Tag Archives: sustainability

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Pathogens, Contamination and Technology in Food Safety Key Themes of 2022 Thus Far

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Nearly halfway into the year, the following are the most-read articles of 2022:

6. Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022

Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022


5. Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers

Packaging Automation Can Be an Essential Tool for Food Manufacturers


4. 8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing


3. The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention

The Costs Of Food Safety: Correction vs. Prevention


2. FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

FDA Continues Investigation of Listeria Outbreak in Packaged Salad

1. Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

Coca Cola Recalls Minute Maid, Coca Cola and Sprite Drinks Due to Foreign Matter Contamination

GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

GFSI Conference Unites More than 600 Food Safety Professionals

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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GFSI, The Consumer Goods Forum

This year’s annual GFSI conference took place in person (in Barcelona), for the first time in two years. The event, which focused on the theme of sustainability, welcomed more than 600 food safety professionals and stakeholders.

“I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that after a life-changing pandemic, GFSI has managed to bring us together for a face-to-face, handshake-to-handshake, smile-behind-the-mask, non-Zoom event,” said The Consumer Goods Forum’s GFSI Director Erica Sheward during her opening speech.

During day one of the event, stakeholders discussed the responsibility of the food industry to help people who are affected by humanitarian crises, more effective food safety capability building to address supply chain challenges, and GFSI’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (no poverty, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, and responsible consumption and production). The conversation around food safety capability building also delved into challenges for emerging markets as well as small-to-medium sized organizations in developing economies that want to join the global market.

Day two addressed GFSI’s strategic priorities, including the organization’s Benchmarking Requirements for Professional Recognition Bodies. Experts also talked about data sharing between public and private sectors, and the importance of technology to enhance company operations—not replace humans and their expertise.

The final day of the GFSI conference featured discussions around how to reach sustainability goals and the involvement of food safety regulations and other legislative components, as well as the need for sustainability initiatives to be accessible and affordable in order to have a global impact.

GFSI compiled a full review of the event in its Executive Summary, which is available on the organization’s website.

lightbulb, innovation

Record Investment in Foodtech Boosted by Changing Consumer Preferences, Sustainability Initiatives

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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lightbulb, innovation

Investment in foodtech made significant leaps forward thanks to increasing consumer demand, digitization and innovation in certain food categories. According to a report recently released from Deloitte & Touche, LLP, the value of deals made in the sector from 2020 to 2021, jumped from $6 billion to $13.1 billion, respectively. Factors driving investment in the sector include continued growth in alternative and plant-based proteins, the establishment of tech-based platforms that improve supply chain logistics and consumer experiences, and technological innovation in general.

According to Heather Gates, audit & assurance private growth leader for Deloitte, the accelerated growth in foodtech innovation is parallel with advances in agtech. “Hydroponic farming, improved fertilizers and pesticides, and robotics AI are all enabling more sustainable, steady production of produce even in urban centers, which can help augment local distribution opportunities for foodtech platforms,” she stated in the report.

The expansion of food tech is also promoting more farm-to-table options to consumers, because it streamlines distribution and delivery. As interest on the part of consumers for healthier and more convenient options continues, companies will see an increased emphasis on innovation in foodtech that incorporates sustainability and waste reduction, nutritional considerations, environmental impact, more competition in making more foods available at an affordable cost, and continued emphasis on last-mile transportation.

Read the full report, “Road to Next”, on Deloitte’s website.

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
Retail Food Safety Forum

How Does Inventory Management Technology Improve Restaurants?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Inventory management can be a challenge for restaurants. Stock often moves quickly, many ingredients have short shelf lives and limited storage space can make it easy to overlook some items. Manual tracking methods fall short of modern establishments’ needs, but technology offers an answer.

Inventory management software has made waves in warehousing and logistics, but the food and beverage industry can capitalize on it, too. Restaurants already recognize the need for tech adoption, with 100% of surveyed establishments increasing their urgency to adopt transformational technologies. Inventory tracking solutions should be part of that trend.

This article reviews how inventory management technology can improve restaurants.

Preventing Food Waste

One of the most important parts of inventory management is reducing waste. Up to 10% of food restaurants buy is thrown out before it ever reaches the consumer. Part of this comes from wasteful preparation practices, but much of it results from improper storage.

Inventory tracking technology addresses this issue by increasing stock visibility. In a traditional setup, restaurant employees may not be able to see what they have on hand, causing them to overlook items and leave them until they expire. Tracking technologies provide real-time data about everything in storage and consolidate it into a single, easily accessible window.

Many inventory software solutions include expiration date tracking, alerting workers when something is about to expire. They can use these technologies to find the product in question and use it before it goes bad. Trends over time can reveal if restaurants order too much of one item, driving managers to buy less to prevent waste-causing surpluses.

Avoiding Stock Shortages

Similarly, inventory management solutions can help avoid product shortages. Since the items restaurants order typically don’t go directly to the consumer, it can be difficult to understand stock levels in real-time. The visibility inventory tracking systems provide counteracts that.

Inventory software solutions can maintain real-time inventory data and alert managers when levels get low. They can then order more of a product before they run out, maintaining higher customer satisfaction. Perhaps more importantly, as restaurants use these systems over time, they can highlight seasonal trends to create more accurate forecasts.

Inventory trends will reveal how items grow and shrink in demand at various times of the year. Restaurants can then plan to order more or less of those products at different times according to those trends, avoiding shortages from under-ordering in-demand items.

Consolidating Multiple Sales Channels

Selling through multiple channels can make it more difficult to track inventory levels. Restaurants may use separate systems to manage online and in-person sales, which can lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Inventory management solutions can track online and retail sales together through a single platform. That way, restaurants have a consolidated view of all sales and history, eliminating the miscommunication that arises with traditional methods. Establishments that use a single system for all channels won’t accidentally sell out-of-stock items.

This consolidation also helps refine seasonal adjustments. Online sales trends fluctuate just as they do in person, but there may be some differences. Managers that look at seasonal trends across both channels can adjust their ordering schedules more accurately, further preventing stock shortages.

Highlighting Potential Issues

Restaurants can also use these technologies to review trends over time and highlight persistent issues. Inventory software may reveal that an establishment consistently loses one product because it passes its expiration date. This suggests that it orders too much of it at once, so it can start buying less to adapt.

Similarly, trends can reveal if something is wrong with the restaurant’s storage solution itself. Data could show if ingredients in one refrigerator consistently expire despite accurate ordering figures, suggesting the fridge fails to maintain a safe temperature. These situations are likely and deserve attention, considering that foodborne diseases cause 48 million illnesses a year, according to CDC estimates.

The longer restaurants use these technologies, the more data they’ll have, generating a growing information pool can then inform increasingly precise and reliable forecasts and mitigation strategies.

Calculating Accurate Profit Margins

Another overlooked benefit of inventory management technology is its utility as a financial planning tool. As much as 75% of restaurants struggle financially due to food costs. They may not be able to control ingredient prices, but they can manage them better with accurate inventory data.

Food prices fluctuate rapidly, leading to uneven profit margins. Restaurants that don’t have a granular picture of how their inventory moves won’t be able to calculate their profit margins accurately. Inventory management solutions provide a more granular look into stock levels and offer the context managers need for these calculations.

Inventory tracking technology allows restaurants to view stock movements weekly or even daily to compare with fluctuating prices. This specificity will help get a more accurate picture of expenses and profits.

Inventory Management Tech is Essential

Restaurants must become more financially agile to stay afloat amid widespread disruptions. Inventory management systems offer the insight and control they need to refine their processes, enabling that flexibility, and helping them adapt to incoming changes to ensure future success.

Berk Birand, Fero Labs

Is the Future of Food Quality in the Hands of Machine Learning?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Berk Birand, Fero Labs

Is the future of food quality in the hands of machine learning? It’s a provocative question, and one that does not have a simple answer. Truth be told, it’s not for every entity that produces food, but in a resource, finance and time-constrained environment, machine learning will absolutely play a role in the food safety arena.

“We live in a world where efficiency, cost savings and sustainability goals are interconnected,” says Berk Birand, founder and CEO of Fero Labs. “No longer do manufacturers have to juggle multiple priorities and make tough tradeoffs between quality and quantity. Rather, they can make one change that optimizes all of these variables at once with machine learning.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Birand briefly discusses how machine learning can benefit food companies from the standpoint of streamlining manufacturing processes and improve product quality.

Food Safety Tech: How does machine learning help food manufacturers maximize production without sacrificing quality?

Berk Birand: Machine learning can help food manufacturers boost volume and yield while also reducing quality issues waste, and cycle time. With a more efficient process powered by machine learning, they can churn out products faster without affecting quality.

Additionally, machine learning helps food producers manage raw material variation, which can cause low production volume. In the chemicals sector, a faulty batch of raw ingredients can be returned to the supplier for a refund; in food, however, the perishable nature of many food ingredients means that they must be used, regardless of any flaws. This makes it imperative to get the most out of each ingredient. A good machine learning solution will note those quality differences and recommend new parameters to deal with them.

FST: How does integrating machine learning into software predict quality violations in real-time, and thus help prevent them?

Birand: The power of machine learning can predict quality issues hours ahead of time and recommend the optimal settings to prevent future quality issues. The machine learning software analyzes all the data produced on the factory floor and “learns” how each factor, such as temperature or length of a certain process, affects the final quality.

By leveraging these learnings, the software can then help predict quality violations in real-time and tell engineers and operators how to prevent them, whether the solution is increasing the temperature or adding more of a specific ingredient.

FST: How does machine learning technology reveal & uphold sustainability improvements?

Birand: Due to the increase in climate change, sustainability continues to become a priority for many manufacturers. Explainable machine learning software can reveal where sustainability improvements, such as reducing heat or minimizing water consumption, can be made without any effect on quality or throughput. By tapping into these recommendations, factories can produce more food with the same amount of energy.

Food Safety in 2022: Sustainability, Supply Chain Issues, Consumer Preferences and Technology at the Forefront

By Maria Fontanazza
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The ongoing pandemic, food fraud, food insecurity, supply chain disruptions and shortages, maintaining and fostering a robust food safety culture, and foodborne illness outbreaks kept the food industry very busy last year. Looking ahead to 2022, these challenges will continue, but many food companies are becoming better at forecasting and course correcting. During a recent interview with Food Safety Tech, Waylon Sharp, vice president and chief operating officer at Bureau Veritas, discussed trends affecting food safety this year, along with how companies should respond to incoming challenges.

Waylon Sharp, Bureau Veritas
Waylon Sharp leads North American food and agriculture testing, inspection and certification operations at Bureau Veritas.

Food Safety Tech: What challenges did food companies face in 2021 and how can they apply their lessons learned in the new year?

Waylon Sharp: Supply chain disruptions were a big challenge for food companies in 2021, as much of the North American food system is reliant on production or raw materials from international locations. This theme will continue into 2022, as logistics become more costly and challenging from a labor perspective, food companies will naturally gravitate to exploring alternatives. This shift in supply will increase the need for verification of product quality and safety of new suppliers. In addition to, or alternatively, some producers may choose more local options to reduce delays and increase stability of supply.

FST: What are the key trends impacting food safety in 2022?

Sharp: This year we’ll see food safety impacted by sustainability, consumer preferences and health and wellness:

  • Sustainability: Connecting with a purpose will be a key driver for both attracting new customers and enticing top talent to join food organizations. All aspects are critical, including sourcing raw materials, the packaging used, and minimizing the CO2 footprint in production and logistics. Consequently, I suspect there will be bad actors that see the advantage of appearing to be responsible but not doing what they say. Services that hold these organizations accountable will likely continue to grow.
  • Consumer Preferences: Migration to hyper-local, community supporting businesses can be directly correlated to the COVID financial fallout. Buying local helps support the areas we reside in, and this trend will likely persist. The feel-good support should also result in fresher product with less supply chain challenges for consumers.
  • Health & Wellness: Sustainable, plant-based products are expanding in prevalence. Traditional meat alternatives witnessed an increase in volume and new entrants such as seafood alternatives also grew in consumer acceptance. I expect more to launch in 2022 to meet the rising demand for healthy and environmentally conscious alternatives.

FST: What technologies will play a role in helping food companies tackle their biggest hurdles this year?

Sharp: Technology will continue to play an important role in the industry this year. Additional automation and digital tools to manufacture, assess food quality and safety, and distribute food are all likely to grow. Staffing challenges will continue to impact those highly manual production environments and the more work that can be performed without human intervention will gain favor over labor-intensive functions. In addition, remote audits and inspections allow for an experienced individual to assess a situation without traveling and being present on-site to limit human contact.

Waylon Sharp, Bureau Veritas
FST Soapbox

You Are What You Eat: Meeting the Demand For Sustainable Practices and Transparency

By Waylon Sharp
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Waylon Sharp, Bureau Veritas

A very volatile sector, there are always new trends, opportunities and challenges in the food space, as a multitude of factors—including global climate and geopolitical challenges—can cause supply chain disruptions. Sustainable audits are heightening in demand, in order to validate company claims and provide consumers with peace of mind, as the industry continues to evolve with new ingredients, processes and technologies in play.

Consumers Today Demand Sustainable Practices and Transparency

The shift towards sustainability has further been accelerated by COVID-19, as the pandemic has made for more ethical and conscious consumers. According to research from Forrester, 68% of highly empowered consumers plan to ramp up their efforts to identify brands that reduce environmental impact. While there are numerous audits to measure sustainability and social responsibility, trending focus areas in the food space today are around sustainable packaging, water usage and food waste.

Three Ways Food Processors and Manufacturers Can Reduce Their Footprint

Key players across the food industry are stepping up to the challenge and finding innovative ways to minimize their environmental impact. The following are three ways food processors and manufacturers can reduce their footprint.

  • Use Environmentally Friendly Packaging: Food packaging is a major source of waste and pollution. In fact, containers and packaging make up a major portion of municipal solid waste (MSW), amounting to 82.2 million tons of generation in 2018, according to the EPA. Unfortunately, most packaging is designed as single-use, and is typically thrown away rather than reused or recycled. Given the impacts of packaging on the environment, more manufacturers are looking into packaging options that reduce waste and boost sustainability, including wood- and paper-based alternatives. Other manufacturers are developing innovative alternative packaging from biodegradable materials. The same rings true for takeout and grocery delivery, as the demand for home consumption grows, retail and foodservice companies are considering utilizing more sustainable packaging or reduce the use of virgin plastics to offset their impact.
  • Increase Energy and Water Efficiency: Food processing and manufacturing are energy- and water-intensive. In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, the 1.3 billion tons of wasted food annually also includes 45 trillion gallons of water. Water conservation methods can be implemented throughout the entire food chain—from selecting more efficient crops, to using less water within processing facilities and ultimately reducing food waste on the backend of the chain.
  • Reduce Food Waste: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nearly one-third of food produced for human consumption gets wasted each year. In fact, the carbon footprint of food waste is greater than that of the airline industry. This also includes the waste of resources used to produce the food including water, soil, transportation and labor. By improving processing and manufacturing efficiencies, we can reduce waste and better manage resources. Implementing systems to categorize and assess food waste can help identify areas for improvement and enable your team to develop a plan to correct.

Value-Add of Sustainability

Sustainability provides benefits to the consumer, the manufacturer and society-at-large. The consumer feels better about making a purchase that is not only better for the planet, but that may also provide health benefits to themselves and their families. The Organic Trade Association’s 2021 U.S. Organic Industry Survey highlights this trend, as organic food has the reputation of being better for your health and more sustainable for the planet. Organic food sales were up 12% in 2020, the highest growth rate in this category in over a decade.

Intrinsically, manufacturers with sustainable programs in place feel better about the work they are doing, knowing that they are supporting a better world. Companies that publicize their green programs and back them up with the applicable certifications can also attract top employees, despite today’s talent wars. Employees are zeroed in on corporate social responsibility and desire to work for a company that aligns with their purpose.

As it relates to the bottom line, the common misconception is that the sustainable choice will cost more. However, as sustainable supply increases due to consumer demand, companies are able to source sustainable inputs more affordably. Furthermore, they can communicate their commitments via certification bodies, through public forums and by labeling products based on their certifications. These approaches help reach and educate consumers at different levels—from their initial research of products to purchases from the store shelves.

Key Certifications and Auditing Technology

To reduce their environmental footprint throughout the value chain and implement more sustainable business practices, food companies can move toward a circular economy business model. By renewing, reusing and recycling materials at every stage of the food supply chain, companies can preserve the critical resources that allow their business to flourish.

There are a wide range of services help food producers make the transition to a more sustainable business model. This includes the GHG emissions verification, and management system auditing and certification or training to standards like ISO 14001 (Environmental Management System), ISO 24526 (Water Efficiency Management System), AWS (Alliance for Water Stewardship), ISO 50001 (Energy Management System) and SA8000 (Social Accountability standard), as well as SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) audits. There are also a range of food sustainability-related product certifications including Organic, MSC, ASC and RSPO.

Auditing technology supports a range of requirements and helps teams set achievable targets. It can be used to analyze packaging materials, categorize and assess food waste, and monitor water usage. Newer auditing technology is now blockchain enabled to assess raw materials and packaging, and to ensure third party partners are also socially responsible. This information is packaged into a blockchain solution so that food companies can be confident that the auditing information is correct and secure. Furthermore, this technology provides the added visibility into their network should they have a recall.

How To Initiate or Ramp Up Your Sustainable Programs

For companies interested in kicking off a sustainability program, or branching into new levels of sustainability, a great place to start is training, in order to understand the audit standard. Early on in this process, ensure all parties are onboard and aware of the certification process and related costs—from managers who will be implementing the program daily to board level executives providing the final sign off. Doing this helps allocate sufficient time and resources and avoids surprises down the road.

It’s helpful to work with a third-party consultant through this process, as they are able take a birds-eye-view look to identify gaps in the program and help you achieve specific certification requirements that meet your unique food product needs. If your team works with a consultant to put together a plan that includes auditing, testing, inspection and certification, the right partner can verify that the program meets all the requirements necessary for the certification.

To keep your program running efficiently, arrange regular trainings for employees to stay up to date on the latest requirements and fill any gaps. For more specialized programs, it’s also a good idea to set aside standalone training sessions to avoid information overload.

As the industry continues to innovate, there will be more ways to reduce waste throughout the entire supply chain and build more efficient business models that are better for the company, consumers and the planet. Looking ahead to next year and beyond, the trend towards sustainability and transparency will press on. Ultimately, companies that take the extra steps to be more sustainable are setting a higher standard for industry and supply chain partners and building a pathway for long-term success.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fish Fraudsters, Beware (At Least in Canada)

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, fish
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Fish and seafood mislabeling is rampant in Canada, according to a report published earlier this year by Oceana Canada. To address the rising concerns of Canadian consumers, the Canadian government is finally consulting with the seafood industry on traceability from boat to plate. These suggestions are supposed to tackle mislabeling, illegal fishing, sustainability issues and unregulated fishing. Even restaurant owners and chefs have called Congress for action.

Resource

  1. Taylor, P. (August 22, 2021). “After fraud report, Canada looks at seafood traceability”. Securing Industry.
Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
In the Food Lab

Will a New Method of Freezing Foods Improve Food Quality and Food Processing?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

As the world veers on the edge of serious climate trouble, it makes sense for companies to collectively start looking into greener and more efficient alternatives. While research is ongoing, every so often, there’s a win that can make a huge difference if and when it is implemented. That’s precisely what’s happening with cutting-edge frozen food and processing technologies, thanks to scientists from the University of California-Berkeley who conducted a study on the concept with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

It came at just the right time, too, as both freezing foods and standard food processing technologies have a rather large energy footprint, with extensive carbon emissions. Globally, those levels have to come down or the results will be disastrous. This new method, proposed by researchers, could reduce the global energy consumption of the frozen foods industry by up to 6.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Just to put that into perspective, it is the equivalent of removing one million cars from the road, and keeping them out of regular operation.

Called isochoric freezing, the method essentially involves placing foods in a sealed and rigid container. The storage container, made of hard plastic or metal, is then filled with liquid—like water—and frozen. The catch is that not all of the liquid in the container is frozen, so the food does not turn to solid ice. Only about 10% of the volume freezes during the process, and as long as the food remains within the hardened ice, crystallization will not happen. In addition, pressure that builds up inside the container naturally prevents the ice from expanding.

Isochoric freezing also has implications for fresh foods that are significantly affected by standard freezing techniques, such as small fruits, vegetables (i.e., tomatoes and potatoes), and even some meats.

The best part is that this method can be deployed “without requiring any significant changes in current frozen food manufacturing equipment and infrastructure,” according to USDA food technologist Cristina Bilbao-Sainz.

Why Is Icochoric Freezing Better?

Freezing foods may be a quick and relatively accessible way to preserve them, but many chemical changes happen during the freezing process as well as when those items thaw. Some foods deteriorate when frozen, just at slower rates. What’s more, depending on when and how you freeze or store those items, the composition may change during the entire process.

Some frozen products may develop a rancid smell or taste, after being oxidized or exposed to air. Others may see texture or size changes, and moisture loss at any time (or poor packaging) can result in freezer burn.

A lot of these same problems do not occur with isochoric freezing because the items are not frozen solid. Even more promising is that the new method also improves the quality of frozen foods, boosts safety, and reduces energy use. And during processing it actually kills microbial contaminants.

“The entire food production chain could use isochoric freezing—everyone from growers to food processors, product producers to wholesalers, to retailers. The process will even work in a person’s freezer at home after they purchase a product—all without requiring any major investments in new equipment,” said said Tara McHugh, co-lead on the study and director of the Western Regional Research Center in a USDA press release. “With all of the many potential benefits, if this innovative concept catches on, it could be the next revolution in freezing foods.”

Making the Discovery

Boris Rubinsky, a UC-Berkeley biomedical engineer and co-leader of the project, developed the freezing method while trying to cryopreserve tissues and organs that were designated for use during transplants. The goal was to better preserve these items, under more optimized conditions, with a minimal quality loss after thawing.

While this certainly does have major implications for the frozen foods, cold storage, and food processing industries, it can also be used elsewhere. For example, areas like medicine, science, or space travel can all benefit.

It may be some time before the technology is ready, but the research team is now working on developing commercially viable options, to match modern industry needs.

Will It Lower Carbon Emissions?

If the technology, and method, are adopted on a wide scale, it could vastly lower carbon emissions across many fields, and it may even lower emissions of consumer applications, too. Imagine applying isochoric freezing on a smaller scale, at home, to better preserve leftovers, frozen meals, and much more.

Of course, it will be interesting to see major organizations adopt this method, if and when the resources are available. The food processing industry could see revolutionary reductions in carbon emissions and energy consumption in the years ahead.

Anthony Macherone, Agilent
FST Soapbox

The Link Between Exposure to Xenobiotic Pesticides and Declining Honeybee Colonies and Honey

By Anthony Macherone, Ph.D.
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Anthony Macherone, Agilent

According to data from the Bee Informed Partnership, a national collaboration of leading research labs and universities in agricultural science, managed honeybee populations declined by nearly 40% between Oct. 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019. This is a 7% greater decline compared to the same timeframe during the previous winter.1

Scientists are examining different environmental factors such as the increased use of pesticides and the use of chemicals in agriculture as causes for the rapid decline in global honeybee numbers.

Recent research conducted by my team and I revealed a potentially key reason for the decline in honeybee populations as a result of Nosema ceranae (N. ceranae), a prevalent infection in adult honeybee populations. My team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which in turn, may have a social impact on communication in honeybee colonies.

Moreover, the significant decline in the global honeybee population is likely to be driving an increase in fraudulent honey, meaning that both governments and regulators need to invest in the latest technology to test honey products for authenticity, nutritional values and safety.

The Significance of Honey in Our Global Diet and the Problem at Hand

Honey has been a part of our diet for the past 8,000 years, and with numerous health benefits in addition to having a favorable taste, it is one of the most popular foods across the globe.2

Honeybees produce honey from the nectar of flowering plants, and they are considered a “keystone species” since one-third of human food supply depends on pollination by honeybees.3The species is responsible for pollinating numerous fruit, nut, vegetable and field crops such as apples, almonds, onions and cotton.

The increase of pesticides and chemicals in the environment has been cited as a reason for the decline in bee populations, which has occurred in Western European countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as countries such as the United States, Russia and Brazil.4 In fact, the number of honeybee colonies in Europe fell by an average of 16 per cent over the winter of 2017–2018, according to findings published in the Journal of Apiculture Research.5

Global pesticide usage was predicted to increase to 3.5 million tons globally in 2020, which could mean that honeybee populations will continue to diminish at an exponential rate due to the increased use of pesticides.6

The Impact of Pesticides on Global Honeybee Populations

In 2019, a research project was initiated to explore the link between exposure to xenobiotic pesticides and increasing susceptibility to the N. ceranae infection in honeybee colonies, one of the most common infections in adult honeybee populations. The findings suggested that it is not the amount of pesticide exposure, nor a particular kind of pesticide exposure, but rather the number of exposure events from different xenobiotics that is associated with N. ceranae, which infected hives, thereby causing them to diminish.7

For discovery-based (non-targeted) exposome profiling of honeybee extracts, a gas chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (GC/Q-TOF) was used. Additionally, spectral library searches and compound annotation were performed using the NIST 14, RTL Pesticides and the Fiehn Metabolomics libraries to provide efficient and timely research outputs.8

Expanding on this research further in 2021, a scientist’s team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which showed a potential impact on social communication in honeybee colonies. While it was concluded that further analysis is required, as research points to the real possibility that N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies show increased alarm pheromones and may affect hive communication, which could ultimately, be a reason for the collapse of colonies.9

As N. ceranae is causing honeybee populations to dwindle worldwide, the decline in ‘real’ honey supplies is correspondent with an increase in ‘fake’ honey. Inauthentic honey products cause businesses and consumers to lose out, as ‘fake’ honey floods the market and makes producing ‘real’ honey more expensive.

Growth in Fake Honey

The global honey market has grown from 1.5 million tons produced annually in 2007 to more than 1.9 million tons in 2019 and the market is estimated to be worth $7 billion, however the decline in bee populations has led to an increase in honey adulteration to fill the global demand for honey.10

Declining supplies of authentic honey combined with the strong consumer demand for honey has driven significant adulteration of this product. Honey is considered to be one of the most adulterated foods after milk and olive oil, with every seventh jar of honey opened daily around the globe thought to be fake.11, 12 Consequently, legitimate honeybee keepers and business owners are forced to slash costs, which is problematic for those who depend on selling authentic honey.

To put into perspective the scale of the issue, the European agricultural organization, Copa-Cogeca noted that most honey imported from China into Europe is mixed with syrup.13 In 2018, the Honey Authenticity Project in Mexico commissioned tests for British supermarket honey products, and 10 out of 11 products failed the tests due to suspected sugar adulteration.14

While in the United States, it was recently reported that thousands of commercial beekeepers have taken legal action against the country’s largest honey importers and packers for allegedly flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of tons of “fake” honey.15 Furthermore, a recent workshop led by the South Africa Bee Industry Organization (SABIO) also conducted research on the impact of fraudulent honey, and the organization found that honey imports into South Africa have tripled to 6,000 tons a year, 60% of which come from China.16 As the demand for honey products stays robust but authentic honey supplies dwindle, the issue of counterfeit honey will continue to worsen.

Testing Methods to Identify Authentication

The issue of fraudulent food products like honey has driven governments to set up laws and departments dedicated to food integrity. Examples include FSMA, the UK National Food Crime Unit, Chinese Food Safety Law, and European Commission Food Integrity Project.

Food retailers often have contractual agreements with suppliers that require them to carry out authenticity testing of their ingredients, which can be carried out by third-party laboratories.17 Food adulteration can be identified via targeted and non-targeted testing and common testing methods include molecular spectroscopy solutions for ‘in the field’ screening and more in-depth laboratory analysis to determine quantities of ingredients.

Analytical instrument manufacturers have been working closely with governments to provide the latest methods to test the authenticity of honey products, as well as working with the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC) on the development of both targeted and non-targeted standards for authenticity testing in milk, honey and olive oil.
Measuring contaminants is a key solution to identifying counterfeit honey and gas chromatographs are able to analyze and quantify the absence or presence of hundreds of pesticides in organic-labeled honey.18

Testing and analysis can be done using a range of analytical instrumentation such as solid phase microextraction followed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (SPME-GC/MS), inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), and gas/liquid chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight (GC/Q-TOF and LC/Q-TOF). These instruments can be coupled with innovative software solutions for advanced data analysis.19

Future Research Must Continue

The spread of diseases such as N. ceranae, which have been shown to be aggravated by human-induced environmental factors, are decimating global honeybee populations, which in turn is negatively impacting ecosystems and humans, and the availability of authentic honey. This demise in authentic honey supplies is additionally fueling a rise in fake honey products, where consumers are misled into buying counterfeit honey.

Future research must continue to seek associations with environmental exposures effects on biological pathways and adverse health outcomes in honeybee populations, and in fact, novel environmental exposures have been found to be associated with seven of the top diseases known to affect honeybees. These putative associations must be validated with targeted follow-up studies to determine if they are causative factors in the decline of honeybee populations. If proven to be causative, scientists and policy makers can work together to mitigate these factors and hopefully reverse the global trend of honeybee colony decline.

References

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