Tag Archives: Food Labs

Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting

Contract Food Labs Gain Traction

By Maria Fontanazza
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Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting

Last month Food Safety Tech and Bob Ferguson, managing director at Strategic Consulting, discussed changes that are affecting the contract lab industry, from processor concerns in keeping pathogens out of their facility to operational challenges. In part II of our interview, Ferguson reviews how these factors are increasing competition among food contract laboratories.

Food Safety Tech:  Since we published your article “Changing Landscape for Selecting a Food Contract Laboratory” you’ve mentioned that you have been getting quite a few questions about the piece, your study and your findings. What is the most common question you have received?

Robert Ferguson: It’s been interesting! I have received questions directly via email and many over various social media. People have been very interested in the overall impact that these changes will have on the market. As more and more companies outsource their food diagnostic testing, and as food contact labs companies capture a greater share of the testing market and also grow through consolidation of the market, testing labs will have greater market power. It is a common purchasing practice, of course, for buyers to commoditize services such as laboratory analysis to the extent that they can and then force the labs to sell on price. This has clearly been the case in the food lab market. But as more companies outsource, and the larger labs grow and consume greater share, the balance of bargaining power between the larger labs and processors will change.

FST:  Is it just the relative size of the labs that is having the major impact?

Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting
Robert Ferguson, managing director, Strategic Consulting, Inc., will discuss the results of the survey at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in December | LEARN MORE

Ferguson:  Larger lab companies will certainly have economies of scale, operating efficiencies and bargaining power with their suppliers that the smaller labs will not that they will use to their advantage. But there is more to it than that. Close to 70% of the processors in our survey say that they outsource their pathogen samples to labs within 100 miles of their plant. Many of these processors are multi-site operations and will look to outsource their work with the fewest number of laboratory contracts. With growth and consolidation in the market, fewer and fewer lab companies will have laboratories in the right places to meet this 100-mile requirement. Fewer labs will qualify for the bidding process, and this will reduce competition.

FST:  Will this change pricing?

Ferguson: Probably, especially over time. The other thing we heard from processors is that economics is not the main criteria in their decision to outsource. Traditionally, processors would “do the math” and those with fewer samples would outsource, as it would not be economical to maintain their own lab operation, while those with high sample volumes would run their own plant lab or a consolidated corporate lab. But what we hear from processors is a greater focus on food safety and a desire to get any work with pathogens out of their plant. We also hear more reluctance from processors to be “in the lab business.” Their core competence is food production, not maintaining lab accreditations, keeping up to date on more sophisticated analytical techniques, and everything else it takes to maintain an efficient lab operation. Neither of these goals is economic, and we are seeing more companies outsource their samples at a higher cost per sample than what it was costing at their in-plant lab. Less competition and more focus on qualitative goals and not just pricing will create longer-term increases in contract lab prices.

Read part I of the Q&A with Ferguson, “Increased Testing for Pathogens and More Complex Tests Means More Outsourcing”FST:  That sounds positive for food contract laboratories. What is the risk?

Ferguson: These changes will be a significant opportunity for some food contract lab companies and a significant risk for others. Those who can create the best lab network will qualify for the most outsourcing contracts and will likely be far more competitive. Single location labs, however, will find it harder to be competitive, and many will likely be acquired while others will fail. We will certainly see a continued high level of M&A activity in this market.
Some of the other questions people have asked are about the impact on lab companies’ strategies, outside of M&A. We have heard from processors that while the larger labs with the better networks are better outsourcing partners, they are also finding that these larger lab companies are more “industrialized” and have far less emphasis on customer service. This seems to introduce an opportunity for a laboratory company with a strong network that can also maintain a high level of customer service to gain a competitive advantage.  We see some indication that this is already happening as more lab companies offer services such as auditing, onsite inspections and testing, and program development. In fact, our data shows that services, while still a small proportion of most food contact lab’s revenue, is nonetheless the fastest growing component, overall growing at nearly 15%. This seems to be a clear opportunity for food contract labs to differentiate themselves and stay competitive.

AOAC Neogen

Neogen’s AccuPoint Advanced receives AOAC approval

AOAC Neogen

Neogen recently received approval from the AOAC Research Institute for its rapid and accurate AccuPoint Advanced ATP Sanitation Verification System.

Neogen’s AccuPoint Advanced is the first sanitation verification system to receive an AOAC approval, and this approval follows a recent study by NSF International that showed AccuPoint Advanced exceeded the performance of competitive systems.

“Each time we receive a validation from an independent third party on any of our tests, it provides further assurance to the food production and processing industry that our tests perform as expected,” said Ed Bradley, Neogen’s vice president of Food Safety. “The performance of our AccuPoint Advanced system in recent independent evaluations by AOAC and NSF is very gratifying. We developed the product with the goal of creating a new sanitation verification system that is superior to anything else on the market.”

The results in the AOAC validation report (Performance Tested MethodSM 091601) provided evidence that AccuPoint Advanced produces consistent and reliable data for evaluating sanitation program effectiveness in food processing and food services facilities.

AccuPoint Advanced is an enhanced version of its earlier AccuPoint test system. Improvements with AccuPoint Advanced include: improved sampler chemistry to produce more consistent results with even greater sensitivity; an enhanced instrument to produce even faster results (less than 20 seconds); and advanced Data Manager software to easily streamline the testing process by creating test plans and syncing important data, while keeping a permanent record of sanitation test results.

AOAC International is a globally recognized, independent forum for finding appropriate science-based solutions through the development of microbiological and chemical standards. The Applied Research Center at NSF International is a not-for-profit global research group that provides product development support to manufacturers and developers of products in the food safety, agriculture, clinical and life science markets.

Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting

Increased Testing for Pathogens and More Complex Tests Means More Outsourcing

By Maria Fontanazza
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Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting

Companies are under more pressure to analyze food samples for pathogens, but not all of them have the expertise to handle the complexity involved in laboratory analysis. In addition, companies don’t want to risk contamination throughout their facility. As a result, many are outsourcing these services to contract labs.

Changing Landscape for Selecting a Food Safety Contract Laboratory

Strategic Consulting, Inc. recently conducted a study of food processors and the trends in outsourcing their laboratory testing work to food contract laboratories. The firm spoke with 100 food processors nationwide in 15 food processing categories, including protein, dairy, vegetables and packaged foods, inquiring about the types of samples they collect, how many are collected on a daily and monthly basis, their target analytes, and where they have the analysis performed (an in-plant lab, central company lab or an outsourced food contract laboratory); the firm also spoke with folks at leading food companies and a number of large food contract labs.

Bob Ferguson, managing director at Strategic Consulting, shared his insights with Food Safety Tech about the survey, the details of which will be presented at the Food Safety Consortium in December.

Food Safety Tech:  What were some of the major findings?

Bob Ferguson: Food processors continue to outsource more and more of their lab analysis.  This is a trend that we outlined in our Food-8 market report in 2014, and it is clearly continuing and growing. The impact is particularly acute in microbiology testing, especially when analysis is for pathogens.  Of the companies we surveyed, 87% did some amount of routine microbiology testing and 67% of those analyzed the samples at an in-house lab. But when asked about pathogens, 77% of the companies analyze samples for pathogens but only 34% analyze the samples at an in-house lab.  Clearly there is a higher level of concern in handling pathogens at in-house labs.

Food Safety Tech: What are the processors’ concerns regarding pathogens?

Ferguson: I would say that their concerns fall into two major categories: Technical and operational. From a technical perspective, there is always a risk when working with pathogens in a food processing facility. Microbiologists understand how easily bacteria can travel through a facility—being carried on employees, their clothing, or equipment, through air currents, or even through penetration connections such as drains. And most diagnostic tests not only require handling pathogen samples but also enriching the samples prior to analysis. The presence of food samples with high concentrations of pathogens can present a risk for the spread of contamination into production areas.

From an operational standpoint, running a food analysis lab is becoming increasingly more complex. Analytical methods continue to get more sensitive and sophisticated, and this requires more expertise and a greater focus on instrument service and calibrations.  Requirements for accreditation of food testing laboratories are also raising the bar for in-plant labs.  Finally, running a food lab requires recruiting and hiring skilled analysts. More food processors are coming to the conclusion that none of these functions are part of their core competencies and are electing to outsource that work to a contract lab.

Robert Ferguson, Strategic Consulting
Robert Ferguson, managing director, Strategic Consulting, Inc., will discuss the results of the survey at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium in December | LEARN MORE

Food Safety Tech:  What does this mean for food contract labs?

Ferguson: This could become a significant business growth opportunity for food contract laboratories.  As we indicated in our Food Contract Laboratory market report, microbiology is one of the largest business areas for most food contract laboratories, comprising, on average, approximately 52% of lab revenues and growing on average at 12% annually. The average lab also reports pathogen testing growth at more than 13%. This is remarkable in that the overall growth in sample volume is only growing 6%, so labs are clearly gaining a greater share of samples.

Food Safety Tech: Is this good news for the food contract laboratory companies?

Ferguson: Well, I would say that this will dramatically change the nature of competition and will be good news for some lab companies, namely those who can best adapt to the changing market conditions, but certainly not all.  Our analysis shows, for example, that about 70% of pathogen samples outsourced are sent to a lab within 100 miles of the food processing facility.   This bodes well for labs with a robust national network of locations. Single-location or limited-location labs may have trouble competing and will be acquired or otherwise may not survive. Also, as more samples get outsourced, the most efficient laboratories will have a competitive advantage. Our data also shows that outsourcing does not occur uniformly across all types and sizes of food processing companies, and laboratories may be at more or less risk depending on their customer mix or concentration in a particular food processing segment. Food contract laboratories that understand these factors will be in a better position to compete and thrive as the market changes.

Food Lab count

Infographic: How Many Food Labs Are in the United States?

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Lab count

Food Safety Tech: Earlier this year in “Counting Food Laboratories”, you discussed the fact that there is an unknown amount of food laboratories in the United States and an inconsistency in how we account for the labs testing our food. What impact does this have on the industry?

Robin Stombler, president of Auburn Health Strategies: There is limited information available on the presence and quality of food laboratories in the United States. Without this essential accountability, the health of the public, the economy and our nation’s security are at risk. For example, when a new food pathogen emerges, we do not have a system for contacting and educating all existing food laboratories on how to detect it. Frankly, we do not know where all food laboratories are located, so we do not know if they are properly equipped to handle the detection, monitoring or verification responsibilities. The lack of data also makes it difficult for industry to plan, track testing trends, and improve quality.

Counting Food Labs
Infographic courtesy of Auburn Health Strategies; Credit: Justin Stombler
USDA Logo

USDA Touts Food Safety Progress Under Obama Administration

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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USDA Logo

Between 2009 and 2015 there was a 12% reduction in foodborne illnesses associated with meat, poultry and processed egg products. “We’re better now at keeping unsafe food out of commerce, whether it’s made unsafe because of dangerous bacteria, or because of an allergen, like peanuts or wheat,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a USDA release. “Over the course of [President Obama’s] Administration, we have tightened our regulatory requirements for the meat and poultry industry, enhanced consumer engagement around safe food handling practices, and made smart changes to our own operations, ultimately moving the needle on the number of foodborne illness cases attributed to products that we regulate.”

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has implemented a number of initiatives since 2009, including:

  1. Establishing a zero-tolerance policy for raw beef products that contain shiga-toxin producing E. coli: O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145.
  2. Labeling mechanically tenderized meat. The blades or needles used to tenderize meat an introduce pathogens into the meat.
  3. First-ever pathogen reduction standards for poultry parts in order to reduce consumer exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter. The standard is expected to prevent 50,000 cases of foodborne illness each year.
  4. Requiring that all poultry facilities create a plan to prevent contamination with Salmonella and Campylobacter, instead of addressing the problem after it occurs. Poultry companies must collect samples at two points in the production line and test them to show control of enteric pathogens.
  5. Requiring meat and poultry companies to hold all products that are undergoing lab analysis until USDA microbial and chemical tests for harmful hazards are complete.
Suresh Neethirajan, University of Guelph
In the Food Lab

Identifying Peanut and Other Allergens Outside the Lab

By Suresh Neethirajan, Ph.D
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Suresh Neethirajan, University of Guelph

Judging the nature and suitability of items we put in our mouths is a task we perform daily, whether it’s due to different taste preferences, being on a diet, or from particular foods not agreeing with our metabolisms. Some foods can trigger mild reactions such as an upset stomach, or more serious skin rashes and outbreaks, from shortness of breath to even death.

Many of us have been somewhere where someone with a peanut allergy has been brought to everyone’s attention. The situation may have been publicized before boarding a plane, at a school where parents are asked to refrain from giving their children any food containing peanut products, or restaurants that clearly indicate which dishes are peanut-free on their menu, or that the kitchen is absent of the legume.

The number of people with food allergies continues to rise, and although many theories have been provided for the increase, the exact cause is unknown. Many foods are documented as being able to produce an allergic reaction—milk, eggs, soy and shellfish, to name a few—but peanuts and gluten are highlighted as major offenders. Canadian government regulations require that manufacturers label products that contain certain allergens, even if they are made in a facility where allergens are in another product.

The Threat of Gluten and Peanuts

Gluten contained in wheat has become a widely avoided food substance, although the reason for this might has more to do with health concerns than allergies. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) estimates that 400,000 U.S. school children have a peanut allergy, with many of those also having other food allergies. According to the ACAAI, many children will eventually outgrow most food allergies, but only 20% of those who have a peanut tolerance will outgrow it.

The charity organization Food Allergy Canada states that 2.5 million people suffer from a food allergy in Canada, while 2 in 100 children are susceptible to peanuts causing a reaction. There isn’t a cure for food allergies, so governments and food inspectors have the weighty task of ensuring that commercially produced products are packaged or served with proper labeling and information to protect consumers. This requires constant checking and testing of products that may have come in contact with peanuts or gluten.

New Tool for Food Inspectors

To provide regular analysis, the procedure has been lengthy and expensive, but scientific researchers at Canada’s University of Guelph have developed an apparatus that can identify allergens in a much shorter time span while being considerably more cost effective. The new allergen detector could expedite allergen reporting and possibly reduce the number of allergic reactions through more timely results.

Biosensor, University of Guelph
Schematic of the biosensor for the rapid detection of food allergens. Image courtesy of BioNanoLab, University of Guelph.

Based on the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) platform that is widely used in diagnostic labs to identify allergens, the new apparatus provides comparable accuracy. The technology has been miniaturized so that equipment is portable, about the size of an audiocassette case, and tests can be conducted on location instead of relying on a lab that may be far away.

An Allergen that Glows

In the case of peanuts, the scientists focused on a prominent allergen named Ara h 1, because it can be identified through non-radioactive fluorescence. Although there are other allergens in peanuts, they don’t share the same property by which they can be identified, as does Ara h 1.

The process requires a small amount of the suspected food to be liquefied in a suspension so that it can be injected using a filter syringe into a silicon-based plate, or chip, of microcapillaries. As the sample passes through tiny tubes of the microfluidic chip using capillary action, it travels through a beam of light from a LED source that is monitored by a specialized camera, which is also a product of the scientists’ work.

The image captures Ara h 1 protein particles that fluoresce when they come in contact with the chemical properties of the suspension. Currently, the camera records the data and sends it to a computer to be analyzed and deciphered with a result being provided within 20 minutes, compared to a conventional lab test that takes up to four hours after a sample has been received.

In a modification to provide an extremely portable system, research is underway to develop an app to enable results via a smartphone. Testing foods in the near future will be as convenient and prompt as holding the detector in one hand and a smartphone in the other so that a restaurant owner, for example, will be assured that dishes are allergen-free before being served to customers.

Imitating the Human System for Detection

To enable the allergen to fluoresce, the compound graphene oxide (GO) was utilized in combination with a bio-sensing component, known as an aptamer. The aptamer acts similarly to antibodies that identify and attach themselves to foreign and hostile elements that enter our blood system. Once a GO-aptamer mixture is attached to the allergen, the light source allows the protein particle to be detected and its image captured electronically.

By altering an aptamer’s composition to identify other allergens, such as gluten, the detector is a versatile piece of scientific equipment for identifying potentially hazardous food ingredients. The developers of the technology are confident that their discovery will change the future of identifying potentially hazardous food components. The final step in the allergen detector’s development seems to be fine tuning the detection process for certain processed foods, such as roasted peanuts, that can alter the composition of Ara H 1 making it less obvious to be identified.

Counting Food Laboratories

By Robin Stombler
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What We Think We Know

Food laboratories in the United States may voluntarily choose to become accredited to an international standard known as ISO/IEC 17025:2005. This standard outlines the general requirements for the competence of testing laboratories.

More recently, the FDA issued a final rule on the Accreditation of Third-Party Certification Bodies to Conduct Food Safety Audits and to Issue Certifications (Third-Party rule). Effective January 26, 2016, this final rule states that “for a regulatory audit, (when) sampling and analysis is conducted, the accredited third-party certification body must use a laboratory accredited in accordance with ISO/IEC 17025:2005 or another laboratory accreditation standard that provides at least a similar level of assurance in the validity and reliability of sampling methodologies, analytical methodologies, and analytical results.”  In short, for a segment of food laboratories, accreditation has become a necessary credential. At present, it remains a voluntary activity for most food laboratories.

There are accreditation bodies that accredit food laboratories to the ISO/IEC 17025 standard. The major accreditation bodies report on their individual websites which U.S. food laboratories are accredited under their watch.

To find the number of accredited laboratories, a quick search of the websites of four major food laboratory accreditation bodies, A2LA (American Association for Laboratory Accreditation), AIHA-LAP (American Industrial Hygiene Association – Laboratory Accreditation Programs, LLC), ANAB (American National Standards Institute-American Society for Quality), and PJLA (Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation) was performed on February 24, 2016. It yielded some debatable results. Here are some of the reasons for the skepticism:

  • The numbers are self-posted to individual websites. The frequency with which these websites are reviewed or updated is unknown.
  • Sites list both domestic and international laboratories. While foreign addresses were excluded from the count, those laboratories could perform testing for U.S. entities.
  • It can be difficult to separate the names of laboratories performing testing on human food versus animal feed.
  • There are several ways to duplicate or even exclude numbers. As examples, laboratories may be accredited within a food testing program, but may also be accredited under “biological” and/or “chemical” schemes—or vice versa.
  • In some cases, it is difficult to discern from the listings which laboratories are accredited for food testing versus environmental or pharmaceutical testing.

With all these caveats, the four major laboratory accreditation bodies accredit approximately 300 food laboratories. A2LA captures the lion’s share of this overall number with approximately 200 laboratories.

Let’s move to another source of numbers. A Food Safety News article about food testing and accreditation published in October 2013 states:

But, when it comes to testing our food, experts estimate that less than five percent of the food testing laboratories in the U.S. are accredited according to international standards…

Some believe that FDA will begin requiring accreditation for at least some significant segment of the food testing industry, of which the U.S. has roughly 25,000 laboratories. Whether that’s restricted to third-party labs – numbering roughly 5,000 – or will also include all food manufacturers’ internal labs is yet to be seen.

Using the writer’s sources, simple arithmetic finds 25,000 laboratories multiplied by the estimated 5% accreditation equals roughly 1,250 accredited laboratories in the United States. This, of course, falls far short of the 300 accredited laboratories noted by the major accreditation bodies. This is not to question either the writer’s sources or the websites of the accreditation bodies, but it does highlight an inconsistency in how we account for the laboratories testing our food.

To go a step further, Auburn Health Strategies produced in 2015, a survey of food laboratory directors, technical supervisors and quality assurance managers on the state of food testing. The survey, commissioned by Microbiologics, asked a series of questions, including: “Are the laboratories you use accredited?”  The respondents replied that, for their on-site laboratories, 42% were accredited and 58% were not. For their outside, contract laboratories, 90% of respondents stated that these laboratories were accredited and five percent did not know.

A second question asked: “Some laboratories are accredited to an internationally-recognized standard known as ISO 17025. Is this important to you?”  Approximately 77% of respondents answered affirmatively. Equally telling, 15% said they did not know or were unsure.

ISO 17025

What we do know is that there is not a definitive accounting of food laboratories—accredited or not. This lack of accounting can present very real problems. For example, we do not have a centralized way of determining if a particular laboratory has deficiencies in testing practices or if its accreditation has been revoked. Without knowing where and by whom testing is conducted, we are at a disadvantage in developing nationwide systems for tracking foodborne disease outbreaks and notifying laboratory professionals of emerging pathogens. We most certainly do not know if all food laboratories are following recognized testing methods and standards that affect the food we all consume.

What We Need Now

FSMA includes a provision calling for the establishment of a public registry of accreditation bodies recognized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The registry would also contain the laboratories accredited by such recognized organizations. The name and contact information for these laboratories and accreditation bodies would be incorporated into the registry. Rules for the registry have not yet been promulgated by the FDA, but should be. This is a small step toward greater accountability.

David Fried, Food Labs
In the Food Lab

Food Labs: Authentic and Safe Food is Key

By David Fried
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David Fried, Food Labs

The recent Foods Lab Conference (co-located with Pittcon) was an intersection of compliance, technology and best possible practices. One of the goals of this international symposium was to have laboratories and the food industry recognize one another as part of an effort for a more intentional and collaborative system in the industry, especially in terms of policies and practices.

As a Food Science student from Tallahassee, Florida I ended up at this incredible conference after seeing a blurb for it on LinkedIn and was able to attend as an intern. The two main objectives of my role were to assist with various tasks to help ensure the event transitioned smoothly, as well as further my knowledge base of the enormous realm of food safety. The following are some themes that I heard throughout the two days.

Having the analysis and validation performed or overseen with preventative types of controls from a qualified individual should ideally occur before the food safety plan is implemented. This appears to be desired by the consensus and was a common thread during the conference. If there is a change in a process control, it can have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the documentation if the change is not taken into account. The ISO implementations are food safety management systems and hazard analysis identification, which is the international benchmark for compliance standards.

Analytical scientific instrumentation is absolutely necessary for guaranteeing data and reproducibility on a consistent basis. The scope and complexity of modern technology should be considered when used for repeated trials in which the narrowest margins of results are being demanded by consumers and industry. Microbiologists confirm their peace of mind is reliant on the ability for reproducible experimental trials. In a laboratory, the presence of variables and species must be handled in an extremely controlled manner. All too frequently undesirable organisms appear in foods, and this is often the result of poor food handling practices, fraudulent practices or summed up, lazy shortcuts for the most unthinkable reasons. An effort to decrease these microbes is being made through transparency in supply chains to trace the journey of the food from seed to the table.

Food production is being shaped as a result of FSMA, which is a milestone in food safety. A few features of this legislation are to offer assistance for the food technology sector and address questions about policy and safe handling practices. It has and will continue to influence the process of laboratory accreditation, validation and compliance in order to provide thorough transparency for the development of more modern food systems. There were many fascinating perspectives shared about validation and accreditation for both laboratories and facilities. Many large companies have their laboratories in-house, because it is easier from a production perspective if the product is going to market, to test it repeatedly in order to have less delay in the market launch. There have been times in which carcinogenic fillers or fake foods were portrayed. Examples would be the horse meat and melamine scandals. An additional perspective would be the possibility in protecting the own interests of the company by not disclosing true ingredients, practices, or actual comprehensive food safety evaluation. All are truly unacceptable with regards to mega food base distribution companies. Small- to medium-sized businesses typically source laboratory evaluations to third-party assessors to perform product validation because it’s simply too expensive to implement on their own because of labor, technology and space constraints. Claims of 100% pure olive oil are not true the majority of the time. A sunflower oil and chlorophyll solution can be made to mimic the coloration of pure extra virgin olive oil. So it is commonplace for this sort of solution to be created and combined with pure olive oil at a ratio of 2:1, as a conservative figure. True wording and claims are becoming a thing of the past, because it is way too simple for big food business to engage in such unthinkable practices to maximize their own profits.

A key thread running throughout the conference was the importance of necessitating the collaborative efforts needed to achieve a comprehensive dialogue set in place as a universal type of database. This database would serve as the foundation to ensure safe food practices throughout worldwide food production companies, accredited laboratories, governments, and consumers.

The Food Labs Conference was truly one of fantastic speakers, interesting participants, and fascinating conversation. The advanced topics were explored by professionals who share a deep passion for this vital industry sector. Food Laboratories and the conference, respectively, will become even more revolutionary in terms of future technology, the influence garnered by key publics, and future experts.

Palmer Orlandi, Food Labs Conference

Problem: Lab Systems for Data Don’t Talk to Each Other

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Palmer Orlandi, Food Labs Conference

FDA has standard templates and worksheets, along with an electronic submission form that can be used to pull data related to lab testing. However, within industry not all of these electronic systems speak to each other. During an FDA Town Hall at the Food Labs Conference last week, Palmer Orlandi, Ph.D., acting chief science officer and research director at FDA’s Office of Food and Veterinary Medicine, answers an audience question about the issue and discusses the challenges associated with standardized templates that are used by various federal and state labs and the compatibility issues.

 

Contamination, Adulteration Remain Highest Priority

By Maria Fontanazza
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Increased media attention and consumer awareness of verifying ingredients, detecting allergens and effectively tracing the source of outbreaks has placed much higher scrutiny on food processors and manufacturers. With the anticipated FSMA final rule on intention adulteration (Focused Mitigation Strategies to Product Food Against Intentional Adulteration) expected in late spring, having the ability to effectively detect and address product contamination and adulteration will be of significant importance to manufacturers. In preparation for the upcoming Food Labs Conference March 7–8, Food Safety Tech sat down with Craig Schwandt, Ph.D., director of industrial services at McCrone Associates, to learn how contamination is currently affecting food companies and what they should be doing to protect their products and ensure consumer safety.

Craig Schwandt will be presenting “Contaminant Particle Identification: Establishing Provenance and Complying with FSMA” at this year’s Food Labs Conference | March 7–8 | LEARN MOREFood Safety Tech: What are the big issues facing the food industry related to product contamination?

Craig Schwandt: I think the biggest issue facing the food safety industry is realizing that FSMA, in its final ruling, comes with requirements to ensure food safety from farm to table. In the past, many [ingredients] were GRAs, or generally recognized as safe, so when there was a contaminant, [food companies] had a lot of liberty in disposing of the batch and weren’t too concerned about where it came from.

FSMA is going to require that [food companies] keep records of what contaminants are found, how they address it and whether it’s a recurring problem, and [that they] have a procedure in place to track back and [conduct] forensic analysis. In the analytical services industry we call it investigational analysis, which is a description of what actually takes place for ascertaining what the contaminant is and how it got there. That information is provided to clients so they can track back in their production process—all the way to the raw materials and then ascertain where the contaminants came from in that production chain.

The big challenge will be in recognizing that they have to start keeping records and then actually doing the investigation to determine what contaminants are there and determine where they’re coming in.

Craig Schwandt_McCrone Associates
Craig Schwandt, Ph.D., McCrone Associates

FST: Are companies taking the right steps to detect and identify contaminants in food?

Schwandt: Some of them do and some don’t.  At last year’s Institute of Food Technologist’s conference in Chicago, there was a session on FSMA in which there were representatives from FDA, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and a major food company.  I was a little bit shocked by the food company’s position.  They felt they didn’t need to take all of the steps required by FSMA because they dealt directly with producers from all over the world.  They felt removing intermediaries from their supply chain sufficiently protected their products from adulteration. This seems to be oversimplifying the production and supply chain process. Even though they may directly deal with farmers, there’s still opportunity from the time food stuff is harvested to being dried, placed in containers, and shipped from overseas to the U.S.—there are several steps where unintentional contaminants can arise. So to say they didn’t need to look at the potential for contamination because they dealt directly [with farmers] is a bit oversimplified.  I think this perspective typifies some of the industry’s viewpoint at the moment.

The Foreign Supplier Verification Program specifically addresses this concern.  Even companies that deal directly with producers and supplies in the country of the product’s origin will be required to demonstrate that they tested it and verified it as uncontaminated.

The understanding and recognition by suppliers of these new regulations is the biggest issue facing the food industry right now—especially now that the final rulings have been issued and we’re in the grace period before compliance with the regulation is required.

FST: What technologies are helping in the effort to fight product adulteration, especially as it relates to FSMA compliance?

Schwandt: Handheld instrumentation is making headway at identifying, at a gross scale, screening capabilities—handheld x-ray fluorescence instrumentation and handheld infrared spectroscopy, to identify things at the bulk level. Mass spectrometry methods and chromatography are exceptional at their ability to do really fast general screening for chemical adulterants. I think many of the food laboratories and food companies have in-house laboratories and screen in that general way.

In terms of some of the solid phase contaminants, I think there’s a lack of in-house capability at the moment where one can use simpler [methods] like optical microscopy and another microscopy-based methods to identify the physical solid phase contaminants.

A good example is the use of magnetometers.  Many companies use large-scale process line magnetometers to highlight the presence of metal pieces in their product. A magnetometer tells you that there are metal contaminants in your product, it does not provide a specific alloy identification.  Whether one needs to go further to use additional methods and actually ascertain the composition of the alloy, is the question.  That’s a new requirement—to identify what it is and then to try and assess where in the process it may have occurred. Using a microscopy-based method is advantageous because metal pieces are easily isolated and identified. Once food industry clients have an idea of what the alloy is, they can compare it to the metal alloys that make up their machinery along the way, whether it’s packaging or sorting machinery, [and] essentially establish where the particles enter into the food process.