Tag Archives: quality control

Listeria

Virtual Event Targets Challenges and Best Practices in Listeria Detection, Mitigation and Control

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Listeria

–UPDATE: Watch “Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation” on demand now!

 

Next month, Food Safety Tech will host the first event in its Food Safety Hazards Series, “Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation” on April 15. The virtual event features Sanjay Gummalla, Ph.D., senior vice president of scientific & regulatory affairs at AFFI; April Bishop, senior director of food safety at TreeHouse Foods; and Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at Eurofins. These experts will address Listeria from the perspective of food manufacturing and preventing the introduction of the pathogen; risk based and practical approaches to address the presence of Listeria in food production and achieve key publish health goals relative to the pathogen; how to implement a strong Listeria control program; and the testing challenges from a lab perspective.

The event begins at 12 pm ET on Thursday, April 15.

Presentations are as follows:

  • Listeria Control and New Approaches to Addressing Risks, by Sanjay Gummalla
  • Managing Food Safety and Sanitation in the Digital Age, by April Bishop
  • Listeria Testing: Choosing the Right Method and Target, by Doug Marshall

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion and a live Q&A with attendees.

Register now for the Food Safety Hazards Series: Listeria Detection, Mitigation, Control & Regulation

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

How to Improve Food Processing Efficiency

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

For food processors, efficiency can be a major asset. Cutting production times and improving kitchen throughput is one of the best ways to reduce costs and boost profits. In recent years, new management strategies and a range of technologies—like Industry 4.0—has transformed how business owners manage their facilities, including food processing plants. This means there is a range of new, efficiency-improving tools available for businesses that want to streamline plant processes and better manage their operations. The strategies and investments are some of the best possible ways for food processors to improve their plant’s efficiency.

1. Take Advantage of Industry 4.0 Technology

Over the past few years, the digital transformation of industries has resulted in a wide range of products, platforms and devices that can help streamline facility operations and workflows.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors, for example, are Internet-connected sensors that collect a wide range of real-time data from site processes. This data can help food processors improve their bottom lines in a few different ways—like by providing better data on food safety or providing real-time quality control.

For example, IIoT sensors can be used to keep an eye on equipment performance and machine health. An air pressure sensor, installed at the right place in an HVAC duct, can provide valuable notice on blockages and damaged filters. When air pressure drops dramatically, it is typically a sign of some kind of blockage in the HVAC system. This advanced notice can help you fix the HVAC system quicker, potentially saving money and preventing dust or other contaminants from reducing facility air quality.

These IIoT systems also make it much easier to collect information about a facility. This information can help unlock insights about workflows, processes and site layouts, allowing changes that make a facility even more efficient.

For example, you may be able to gather hard data on how an individual product or product line influences machine timing—or how production of a particular item may slow down throughput or make workers less efficient. This information can help you adjust site processes, simplifying the workflow for products that put more strain on your facility, or cutting those products entirely in favor of simpler-to-produce items.

2. Use Efficient Equipment and Materials

Equipment choice can have a major impact on the overall efficiency of a facility. Even small choices—like the lightbulbs used or HVAC filters installed—can add up over time, reducing a facility’s energy bill and contributing to a more comfortable working environment.

Filter choice, for example, is especially important at plants that process a significant amount of wastewater or similar fluids. Good filtration is necessary to remove dangerous chemicals and contaminants from wastewater, but not all filter materials are made equal. Some perform much better than others—and this cost efficiency can have a major impact on a long enough timescale.

EPDM, for example, is an FDA-approved food-grade rubber and a common gasket material for equipment used in industrial kitchens and other food processing plants. It is also a common filter material. However, EPDM filters have a tendency to swell and suffer from performance issues over time. They may require more regular maintenance, which could negatively impact the productivity of a filtration system. PTFE membranes, in contrast, don’t have the same drawbacks.

Making simple adjustments—finding the right kind of filter or LED bulb— can help reduce maintenance costs and improve facility energy efficiency. Often, these changes can happen without major adjustments to the underlying equipment or workflows that keep the factory moving. These upgrades are a great place to start if you want to see how smaller tweaks and adjustments impact facility efficiency before moving on to more major changes.

3. Find Ways to Conserve Water

Similarly, food processing plants can save significantly by finding ways to reduce the amount of water they consume. Water is often seen as a free commodity in food processing plants—but consumption of water can become a significant expense at scale. Equipment, practices and machinery that help reduce water usage can be a way to cut down on costs while making the plant a little more eco-friendly.

Simple changes can make a notable difference without requiring new equipment. For example, some plants may be able to begin cleaning floors and equipment with sweeping or mopping rather than hoses. Mobile sweepers can cover large areas, like parking lots, that can’t be swept with manual labor alone. In one example, Bartter Industries, a New South Wales-based poultry product manufacturer, was able to reduce its water consumption by 10,000 liters a day (approximately 2,640 gallons) by switching from hosing to mopping and sweeping.

More extensive equipment and facility upgrades can yield more significant results.

Increasing the efficiency of water usage may also help future-proof a plant. Industrial water and sewage rates have risen significantly over the past two decades. Water insecurity and droughts may drive these prices higher in the near future.

Many major food production companies—including Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola—are already in the process of investing major amounts of money in water reuse and conservation technology.

Adopting similar technology and practices at your facility can provide a valuable competitive advantage now and help in the future when water reuse and stringent water conservation policies are more common.

4. Upgrade Your Maintenance Plan

Scheduled maintenance is one of the most commonly used maintenance approaches. Having such a plan in place can help reduce sudden, unexpected machine failure—helping avoid major downtime and reducing spending on replacement parts for facility machinery.

There are, however, major limitations to the scheduled maintenance model. Every time a machine is opened for maintenance, technicians may unintentionally expose sensitive electronics and internal components to dust, oil, fluids and other contaminants. Regular checks also won’t catch everything. If an issue arises and causes machine failure between scheduled checks, workers and supervisors will have no advanced notice of that machine’s failure, potentially leading to damage or injury.

New Industry 4.0 tech, however, means you can do even better than scheduled maintenance. Predictive maintenance is a maintenance approach that uses data collected from IIoT devices to improve maintenance checks and provide advanced notice on potential failure.

With this approach, IIoT sensors installed in and around machinery capture real-time data on how individual machines are behaving. If one begins to function unusually—exceeding safe temperature ranges, vibrating excessively or emitting strange sounds—the sensors can capture this behavior and alert a supervisor.

This maintenance method can help any facility cut down on maintenance checks and reduce the risk of sudden downtime due to damaged equipment.

Improve Food Processing Efficiency with These Strategies

Improvements to efficiency can be a major advantage for food processors. These strategies and investments are some of the best ways to improve a plant’s efficiency. Simple adjustments to materials, equipment, and workflows—or more serious investments in technology like predictive maintenance platforms—can make a significant difference in a facility’s productivity and resource usage.

Nicole Lang, igus
Retail Food Safety Forum

Robots Serve Up Safety in Restaurants

By Nicole Lang
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Nicole Lang, igus

Perhaps the top takeaway from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is that people the world over realize how easily viruses can spread. Even with social distancing, masks and zealous, frequent handwashing, everyone has learned contagions can cycle through the atmosphere and put a person at risk of serious, and sometimes deadly, health complications. In reality, there are no safe spaces when proper protocols are not followed.

The primary culprit in transmission of norovirus, according to the CDC, is contaminated food. “The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and spreads easily,” the CDC says in a fact sheet for food workers posted on its website. “It only takes a very small amount of virus to make someone sick.”

The CDC numbers are alarming. The agency reports about 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year, most from close contact with infected people or by eating contaminated food. Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, and infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.

The solution to reducing the transmission of unhealthy particles could be starting to take shape through automation. While robots have been used for the past few years in food manufacturing and processing, new solutions take food handling to a new level. Robots are no longer in the back of the house in the food industry, isolated in packaging and manufacturing plants. They are now front and center. The next time you see a salad prepared for you at a favorite haunt, you may be watching a robot.

“The global pandemic has altered the way that we eat,” said Justin Rooney, of Dexai Robotics, a company that developed a food service robotic device. Reducing human contact with food via hands-free ordering and autonomous food serving capabilities has the potential to reduce the spread of pathogens and viruses, and could help keep food fresh for a longer period of time.

Painful Pandemic

Increased use of automation in the foodservice industry might be one of the salvations of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an industry searching for good news, that might be the silver lining in an otherwise gloomful crisis.

Job losses in the restaurant industry have been brutal. By the end of November, nearly 110,000 restaurants in the United States had closed. A report by the National Restaurant Association said restaurants lost three times more jobs than any other industry since the beginning of the pandemic. In December, reports said nearly 17% of U.S. restaurants had closed. Some restaurants clung to life by offering outdoor dining, but as winter set in, that option evaporated. Some governors even demanded restaurant closures as the pandemic escalated in late fall.

Restaurants have faced a chronic labor shortage for years. Despite layoffs during the pandemic, many former foodservice employees are electing to leave the industry.

Teenagers, for instance, and some older workers are staying away for health and safety reasons. Some former workers are also finding out that they can make more money on unemployment benefits than by returning to work. Restaurant chains have hiked wages, but filling positions still remains a challenge.

Automated Solutions

Restaurants began dancing with the idea of robots nearly 50 years ago. The trend started slowly, with customers ordering food directly through kiosks. As of 2011, McDonald’s installed nearly 7,000 touchscreen kiosks to handle cashiering responsibilities at restaurants throughout Europe.

As technology has advanced, so has the presence of robots in restaurants. In 2019 Seattle-based Picnic unveiled a robot that can prepare 300 pizzas in an hour. In January, Nala Robotics announced it would open the world’s first “intelligent” restaurant. The robotic kitchen can create dishes from any cuisine in the world. The kitchen, which is expected to open in April in Naperville, Illinois, will have the capability to create an endless variety of cuisine without potential contamination from human contact.

Dexai designed a new robotic unit that allows for hands-free ordering that can be placed through any device with an Internet connection. The robot also includes a new subsystem for utensils, which are stored in a food bin to keep them temperature controlled. This ensures that robot is compliant with ServSafe regulations. The company is working on improving robot system’s reliability, robustness, safety and user friendliness. The robot has two areas to hold tools, a kitchen display system, bowl passing arm, an enclosure for electronics and two refrigeration units. It has the unique ability to swap utensils to comply with food service standards and prevent contamination as a result of allergens, for example.

Why Automation

Many industries have been impacted by advancements in automation, and the foodservice industry is no different. While initially expensive, the benefits over time can provide to be worth the investment.

One of the most significant advantages, particularly important in the post-COVID era, is better quality control. Automated units can detect issues much earlier in the supply chain, and address those issues.

Automation can also help improve worker safety by executing some of the more repetitive and dangerous tasks. Robots can also boost efficiency (i.e., a robot used for making pizza that can press out dough five times faster than humans and place them into ovens) and eliminate the risk of injury. Robots are also being used to make coffee, manage orders and billing, and prepare the food. Robots can also collect data that will help foodservice owners regarding output, quantity, speed and other factors.

“Alfred’s actions are powered by artificial intelligence,” according to Rooney. “Each time Alfred performs an action, the associated data gets fed into a machine learning model. Consequently, each individual Alfred learns from the accumulated success and failures of every other Alfred that has existed.” Dexai plans to teach the robot to operate other commonly found pieces of kitchen equipment such as grills, fryers, espresso machines, ice cream cabinets and smoothie makers.

Unrelenting Trend

Automated solutions might have come along too late to save many restaurants, but the path forward is clear. While they are not yet everywhere, robots are now in play at significant number of restaurants, and there is no turning back. Any way you slice it, robots in restaurants, clearly, is an idea whose time has come.

Vitamins

Revamped Liquid Chromatography Enhances Analysis of Vitamins and Beyond

By Maria Grübner
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Vitamins

Vitamins play a critical role in the regulation of key physiological processes, such as blood clotting, metabolism and maintaining our vision. These biologically important compounds can be divided into two broad classes based on their solubility and differ in the way they are handled in the body—and in food safety laboratories. While excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins (including B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12) are excreted, fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamin A, D, E and K) can be stored in the liver or fatty tissue for later use. The simultaneous analysis of water- and fat-soluble vitamins in traditional liquid chromatography is difficult, and is compounded by the presence of biologically important vitamin isomers, which exist at lower concentrations and demand greater sensitivity from analytical techniques.

Food analysis laboratories support food manufacturers by assessing food safety and authenticity, and have a responsibility to produce precise and reliable data. Vitamins are among a number of compounds assessed in infant formulas, energy drinks and other supplements, and are added to fortify the nutritional value of these products. Given the critical nutritional role of vitamins, especially during early developmental periods, their characterization is highly important. This, along with the challenging and cumbersome nature of vitamin analysis, has spurred the development of innovative high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) methods for food safety testing.

Unique Challenges of Vitamin Analysis

The simultaneous analysis of water- and fat-soluble vitamins is difficult to achieve with reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography, due to the wide range of hydrophobicity among vitamins. Highly hydrophobic fat-soluble vitamins are retained strongly by chromatography columns and are only eluted with high-strength mobile phases. In contrast, water-soluble vitamins are usually poorly retained, even with very weak mobile phases. As the ideal conditions for chromatographic separation are very different for the two vitamin classes, there have been efforts to explore the possibility of operating two columns sequentially in one system. The early versions of this approach, however, were not well suited to high-throughput food safety laboratories, requiring complex hardware setup and even more complicated chromatography data system programming.

Prior to liquid chromatography analysis, food samples must be purified and concentrated to ensure target analytes can be detected without matrix interference. Liquid-liquid extraction is one purification method used to prepare for the analysis of vitamins and other compounds; it was one of the first methods developed for purification and enables compounds to be separated based on their relative solubilities in two different immiscible liquids.1 It is a simple, flexible and affordable method, yet has several major disadvantages.2 Liquid-liquid extraction consists of multiple tedious steps and requires the use of large volumes, therefore the time for completion is highly dependent on the operator’s skills and experience. Consequently, the duration of sample exposure to unfavorable conditions can vary greatly, which compromises reproducibility and efficiency of the method. This is of concern for vitamins that are particularly prone to degradation and loss when exposed to heat and light, such as vitamin D in milk powder.

Two-Dimensional Liquid Chromatography Enables Deeper and Faster Analysis

Analysts in the food industry are under pressure to process high volumes of samples, and require simple, high-throughput and high-resolution systems. Fortunately, two-dimensional liquid chromatography (2D-LC) systems have evolved markedly in recent years, and are ideally suited for the separation of vitamins and other compounds in food and beverages. There are two main types of systems, known as comprehensive and heart-cutting 2D-LC. In comprehensive 2D-LC, the sample is separated on the first column, as it would be in 1D-LC. The entire eluate is then passed in distinct portions into a second column with a different selectivity, enabling improved separation of closely eluting compounds. In contrast, heart-cutting 2D-LC is more suited to targeted studies as only a selected fraction (heart-cut) of the eluate is transferred to the second-dimension column.

Recently, another novel approach has emerged which utilizes two independent LC flow paths. In dual workflows, each sample is processed by two columns in parallel, which are integrated in a single instrument for ease of use. The columns may offer identical or different analyses to enable a higher throughput or deeper insights on each sample. This approach is highly suited to vitamin analysis, as the two reversed-phase columns enable simultaneous analysis of water- and fat-soluble vitamins. A simple, optimized preparation method is required for each of the two vitamin classes to ensure samples are appropriately filtered and concentrated or diluted, depending on the expected amount of analyte in the sample. The dual approach enables a broad range of ingredients to be assessed concurrently in supplement tablets, energy drinks, and other food and beverages containing both water- and fat-soluble vitamins. For analysts working to validate claims by food vendors, these advances are a welcome change.

Refined Detection and Extraction Methods Create a Boost in Productivity

Analysts in food analysis laboratories now have a better ability to detect a wide range of components in less time, due to improved detection and extraction methods. Modern LC systems utilize a wide range of analytical detectors, including:

  • Mass spectrometry (MS)
  • Diode array detection (DAD)
  • Multi-wavelength detection
  • Charged aerosol detection (CAD)
  • Fluorescence detection (FLD)

The optimal detector technology will depend on the molecular characteristics of the target analyte. Infant formula, for example, can be analyzed by DAD and FLD, with detection and separation powerful enough to accurately quantify the four isomers of vitamin E, and separate vitamin D2 and D3. Highly sensitive 2D-LC methods are also particularly favorable for the trace level quantitation of toxins in food, such as aflatoxins in nuts, grains and spices.

Given the limitations of liquid-liquid extraction, an alternative, simplified approach has been sought for 2D-LC analysis. Liquid-liquid extraction, prior to chromatography analysis, involves many tedious separation steps. In contrast, the use of solid phase extraction for infant formula testing reduces pre-treatment time from three hours to one hour, while improving detection. This is of great significance in the context of enterprise product quality control, where a faster, simpler pre-treatment method translates into a greater capacity of product testing and evaluation.

HPLC Toolkit for Food Safety Analysis Continues to Expand

Several other HPLC approaches have also been utilized in the field of food safety and authentication. For example, ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) with detection by CAD followed by principal component analysis (PCA) can be used to investigate olive oil purity. In contrast to conventional approaches (fatty acid and sterol analysis), this revised method requires very little time and laboratory resources to complete, enabling companies to significantly reduce costs by implementing in-house purity analysis. With a reduced need for chemicals and solvents compared with fatty acid and sterol analyses, UHPLC-CAD provides a more environmentally friendly alternative.

Analyzing amino acid content in wine is an important aspect of quality control yet requiring derivatization to improve retention and separation of highly hydrophilic amino acids. Derivatization, however, is labor-intensive, error-prone, and involves the handling of toxic chemicals. To overcome these limitations, hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC) combined with mass detection has been identified as an alternative method. While HILIC is an effective technique for the separation of small polar compounds on polar stationary phases, there still may be cases where analytes in complex samples will not be completely separated. The combination of HILIC with MS detection overcomes this challenge, as MS provides another level of selectivity. Modern single quadrupole mass detectors are easy to operate and control, so even users without in-depth MS expertise can enjoy improved accuracy and reproducibility, while skipping derivatization steps.

Conclusion

Recent innovations in 2D- and dual LC technology are well suited to routine vitamin analysis, and the assessment of other components important in food safety evaluation. The concurrent and precise assessment of water- and fat-soluble vitamins, despite their markedly different retention and elution characteristics, is a major step forward for the industry. Drastic improvements in 2D-LC usability, flexibility and sensitivity also allows for biologically important vitamin isomers to be detected at trace levels. A shift towards simpler, high-throughput systems that eliminate complicated assembly processes, derivatization and liquid-liquid extraction saves time and money, while enabling laboratories to produce more reliable results for food manufacturers. In terms of time and solvent savings, solid phase extraction is superior to liquid-liquid extraction and is one of many welcome additions to the food analysis toolkit.

References

  1. Schmidt, A. and Strube, J. (2018). Application and Fundamentals of Liquid-Liquid Extraction Processes: Purification of Biologicals, Botanicals, and Strategic Metals. In John Wiley & Sons, Inc (Ed.), Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. (pp. 1–52).
  2. Musteata, M. and Musteata, F. (2011). Overview of extraction methods for analysis of vitamin D and its metabolites in biological samples. Bioanalysis, 3(17), 1987–2002.

 

food safety tech

Next Week: Attend the ‘Drivers in Food Safety Testing’ Webinar

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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food safety tech
Angela Anandappa, Alliance for Advanced Sanitation
Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., founding director of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation and member of the FST Advisory Board

Join Food Safety Tech next week for the first in a series of complimentary webinars, called Drivers in Food Safety Testing, about the important components and issues that encompass food safety testing. Angela Anandappa, Ph.D., founding director of the Alliance for Advanced Sanitation and member of the FST Advisory Board, will lead the discussion with a presentation about Technologies Leading the Way. The complimentary webinar is aimed at food safety professionals within quality assurance and control, compliance, food lab and contract lab management, and risk management. A technology spotlight given by Lyssa Sakaley, senior global product manager for molecular pathogen testing at MilliporeSigma will follow Anandappa’s presentation. The event will conclude with an interactive Q&A with attendees.

Drivers in Food Safety Testing: Technologies Leading the Way
Wednesday, March 18 at 1 pm ET
Register now!

Technical Writing Workshop Focuses on Key Skills Needed for Writing Up Non-Conformances and CAPAs

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Technical writing is not as simple as it sounds—especially as it relates to writing non-conformances and CAPAs. Innovative Publishing is offering a Technical Writing Virtual Workshop that takes place over two two-hour sessions on March 3 and 10. The event is being hosted by Food Safety Tech’s sister publication, MedTech Intelligence, but the content is applicable to the food industry as well.

The course will be instructed by world-class, international quality and regulatory consultant Mark Proulx, president of MLB Consulting Services. Proulx has more than 25 years of direct manufacturing, auditing, and FDA experience and is a certified quality auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt.

The workshop was developed for the following industry professionals:

  • Engineers responsible for writing up investigations and reports
  • Tech writers who must communicate the results of testing in reports, write up papers, produce arguments for or against an issue
  • Middle-level managers who are attempting to make arguments or show results
  • Laboratory staff who document results and write reports
  • Technicians who must write up test protocols, non-conformance reports, corrective actions, reports to upper management, etc.
  • Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Regulatory Compliance people who must document clearly the purpose of investigations and produce final reports that clearly state actions to be performed or the results of testing

Learn more about this special Technical Writing Virtual Workshop now! Register by February 11 for a special discount.

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
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Data protection, security

Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.

Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.

The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.

Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.

One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.

By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.

This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.

While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.

Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.

References

  1. FDA. (2011). FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/full-text-food-safety-modernization-act-fsma.
  2. Balzano, J. (2015). “Revised Food Safety Law In China Signals Many Changes And Some Surprises”. Forbes. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbalzano/2015/05/03/revised-food-safety-law-in-china-signals-many-changes-and-some-surprises/#624b72db6e59.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Broken Record

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud, E.Coli, Decernis
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Over the course of almost a full year, laboratory documents were falsified by the owner and the quality control officer of a Connecticut meat processing company. None of the reported beef samples were actually taken and tested for E. coli. The letterhead of a formerly utilized inspection laboratory was fraudulently used to falsify the test documents, an act that carries a maximum term of five years in prison. Fortunately, no illness was reported from consumers who purchased the meat products.

Resources

  1. The United States Attorney’s Office (September 23, 2019). “Quality Control Officer of Connecticut Meat Supplier Admits Fabricating E. Coli Test Results”. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Connecticut.
LIMS, laboratory information management system

Integrated Informatics: Optimizing Food Quality and Safety by Building Regulatory Compliance into the Supply Chain

By Kevin Smith
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LIMS, laboratory information management system

Global food supply chains offer consumers more choice than ever before. Thanks to international networks of producers, wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers, many ingredients can be sourced all year round, meaning diets are no longer limited by what’s in season. However, the increasing complexity of these supply chains means many food and beverage products are potentially more exposed to biological and chemical contamination as well as food fraud issues, putting brand reputation and human health at risk.

With consumer trust and public safety of paramount importance, global food regulators have introduced strict rules to protect the quality and authenticity of products. Regulations such as the FDA’s Food Protection Plan, for example, seek to incorporate safety measures throughout food supply chains in order to better prevent and respond to potential issues.1 These regulations are complemented by standards such as the ISO’s recently updated ISO 22000:2018 guidelines that recommend the implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to achieve the highest levels of quality control (QC).2 For businesses working within this regulatory framework, it is essential to take a coordinated approach to deliver the standards of food quality and safety that customers and regulators expect.

Every food supply chain will have its own set of product specifications and QC parameters. However, all these requirements demand that decisions on the release of goods are made using accurate and timely information. Given the growing attention from regulators on the safety and provenance of food, as well as the need for operations to run as efficiently as possible, supply chain stakeholders are reevaluating the digital platforms they use to manage, store and recall their data. Here, we consider how laboratory information management systems (LIMS) can help businesses integrate efficient data collection workflows across multiple locations to support robust QC testing and build regulatory compliance into their operations.

Meeting the Challenges Facing Modern Food Supply Chains

Assuring consistent product quality and safety is a constant challenge for food supply chain businesses, given the broad range of issues that can compromise these standards. Although most businesses adopt strict storage and handling protocols to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacterial contamination, high-profile public health stories regularly hit the headlines. The widespread use of pesticides and veterinary drugs in farming also means that ingredients are potentially exposed to a wide range of known and unknown chemical contaminants. Contamination can also occur during the handling, processing and packaging stages. Robust QC measures are therefore essential to identify issues as early as possible.

Equally, food adulteration and counterfeiting continue to be key challenges, with high-value products regularly targeted by food fraudsters. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that up to 10% of all commercially sold food products are affected by these practices, costing the industry between $10 and $15 billion each year and putting public health at risk.3 Comprehensive QC testing, supported by robust chain of custody data, is required to demonstrate quality and authenticity of goods, protect brands and safeguard consumers.

However, the extended nature of modern food supply chains can make delivering against these goals more difficult, especially if poorly integrated information management approaches are employed. As food supply chains have gone global, it has become increasingly common for businesses to operate storage, production and processing facilities across sites in multiple regions, countries and even continents. To deliver goods that meet well-defined safety and quality specifications, QC workflows must be built upon standardized protocols that are implemented correctly across the supply chain, regardless of the individual following them or the location in which they operate. These workflows must be supported by robust information exchange mechanisms that make sure the right decisions around product manufacturing and batch release can be made using accurate, complete and up-to-date information.

Improving QC Data Quality Using Integrated Data Management Solutions

With fragmented information management approaches often getting in the way of this ideal, many food businesses are looking to transform their poorly connected systems into informatics platforms that streamline operations, improve visibility and reduce errors. The latest LIMS allow businesses to bring all their QC data into a single integrated system, helping to harmonize processes and make information sharing more efficient to enhance product quality and safety.

Take the execution of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pesticide residue testing, for example. By centrally connecting instruments and storing SOPs digitally on a LIMS, processes and parameters can be downloaded directly, eliminating the need for human error-prone manual set-up and supporting the consistent collection of data. Furthermore, because these SOPs are located in a centralized system, securely accessible to authorized users across all sites and facilities, the risk of SOPs becoming out of date or out of sync is greatly reduced. With guidance on residue levels regularly updated to reflect the evolving knowledge of these threats, ensuring the latest testing protocols are applied is particularly important.

Additionally, because LIMS capture and store QC measurements directly, as it is generated, they eliminate the need for labor-intensive transcription and data transfer processes. Not only does this improve measurement accuracy by taking human error out of the equation, it also boosts efficiency and reduces the administrative burden on those responsible for collecting QC data. As a result, experienced staff can spend less time on paperwork and data entry, and more time actively optimizing processes and finding solutions to other key challenges. With access to the most accurate and up-to-date information, businesses are better placed to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and can act to resolve potential issues before they turn into more significant problems.

Supporting Well-Defined QC Processes and Regulatory Compliance

With international food regulators turning their attention to the methods used to assure the quality and authenticity of foodstuffs, supply chain stakeholders are now expected to have well-defined QC workflows that not only provide complete traceability of products from farm to fork, but also transparency around processes such as instrument calibration and data handling.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
Modern LIMS allow food businesses to visualize their workflow data using dashboards, process diagrams or facility maps. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

LIMS allow food businesses to build regulatory compliance into their processes by providing a comprehensive overview of all supply chain data, including information associated with QC steps. As all data required to support proof of compliance is organized in a single system, it can be quickly and conveniently recalled for sharing or review purposes. Some of the latest systems allow users to visualize this data holistically on process diagrams or dashboards, helping to fulfill HACCP requirements and make keeping track of active workflows as easy as possible.

Furthermore, because LIMS can be used to capture and store data automatically, they also facilitate the real-time monitoring of supply chain processes, meaning out-of-specification QC parameters can be flagged and reported earlier. The sophisticated algorithms present in some of the latest LIMS can even be used to warn businesses of small but significant trends such as the decline in performance of an aging instrument, which could cause unexpected downtime or cause product quality standards to fall over time. These alerting capabilities mean potential issues can be remedied faster, helping stakeholders more proactively protect consumer safety.

Defensible data is central to protecting brand integrity, especially when it comes to issues around food adulteration and counterfeiting. As such, food businesses need robust data management tools that support complete traceability of actions. By automatically recording every interaction with the system to generate a comprehensive audit trail and facilitating the use of e-signatures to document review procedures, LIMS can safeguard the highest levels of accountability, from data collection all the way through to results reporting. Some of the most advanced LIMS also feature powerful audit trail search functionality, allowing authorized users to recall specific actions such as unusual QC activity or potentially non-compliant behavior. With a secure record of events and a single, integrated platform for supply chain data, food businesses can focus on what’s important—optimizing processes and delivering high-quality goods.

Optimizing and Safeguarding the Food Supply Chain Using LIMS

Modern LIMS allow food supply chain stakeholders to build regulatory compliance into their workflows by standardizing QC processes and giving authorized individuals full visibility over their data. By facilitating faster and more informed decision-making using accurate and up-to-the-minute data, LIMS are helping businesses meet current industry challenges head on to maintain the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

References

  1. FDA. (November 2007). Food Protection Plan. Access April 7, 2019. Retrieved from , https://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/centeroffices/oc/officeofoperations/ucm121761.pdf .
  2.  International Organization for Standardization. (June 2018). ISO 22000:2018(en) Food safety management systems — Requirements for any organization in the food chain..
  3. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and A.T. Kearney. (2010). Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection.
Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

Why the Food Safety Industry Needs the Cloud

By Mahni Ghorashi
2 Comments
Mahni Ghorashi, Clear Labs

Cloud computing and storage, the breakthrough technology that once dominated headlines, conferences and CIOs’ strategic plans, is now commonplace in most industries. That is not to discount the journey it took to get here, though. This easy acceptance wasn’t always the case, and in fact, some of the world’s most important industries are lagging behind.

Food safety is one such industry that stands to gain the most from adopting cloud technology but continues to rely heavily on manual processes, paperwork, and cumbersome on-premise databases. These methods are seen as fail-safe, proven by history to be effective enough and compatible with the overarching goals of the industry. We’re suffering from the age-old adage: If it isn’t broken, we don’t need to fix it.

While the food safety industry has good reasons for taking a more conservative approach to new technology, I’d argue that the most pressing risk to our industry is the failure to invest in innovation. In our own attempts to avoid risk, we’re actually exposing ourselves to far greater losses both in protecting consumers and new opportunities.

A Path Forward For Food Safety

The food safety industry is changing, and changing rapidly. However, despite advances, the industry still faces major challenges. We’ve seen more than 200 recalls just this year. An average recall costs $10 million dollars in direct costs alone. On average, it takes 57 days to recall food, according to a report by the Office of Inspector General.

At the same time, we’re beginning to generate more data than ever, with technologies like blockchain and next-generation sequencing coming online in a big way. We’re about to experience a data explosion arguably bigger than in any other industry. A single NGS test can give industry officials hundreds of millions of data points per analysis, and routine pathogen tests are happening at high volumes around the clock.

This amount of data cannot be contained in the spreadsheets and on-premise databases of today.

The hesitation to adopt cloud-computing is not unfounded, given the initial fear around outages and security, and a disbelief that the technology could ever be as reliable and secure as their existing systems. And the hesitation is even more understandable when you consider that food and beverage is the third-most hacked industry. The damage from these breaches can be extensive, with reports that 70% of hacked food and beverage companies go out of business within a year of an attack. There is a substantial cost for lax security or prolonged outages.

Clearly, any solution has to be comprehensive, and our justifications for switching systems have to be all the more clear. But we cannot as an industry sit idle.

The food safety industry has an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us and build a stronger, more robust cloud infrastructure.

We’re starting to see this shift take place – some of the top poultry manufacturers have already made the leap into cloud computing. They and others will prove that the value of making the move far outweighs the risk.

Quality Control and Consistency

Right now, it’s not uncommon for food safety employees to record their observations via paper and pencil. In a best-case scenario, these professionals are forced into spreadsheets with limited interoperability. In either scenario, there are huge amounts of friction when it comes to sharing information and, in fact, data can easily be lost as inboxes fill, software crashes, or papers get buried in the shuffle.

By enabling instantaneous data sharing, the cloud makes collaboration across an organization easily accessible for the first time. This, in turn, boosts productivity and also guarantees a higher degree of consistency in both process and results.

Employees can instantly share results, communicate across departments, and easily control permissions and access to information, allowing others to iterate on or apply their findings in real time.

Speed Across an Organization

The drive to increase efficiency actually underwrites the entire food safety industry. Experts are constantly asking how we can be faster at assessing risk, managing recalls, and generally running a business. These questions are only becoming more important as the threat of foodborne illness continues to rise.

The cloud enables greater speed in tracking food information inside and outside of the lab. Perhaps more than any other tool, cloud technology is going to allow the food safety industry to more quickly and effectively manage recalls.

Technology that allows companies to immediately update information company-wide without the burden or drag of an unwieldy IT infrastructure is valuable. Technology that gives you easily interpretable results, so that you can make quick decisions for the good of public health safety is valuable.

Cloud technology enables both. You could easily process terabytes worth of data and spit out easy, comprehensible results that would have otherwise taken days or weeks to produce.

This ability, which on its own is attractive, is especially important as you get into more complicated pathogen tests. For example, with traditional serotyping, a substantial portion of calls are subjective. The speed of cloud computing can take away some of that guesswork.

Dramatic Cost Savings

Not only does the cloud offer a faster system for storing and accessing information, but it also offers cheaper infrastructure, usually an offshoot of its speed. A survey of more than 1,000 IT professionals found that 88% of cloud users pointed to cost savings and 56% agreed that cloud services had helped them boost profits. Additionally, the absolute cost of the cloud is continuing to drop, improving margins.

With the cost savings enabled by the cloud, the food safety lab no longer has to stay a cost center. Adopting cloud technologies can create more wiggle room in a company’s budget and free up resources for ambitious experiments, new product development, and other activities that contribute to the bottom line of the organization.

Security and Regulatory Advancements

The cloud also allows companies to more easily cooperate with HAACP and FSMA regulations. With all of this organizational data easily available and updated in real time, organizations can ensure they’re keeping pace with regulatory requirements by easily producing traceability records and managing compliance requirements across multiple locations and vendors, for example.

While better, more transparent data management company-wide has always been the draw of cloud, the technology has been crippled by simultaneous concerns about security. Food safety executives feel stuck between wanting to comply with best practices and needing to protect sensitive and valuable information.

Fortunately, food safety has waited long enough. Even as recently as 2015, cloud breaches of major organizations’ databases were still making headlines. However, the technology has come a long way in a short time. Cloud providers are beginning to implement automatic checks of systems to analyze threats and identify their severity.

These advancements speak to the food safety industry’s primary pain points, security and speed. By solving for both, the cloud has reached a maturity worthy of the food safety industry.

The Future: Data Pollination

Finally, the cloud makes it much easier to share data across departments, organizations, and even entire industries.

We’re entering an era of data pollination. What I mean by that is there an opportunity to mesh food safety data (genomic data, label information, etc.) with other forms of data—human microbiome data, for instance, to create “personalized” food, enabling consumers to eat ideal foods based on their genetic makeup. While this trend has already taken off, it could be further improved and better validated by bringing food and genetic data out of their silos.

On the opposite end of the production line, data pollination could also help farmers, who have huge amounts of data at their fingertips, understand how they can play a larger role in food safety. If data can enable farmers to produce bigger yields, data can also certainly help farmers prevent any environmental causes of food safety on the farm itself.

Bringing together the data from the entire lifecycle of food—from farmer to consumer—can only be a good thing, powered by the cloud.

Conclusion

The food industry should not look at the task of updating their infrastructure to the cloud as a burden or an extra cost—it’s an investment and when done right, it can provide far greater returns. We have the advantage of late adoption and learning from the implementation mistakes and successes.

This isn’t just incremental improvement territory—we’re talking about making a quantum leap forward in our industry.