Tag Archives: food safety program

Sequencing pattern, pathogens

Build Stronger Food Safety Programs With Next-Generation Sequencing

By Akhila Vasan, Mahni Ghorashi
No Comments
Sequencing pattern, pathogens

According to a survey by retail consulting firm Daymon Worldwide, 50% of today’s consumers are more concerned about food safety and quality than they were five years ago. Their concerns are not unfounded. Recalls are on the rise, and consumer health is put at risk by undetected cases of food adulteration and contamination.

While consumers are concerned about the quality of the food they eat, buy and sell, the brands responsible for making and selling these products also face serious consequences if their food safety programs don’t safeguard against devastating recalls.

A key cause of recalls, food fraud, or the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, continues to be an issue for the food safety industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, food fraud is estimated to be a $10–15 billion a year problem.

Some of the more notorious examples include wood shavings in Parmesan cheese, the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the United Kingdom, and Oceana’s landmark 2013 study, which revealed that a whopping 33% of seafood sold in the United States is mislabeled. While international organizations like Interpol have stepped up to tackle food fraud, which is exacerbated by the complexity of globalization, academics estimate that 4% of all food is adulterated in some way.

High-profile outbreaks due to undetected pathogens are also a serious risk for consumers and the food industry alike. The United States’ economy alone loses about $55 billion each year due to food illnesses. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people become ill every year from eating contaminated food. In 2016 alone, several high-profile outbreaks rocked the industry, harming consumers and brands alike. From the E. coli O26 outbreak at Chipotle to Salmonella in live poultry to Hepatitis A in raw scallops to the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak at Blue Bell ice cream, the food industry has dealt with many challenges on this front.

What’s Being Done?

Both food fraud and undetected contamination can cause massive, expensive and damaging recalls for brands. Each recall can cost a brand about $10 million in direct costs, and that doesn’t include the cost of brand damage and lost sales.

Frustratingly, more recalls due to food fraud and contamination are happening at a time when regulation and policy is stronger than ever. As the global food system evolves, regulatory agencies around the world are fine-tuning or overhauling their food safety systems, taking a more preventive approach.

At the core of these changes is HACCP, the long implemented and well-understood method of evaluating and controlling food safety hazards. In the United States, while HACCP is still used in some sectors, the move to FSMA is apparent in others. In many ways, 2017 is dubbed the year of FSMA compliance.

There is also the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a private industry conformance standard for certification, which was established proactively by industry to improve food safety throughout the supply chain. It is important to note that all regulatory drivers, be they public or private, work together to ensure the common goal of delivering safe food for consumers. However, more is needed to ensure that nothing slips through the food safety programs.

Now, bolstered by regulatory efforts, advancements in technology make it easier than ever to update food safety programs to better safeguard against food safety risks and recalls and to explore what’s next in food.

Powering the Food Safety Programs of Tomorrow

Today, food safety programs are being bolstered by new technologies as well, including genomic sequencing techniques like NGS. NGS, which stands for next-generation sequencing, is an automated DNA sequencing technology that generates and analyzes millions of sequences per run, allowing researchers to sequence, re-sequence and compare data at a rate previously not possible.

The traditional methods of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are quickly being replaced by faster and more accurate solutions. The benefit of NGS over PCR is that PCR is targeted, meaning you have to know what you’re looking for. It is also conducted one target at a time, meaning that each target you wish to test requires a separate run. This is costly and does not scale.

Next-generation sequencing, by contrast, is universal. A single test exposes all potential threats, both expected and unexpected. From bacteria and fungi to the precise composition of ingredients in a given sample, a single NGS test guarantees that hazards cannot slip through your supply chain.  In the not-too-distant future, the cost and speed of NGS will meet and then quickly surpass legacy technologies; you can expect the technology to be adopted with increasing speed the moment it becomes price-competitive with PCR.

Applications of NGS

Even today’s NGS technologies are deployment-ready for applications including food safety and supplier verification. With the bottom line protected, food brands are also able to leverage NGS to build the food chain of tomorrow, and focus funding and resources on research and development.

Safety Testing. Advances in NGS allow retailers and manufacturers to securely identify specific pathogens down to the strain level, test environmental samples, verify authenticity and ultimately reduce the risk of outbreaks or counterfeit incidents.

Compared to legacy PCR methods, brands leveraging NGS are able to test for multiple pathogens with a single test, at a lower cost and higher accuracy. This universality is key to protecting brands against all pathogens, not just the ones for which they know to look.

Supplier Verification. NGS technologies can be used to combat economically motivated food fraud and mislabeling, and verify supplier claims. Undeclared allergens are the number one reason for recalls.

As a result of FSMA, the FDA now requires food facilities to implement preventative controls to avoid food fraud, which today occurs in up to 10% of all food types. Traditional PCR-based tests cannot distinguish between closely related species and have high false-positive rates. NGS offers high-resolution, scalable testing so that you can verify suppliers and authenticate product claims, mitigating risk at every level.

R&D. NGS-based metagenomics analysis can be used in R&D and new product development to build the next-generation of health foods and nutritional products, as well as to perform competitive benchmarking and formulation consistency monitoring.

As the consumer takes more and more control over what goes into their food, brands have the opportunity to differentiate not only on transparency, but on personalization, novel approaches and better consistency.

A Brighter Future for Food Safety

With advances in genomic techniques and analysis, we are now better than ever equipped to safeguard against food safety risks, protect brands from having to issue costly recalls, and even explore the next frontier for food. As the technology gets better, faster and cheaper, we are going to experience a tectonic shift in the way we manage our food safety programs and supply chains at large.

We will be discussing this topic, “Building Stronger Food Safety Programs through Next-Generation Sequencing”, during a live conversation on June 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET. Microbiologists, testing personnel, food industry management, and anyone interested in how to leverage these new technologies to fortify their food safety programs will learn how NGS is going to transform the future of food safety.

FSMA Raises Pressure on Pest Management

By Maria Fontanazza
No Comments

As with many areas in food safety, the future of pest management will place more emphasis on implementing a scientific approach and leveraging digital technologies. Food manufacturers and processors will rely more heavily on their pest management providers to be their eyes and ears to find issues within a facility that may have otherwise gone undetected and could lead to potential deadly outbreaks. “The pest control industry is always trying to control pests. But now the manufacturers are realizing that this [regulation] is pretty serious and people [could] go to jail,” says Ron Harrison, director of technical services at Orkin, LLC. “I think you’re going to find a much more scientific approach to pest control in food processing.” In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Harrison shares insights on the changes (for the better) that FSMA is having on the relationship between pest management professionals and food manufacturers and processors.

Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest areas of concern surrounding FSMA and pest management? Are companies in the food industry prepared for compliance?

Ron Harrison: The big part about FSMA is that everything is now suspect in reference to food safety—from deliveries to storage to transportation on the backend; there’s a much more holistic approach. It has had a major impact on us—we’re doing more inspections on the front end, when the trucks [deliver] the raw ingredients, and we look for possible pests on the truck, rather than [inspecting] an isolated building.

The elevation has been that owners and managers realize that they’re going to be held responsible for potential food safety issues, and so they’re holding their pest professional at a much higher level to help be their eyes and spot potential problems to ensure compliance with safety issues. For example, take two situations that have come up in the last five years—the Peanut Corporation of America [Salmonella outbreak] and Blue Bell Ice Cream [Listeria outbreak]. In neither one of those cases were pests responsible for the problems. But questions came back to pest control professionals about why they weren’t making [the manufacturers] aware of leaking coming from the ceiling, etc. I think they’re looking for us to support their programs of food safety, not just ‘kill some cockroaches’ or prevent rodents from coming into [a facility]. Manufacturers are asking us to tell them what they’re doing wrong rather than us going back to them. I think there’s a better partnership moving forward.

The industry went from pulling out equipment and spraying [to control pests] to [the present] where it’s not uncommon for a microbiologist to take samples to find out not just if there’s a cockroach, but did it leave anything behind. I think you’re going to find the approach to pest control to be much more scientific.

FST: What digital technologies should food companies leverage as part of a proactive pest management plan?

Harrison: I think this is where the big future is. It’s how do we monitor just in time to provide service based upon that monitor. That’s futuristic looking. For bigger animals, we’re already moving in that direction: A relay goes off when the animal crosses a threshold, and a picture is taken that can be determined by movement and heat. But for the smaller creatures, like rodents and cockroaches, why isn’t there some type of monitoring system as well? From a monitoring and detection standpoint, we’re going to see a lot more technology that helps us very quickly assess what’s going on, which therefore will limit some of the robotic routine services that we do. That’s happening in Europe—it’s not uncommon to have monitors in place and as soon as something happens, you’re out there getting rid of [the pest] rather than putting traditional baits every 25 feet. If you think about it, wouldn’t it be much better that when the mouse is caught in the glue board that immediately a signal goes out and it’s removed rather than sitting there for five days until the pest control professional goes back and checks the device?

The person in charge of pest control wants to come into work and know exactly what’s going on: What pests were seen, what treatments were made, what the local manager is doing, etc. All of it needs to roll up into easy, accessible data. The data collection and reaction would be immediately downloaded every morning or evening when the shift is over. The demand is very clear for what the expectation is.

I’d say within the next year or two you’ll have a variety of companies providing these monitoring systems (inside and outside) to food processing plants.

Chipotle to Adopt “Highest Level of Safety” Following E. Coli Outbreak

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

After bringing in IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group to reevaluate its practices after an E.coli outbreak that sickened dozens, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it is implementing a program to ensure it achieves “the highest level of safety possible”. According to a press release issued today, Chipotle is enhancing its food safety program and taking the following actions:

  • Conducting high-resolution DNA-based testing of all fresh produce prior to shipment to restaurants
  • Conducting end-of-shelf-life testing of ingredient samples to ensure quality specifications are maintained throughout ingredient shelf life
  • Engaging in continuous improvements throughout its supply chain leveraging test result data to measure its vendor and supplier performance
  • Improving internal employee training related to food safety and food handling

The CDC and FDA investigation of the E. coli outbreak is ongoing and the source of the outbreak is still unknown.

Bill Bremer is Principal, Food Safety Compliance at Kestrel Management LLC

Top 10 Elements of a Successfully Certified GFSI Program

By Bill Bremer
No Comments
Bill Bremer is Principal, Food Safety Compliance at Kestrel Management LLC

GFSIstandardsDec2014The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) relies on a number of benchmarked schemes to establish food safety requirements, all are designed to ensure the quality and safety of a company’s products.

In order to become certified to one of these GFSI-recognized schemes, a company must undergo a third-party audit by a certified auditor. Kestrel’s experience conducting these audits has revealed that companies who successfully achieve certification demonstrate a number of common attributes—regardless of their chosen scheme:

  1. Corrective and preventive actions are up-to-date and current.
  2. Continuous improvement/root cause analysis process is in place to make ongoing improvements and to ensure final resolutions to all out-of-control issues or non-conformances to the Food Safety Program.
  3. Premises, facility, and building programs are established and operating, including controls, signage, direction, job training, and physical evidence of a fully implemented Food Safety Program.
  4. Preventive maintenance system links scheduled maintenance to Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) critical equipment monitoring requirements.
  5. Approved materials and process specifications are managed and controlled.
  6. Product identification and traceability processes are in place, including complete records detailing all activities for the production of food product.
  7. Document management and control program is updated, validated, and maintained. Developing program management systems helps ensure compliance with document management and control.
  8. Food safety program updates and management are completed through annual and multi-year planning for maintaining the Food Safety Program, including management of change, management review, approvals, and internal audit.
  9. Records and verification management systems provide access to supporting data, as determined by FDA/FSMA and company programs.
  10. Data management of food safety records outlines processes for assuring prompt or immediate access to critical records, as needed, for audit, compliance, or regulatory purposes.