tunable resolution approach. NGS-based platforms can be designed to be as broad, or as specific, as desired to best fit the needs of the end user.

Imagine using an NGS-based platform for your routine pathogen testing needs, but instead of limiting the information you gather to yes/no answers for a target pathogen, you also obtain additional pertinent information, including: Serotype and/or strain identification, resident/transient designation, predictive shelf-life analysis, microbiome analysis, or predictive risk assessment.

By integrating an NGS-based platform into routine pathogen testing, one can begin to build a microbial database of the production facility, which can be used to distinguish resident pathogens and/or spoilage microbes from transient ones. This information can be used to monitor and improve existing or new sanitation practices as well as provide valuable information on ingredient quality and safety.

This data can also feed directly into supplier quality assurance programs and enable more informed decisions regarding building partnerships with suppliers who offer superior products.

Similarly, by analyzing the microbiome of a food matrix, food producers can identify the presence of food spoilage microbes to inform more accurate shelf-life predictions as well as evaluate the efficacy of interventions designed to reduce those microbes from proliferating in your product (e.g. modified packaging strategies, storage conditions, or processing parameters).

Envision a technology that enables all of the aforementioned possibilities while requiring minimal disruption to integrate into existing food safety management systems. NGS-based platforms offer answers to traditional pathogen testing needs for presence/absence information, all the while providing a vast amount of additional information. Envision a future in which we step outside of our age-old approach of assessing the safety of the food that we eat via testing for the presence of a specific pathogen. Envision a future in which we raise our standards for safety and focus on finding whatever is there, without having to know in advance what to look for.

Every year we learn of new advancements that challenge the previously limited view on the different pathogens that survive and proliferate on certain food products and have been overlooked (e.g., Listeria in melons). Advanced NGS technologies allow us to break free of those associations and focus more on truly assessing the safety and quality of our products by providing a deeper understanding of the molecular makeup of our food.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Sustainability Strategies for the Food Industry

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Sustainability is a word that you’ll hear a lot these days, especially as industries try to become more eco-friendly. The food industry has been lagging behind in the world of sustainability, and in order to keep up with national and international food demands, it is difficult to implement the kind of change that is necessary to make the world a little greener. However, that doesn’t mean that food companies shouldn’t try. The following are some sustainability strategies that might be easier to implement in the food industry.

Water Conservation

field irrigation
Field irrigation (Wikipedia commons image)

While the majority of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, only about 3% of that water is drinkable—and 2 of that 3% is frozen in the planet’s glaciers and ice caps. This is why water conservation is so important. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), roughly 39% of fresh water used in the United States is used to irrigate crops.

Switching from flood irrigation with sprinklers to drip irrigation can reduce water usage.

Wastewater reuse is also a new technique that is gaining traction in the food industry. While it isn‘t practical in all situations due to the technology needed to remove chemicals and impurities from the wastewater, it can help reduce water waste and water use in the food industry. Simply reviewing water usage and switching to procedures that are less water-intensive can save a company money and reduce its overall water usage.

Natural Pest Control

Pesticides and fertilizers are among some of the most dangerous chemicals in the food industry. For largescale operations, however, they are necessary to ensure a large and healthy harvest. Some companies, such as Kemin Industries, are shunning these typical processes in favor of more sustainable options.

“Our mission at Kemin is to improve the quality of life for more than half the world’s population, and we believe sustainability plays an important role in our work,” said Dr. Chris Nelson, president and CEO of Kemin Industries. “Our FORTIUM line of rosemary-extract-based ingredients uses Kemin-grown rosemary for maximum effectiveness against color and flavor degradation. Kemin is the only rosemary supplier that is certified SCS Sustainably Grown, and we’re one of the world’s largest growers of vertically integrated rosemary.”

Vertical integration doesn’t have anything to do with how the rosemary is grown. In the agriculture industry, it means Kemin owns the entire supply chain for its rosemary, from field to processing to distribution.

“We use botanicals—spearmint, oregano, marigold and potato, in addition to rosemary—in our other products as well,” continued Nelson. “As an ingredient manufacturer, we understand the value of good suppliers. When the planet is supplying us with the ingredients we use in our products, it’s important to us that we are responsible in our growing practices.”

Sustainable Distribution

Distribution is one of the biggest problems when it comes to creating eco-friendly and sustainable supply chains. Upwards of 70% of the products in the United States are transported by truck, and each of those trucks generates CO2 and greenhouse gases.

There are two plans of attack for sustainability in food distribution: Reducing the distance food needs to travel, and upgrading trucks to use greener fuel options like biodiesel or electricity, such as the ones Tesla is offering.

Reducing the emissions created by tractor-trailers could help make the entire process a bit more sustainable, although it would require a large investment to upgrade the distribution process.

Back to Their Roots

It’s only in recent decades that agriculture has started being sustainable in an effort to keep up with the demands of the consumer. By going back to our roots and focusing on farming techniques that promote things like soil health—by rotating crops instead of using artificial fertilizers—and lowering water use and pollution, agriculture can become sustainable once again.

Farming, sustainability
Creative Commons image

Modern agricultural techniques are detrimental, both to the environment and to the people who work there. These methods ensure we have enough food to supply consumers, but they lead to soil depletion and groundwater contamination. In addition to this, it can also lead to the degradation of rural communities that would normally be centered on farm work. That’s because corporate farms focus on quotas and large harvests without the community angle.

These commercial farms also cost more to run, and many have poor conditions for farmworkers because of the harsh chemicals used to kill pests and fertilize depleted topsoil.

Farm numbers have dropped since the end of World War II, with corporate farms taking the place of smaller family farms. While the number of farms has dropped, the remaining farms have increased in size. The average farm in 1875 was roughly 150 acres, and there were more than 4 million of them. Today, less than half that number remains, but the average size of the farms has increased to more than 450 acres.

Sustainability is a popular buzzword right now, but it’s a lot more important than most people believe. Switching to sustainable practices, whether that means changing production, distribution or anything in between, will help ensure the food industry can keep fresh, healthy food on our table for decades to come without damaging the environment. Sustainability is something that should be adopted by every industry, especially agriculture.

Risk, food safety

Food Defense and Intentional Adulteration: How Prepared Is Industry?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Risk, food safety

The FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule (Mitigation Strategies To Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration) requires companies that fall under the rule to implement a written food defense plan, identity vulnerabilities and establish mitigation strategies based on those vulnerabilities. This is new territory for FDA as well as for many companies in the industry—and for this reason, the agency has established a longer compliance timeline. However, that doesn’t mean companies should wait—the time to prepare is now.

Christopher Snabes, senior manager, food safety at the The Acheson Group (TAG) and Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D., associate director at the Food Protection & Defense Institute (FPDI) sat down with Food Safety Tech to discuss some of the challenges they see industry facing related to intentional adulteration and food defense.

In addition, TAG and FPDI are interested in gauging the industry’s level of readiness in this area and have put together the survey, Intentional Adulteration & Food Defense Industry Preparedness. We encourage you to take the survey. And don’t miss subject matter experts from TAG and FPDI at this year’s Food Safety Consortium as they discuss Food Defense: Lessons Learned from Recent Incidents + Key Steps to Mitigating Risks.

Food Safety Tech: Given the subject matter of the survey, what do you feel is the current preparedness level regarding compliance with the FSMA Intentional Adulteration rule?

Christopher Snabes, The Acheson Group
Christopher Snabes, The Acheson Group

Christopher Snabes: I see this from a variety of fronts. Some companies established food defense solely on the events of 9/11, putting initial food defense plans in place [that involved] fences, installing security guards and gates, and locking the outside doors. Some companies we’ve worked with feel this is sufficient enough to meet the IA rule, and that’s not correct.

TAG has assessed several companies that are in the process of conducting food defense assessments, and they’re doing them based on best industry practices, and preparing for the inside attacker and/or a terrorist getting into key production areas.

TAG has worked with some companies that are fully waiting for the second and third guidance documents from FDA to come out before they do the full food defense plan. We’ve worked with some companies doing a mix of the above—they’re not waiting for the guidance but are actively testing their plans and having an outsider test their vulnerability, and then they’re rewriting plans based on the findings. They’ll also update their food defense plans, once the second and third FDA guidances are released to the public.

We feel these are the most prepared facilities; there are not a lot of companies at this point, but they’re starting to pick up steam. At this point, I would say most companies are actively pursuing a food defense plan as well as beginning to test their vulnerability.

Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute

Jennifer van de Ligt: I agree with Chris and would add that in the past two years or so, there’s also been a shift in how the industry is viewing the Intentional Adulteration rule. Many companies currently have food defense plans based on the events of 9/11 and, for the first couple of years, as the new Intentional Adulteration rule was being written, there was still a heavy emphasis on “that should be enough.” I very rarely hear that now when discussing the Intentional Adulteration rule with our industry partners. I think companies are more prepared from an understanding perspective to move beyond perimeter security and guards to really think about the risks in the facilities that would come from people with legitimate access— what the rule defines as “insider attackers”. Although understanding is increasing, Chris is correct that different parts of industry are on different paths. Some just now understand that they have to do more, while others are well on the way on to looking at how they need to structure themselves internally and are already moving towards vulnerability assessments.

FST: Are you seeing company size play a role in the readiness level?

Join the Food Protection and Defense Institute and The Acheson Group (TAG) at the 2018 Food Safety Consortium for an interactive discussion as they explore recent food defense events, highlighting key components of the incidents relative to government interactions, FSMA regulations, brand reputation, financial interests, and public health response. van de Ligt: The larger companies thinking about a multi-international approach seem to be further along in the process. I think they started thinking about the vulnerability assessment, how they’re going to structure it in their company, and how they’re going to come to compliance because of the breadth and the scope that impacts them. But we’re also seeing, at least in our training, some of the mid-sized companies beginning to take action. I think again, they realize that even though they’re smaller, they’re going to need additional resources, and they might not have those resources in house, so it might take them a bit longer.

Snabes: In general I would agree with Jennifer. I think a lot of it is because they have additional resources, and they can leverage them across many facilities as needed. I don’t see as much action being taken outside the United States on the facilities that are importing into the United States. I think that’s just starting to ramp up. I’m also seeing very small businesses that aren’t required to follow the IA rule implementing this because they want to protect their brand.

FST: What challenges are you seeing companies experience in understanding food defense, IA, and the appropriate preventive actions they should be taking?

FSMA Checklist: Intentional Adulteration rule Snabes: Just understanding how the rules can apply to the business. For some companies, that’s still a challenge. Other companies, like the large ones, get it. Other small- and mid-sized companies are still trying to figure out how it applies to them. After that, the challenge is realizing there are expenses involved. For example, they have to install key fobs, cameras in critical areas, etc. They also have to realize they can meet the IA rule by not spending an exorbitant amount of money. For example, within a budget there are things companies can do without having to spend a lot of money, such as food defense awareness training.

Another challenge is educating all workers in food defense; enforcing the food safety culture within the facility and the idea that their job can be at risk. They have to realize that if they don’t recognize an individual inside the premises, or if something is out of place in a critical area, they need to inform their supervisor. If they see something, they need to say something—and ensure that the intentional adulteration is not taking place.

Educating employees is the least expensive way to invest in food defense, and it is the most effective. However, this can be a challenge for the companies that, for example, have a high turnover rate—if you have a lot of employees coming in and out, that means constant training, enforcement and re-educating. We see quite a bit of companies with a large turnover rate.

van de Ligt: I agree with those points. In our training, we also talk about food defense culture and how it needs to be supported across the business, similar to the way food safety culture is already in many of our businesses, and how to incorporate food defense awareness training, and on-boarding and refresher training.

The other challenges I see is that once you get to the understanding of what needs to be done and you get the buy in, there are some logistical issues at some of the companies—from big to small. Some companies are struggling with understanding which part of the business should be responsible for this (the food safety group, the security group, etc). Because we are talking about legitimate access and who is responsible for putting the plan together: How do these groups that may not have worked closely within the bigger companies now create that shared collaborative environment?

At the smaller companies, where they may not have that breadth or resources, now you’re asking a specialist in one area to pick up a completely different expertise and discipline. With a food safety and quality person, part of their job may be supply chain and sourcing, and now they also have to learn food defense. How are they managing and balancing all the different FSMA rules in their portfolio—because you have one person actually thinking about the breadth of them all. This presents a challenge to the logistics of implementation.

The other challenge I see is that FDA has done a really good job in providing input, guidance and listening sessions, and has been open and available to answer questions—more so for this rule than any of the other rules that I’ve watched go through industry. However, with the guidance being published so close to the compliance date it presents a challenge—companies that are waiting on the guidance will have to comply very quickly without the best understanding on what FDA’s thoughts are—because they’re waiting on the pending guidance.

FST: What steps should companies take to mitigate the IA risk?

van de Ligt: I have three action items for every company to take.

  1. Read the IA rule, including the preamble if they haven’t. There’s a lot of information there that will help them understand the mindset and how the IA rule came about.
  2.  Read the guidance document when it comes out. The first guidance contains many clarifying examples that will help understanding and implementation.
  3. Train the key people who are going to be responsible for writing the food defense plan and all employees on food defense awareness.

There are resources out there, whether it’s talking with FDA or coming to a sponsored training, for folks to get assistance in understanding and interpretation, and it would be great for them to take advantage of it.

Snabes: I agree with those three points. In general—do an FDA food defense assessment of your facility. Look for and concentrate on the key activity types that are critical. At least get a list of what areas are going to be the ones you have to mitigate. For example: The offloading of liquids, open vats, hand applied additives, etc. The most important thing I suggest doing right away is food defense awareness training for not just the supervisors, but all the employees—everyone from receiving to shipping to supply chain, etc. Everyone should be aware of the importance of food defense training and how their job depends on it.

In general, with food defense or IA—the rule is a brand new concept to FDA. It’s something they never tackled before. Because of that, there is going to be a longer time of educating before regulating. FDA is going to bend over backwards to work with companies so they understand how this rule is going to be implemented.

Any company out there can have a “strong employee” who wants to cause intentional adulteration, so the time to plan for that is now. Don’t wait for the rule to come into effect before you start planning.

Hot Topics in Intentional Adulteration, Food Fraud and Food Crime

Jessia Burke, Allergen Control Group
Allergen Alley

Allergen Detection & Control: Challenges & Strategies

By Jessica Burke
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Jessia Burke, Allergen Control Group

While global market demand for “free-from” food products is increasing, undeclared and mislabelled allergens, sulphites and gluten, throughout the supply chain, continue to be the number one cause of consumer product recalls. This is of major concern since the number of individuals affected by life-threatening allergies is on the rise, especially in children. Unfortunately, there is no cure for a food allergy; avoidance of allergenic food(s) is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

It is clear that allergen recalls negatively affect the consumer, however, they also result in huge financial implications and loss of brand credibility to all organizations involved. Businesses and brands may take a significant hit to their reputation since consumer perception plays a key role in the success of a business. With the increased use of the internet and social media, it is even more important to stay out of the spotlight and avoid recalls.

Among the reasons allergens hold the #1 position for product recalls may be lack of knowledge, insufficient supplier and raw material information, packaging errors, and accidental cross-contact. Cross-contact may be the result of poor cleaning practices, inadequate handling and storage procedures, employee traffic, and improper identification and assessments of risks. In addition, from a regulatory perspective, priority allergen lists and ingredient labeling laws vary from country to country, causing confusion for both manufacturers and consumers.

The good news is, implementing a strong allergen control plan can help to prevent recalls, protecting consumers and your business.

It starts with conducting a thorough risk assessment of each step in your process to determine where procedures and controls need to be implemented. A process flow diagram is very useful in understanding where allergenic ingredients and foods exist in the plant and where they are introduced into the process.

Control measures must be implemented even before raw materials enter the facility. The importance of understanding the incoming ingredients, inputs and suppliers cannot be overstated. The allergen status of every raw material handled or present in a food business needs to be identified and effective risk assessment tools applied. This involves identifying and documenting the food allergens present in each raw material, including non-food items like maintenance and cleaning chemicals. It’s imperative to recognize suppliers and backup suppliers’ vulnerabilities to ensure the success of the program. This should include identifying all allergens handled in the facility, as this might not be obvious based on ingredient declarations or product specification documents. Ensure supplier ingredient specification documents are current and routinely reviewed so accurate assessments can be made about the level of allergen risk.

Ensure there is segregation of allergenic foods or ingredients at every step of the process, from receiving raw materials through to shipping finished product. It is important to review labels at receiving to confirm the allergen status of raw materials. This serves as verification that ingredients have not been modified and the allergen status is still accurate. It also provides the basis upon which to determine storage and handling requirements. Visual tools are great for displaying the allergen status of each raw material. This can be done through applying color coded stickers or tape, unique tags or some other method, and should be done immediately at receiving. To avoid the potential for cross contamination from one ingredient to another, each allergen and/or group of allergens should have its own designated storage area or space. In addition, never store allergenic ingredients above ingredients that do not contain the same allergen.

Ensure there is segregation of allergenic foods or ingredients at every step of the process, from receiving raw materials through to shipping finished product. (Shutterstock image)

Controlling allergen risk throughout processing can be a major challenge since there are so many opportunities for cross contact. Ideally, physically segregate production of foods containing allergens from the production of non-allergenic foods. When physical segregation is not possible, dedicated production lines and equipment is best practice. Barring this, scheduling production runs appropriately can reduce the risk of cross contact and minimize sanitation and changeover activities. Where possible, schedule non-allergenic production before processing allergen-containing products. In addition, dedicate and identify tools and utensils for allergenic ingredients and products. Providing a visual aide can help ensure appropriate practices, and one way to do this is through color coding. Similarly, use dedicated employees on non-allergenic production lines and/or allergenic production lines. Make the employees easy to identify by implementing colored uniforms, hairnets or smocks. Identify allergenic materials by labelling or color coding throughout the manufacturing process. This should include rework, which should only be added to work in progress containing the same allergens.

Control of allergens does not stop at processing; the Maintenance department also plays a big role. Sanitary design needs to be considered when purchasing any piece of equipment. The equipment must be easily and fully washable to ensure proper sanitation. Positioning of equipment is also important in terms of cleanability and the potential of cross contact from an allergenic production line to a non-allergenic production line. Airflow and the potential for contamination of air borne allergenic dust to non-allergenic ingredients, products and equipment also should to be considered. Lastly, maintenance procedures must be put in place to prevent cross contact. This includes processes for repairing or maintaining equipment, cleaning tools and changing work apparel between repairs, as appropriate.

Consumers rely heavily on ingredient declarations and allergen statements on packaging to make purchasing decisions. “For those living with the medical condition of food allergy, the simple act of eating is complicated; avoiding their allergen is the only tool they have to manage the risk of a potential allergic reaction. These consumers require accurate labeling information to help them stay safe while still having sufficient food choices,” states Jennifer Gerdts, executive director at Food Allergy Canada. As such, it is imperative that the information on finished product labels and packaging is accurate. A solid allergen control program includes processes for reviewing labels for new and modified products to ensure they are reflective of the ingredients in the product. Labels and packaging should also be verified for accuracy prior to receipt, and at the beginning of a production run or at changeover. Outdated labels and packaging should be discarded immediately to prevent the chance of accidental usage. Inventory control procedures and label/packaging reconciliation is imperative to ensure the correct labels/packaging have been applied to the appropriate finished product.

It is crucial to develop and implement robust procedures for effectively cleaning equipment, utensils, food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces. This must include cleaning between batches of allergenic and non-allergenic production and responding to allergen spills. Carefully consider the tools and cleaning chemicals used for each the task, as this can make a significant difference in the success of the sanitation program. Verification and validation of cleaning practices must be undertaken to confirm that cleaning activities are effective in removing the allergens in the facility. This can be done through visual inspections, swabbing after sanitation and trending results.

One of the most important tools for ensuring the success of any allergen control program is educated employees. All foods handlers, regardless of their position, should undertake training in food allergens. Employees are the eyes and ears of the plant floor, the more knowledgeable they are, the more likely proper procedures will be followed, and potential risks identified.

Complete regular reviews of the allergen management program to ensure that it remains current, effective, and continues to assist in the production of a safe and legal food product. The program should be reviewed, at a minimum, whenever a customer complaint is received regarding allergic reactions, there is a change to raw materials or suppliers, there is a change in manufacturing processes, there has been an introduction of new machinery, or there is a change to cleaning practices and procedures.

An important aspect of an allergen control program is allergen testing. Testing can be used to confirm the allergen status of raw materials at receipt, to verify cleaning processes, and to evaluate finished products. An array of test methods exist for this purpose, including but not limited to, immunochemical methods such as ELISA or lateral flow devices, DNA-based methods, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Mass spectrometry (MS), and other non-specific methods such as Protein tests, ATP and visual inspection to verify cleaning. The choice of test method is very important and depends on the purpose of the test, the type of sample, food matrix, processing effects, desired turn-around time, availability of equipment, skill level of person doing the analysis and cost. ELISA and lateral flow devices are often used on-site at the production facility because results can be obtained quickly, costs are relatively low, and personnel can be easily trained to use these tests. In some circumstances of highly processed samples, PCR may be a better choice. However, PCR testing requires specialized equipment and skilled technicians so is usually performed in a third-party testing lab. Mass spectrometry is yet another option but can be costly and like PCR, this method requires specialized equipment and skilled personnel to perform the analysis.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when developing an effective allergen control program. While it may seem daunting, it is critical understand how to identify and assess all allergen risks and develop a plan to control, verify and validate each one. The upfront work may be challenging, however once implemented, an effective allergen control program will protect allergenic consumers from the potentially life-threatening effects of inadvertently consuming and allergenic product, and will protect your business from financial loss and a tainted brand reputation.