Tag Archives: Testing

Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2020 Expectations: More Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Technology Advances in Food Safety Testing

By Maria Fontanazza
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Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

2018 and 2019 were the years of the “blockchain buzz”. As we enter the new decade, we can expect a stronger focus on how technology and data advances will generate more actionable use for the food industry. Food Safety Tech has highlighted many perspectives from subject matter experts in the industry, and 2020 will be no different. Our first Q&A of the year features Sasan Amini, CEO of Clear Labs, as he shares his thoughts on tech improvements and the continued rise consumer expectations for transparency.

Food Safety Tech: As we look to the year ahead, where do you see artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain advancing in the food industry?

Sasan Amini: AI, ML, and blockchain are making headway in the food industry through advances in supply chain management, food sorting and anomaly detection, and tracing the origin of foodborne outbreaks. On the regulatory side, FDA’s focus on its New Era of Smarter Food Safety will most likely catalyze the adoption of the above mentioned technologies. On the private side, a few of the companies leading the charge on these advancements are IBM and Google, working in partnership with food manufacturers and retailers across the world.

Along those same lines, another area that we expect to grow is the use of AI and ML in tandem with robotics—and the value of new troves of data that they collect, analyze and distribute. For example, robotics for the use of environmental monitoring of potential contaminants, sorting techniques and sterilization are valuable because they ensure that end products have been through thorough testing—and they give us even more information about the lifecycle of that food than ever before.

At the end of the day, data is only valuable when you can transform it into actionable insights in real-time with real-world applications, and we expect to see more and more of this type of data usage in the year ahead.

FST: Where do you think food safety testing technologies will stand out? What advancements can the industry expect?

Amini: In 2020, technology is going to begin to connect itself along the entire supply chain, bringing together disparate pieces and equipping supply chain professionals with action-oriented data. From testing advances that improve speed, accuracy and depth of information to modular software solutions to promote transparency, the food safety industry is finally finding its footing in a data-driven sea of technological and regulatory advances.

Right now, legacy testing solutions are limited in their ability to lead food safety and quality professionals to the source of problems, providing insights on tracking recurring issues, hence having a faster response time, and being able to anticipate problems before they occur based on a more data heavy and objective risk assessment tools. This leaves the industry in a reactive position for managing and controlling their pathogen problems.

Availability of higher resolution food safety technologies that provide deeper and more accurate information and puts them in context for food safety and quality professionals provides the food industry a unique opportunity to resolve the incidents in a timely fashion with higher rigour and confidence. This is very in-line with the “Smarter Tools and Approaches” that FDA described in their new approach to food safety.

FST: How are evolving consumer preferences changing how food companies must do business from a strategic as well as transparency perspective?

Amini: Consumers are continuing to get savvier about what’s in their food and where it comes from. Research suggests that about one in five U.S. adults believe they are food allergic, while only 1 in 20 are estimated to have physician-diagnosed food allergies. This discrepancy is important for food companies to consider when making decisions about transparency into their products. Although the research on food allergies continues to evolve, what’s important to note today is that consumers want to know the details. Radical transparency can be a differentiator in a competitive market, especially for consumers looking for answers to improve their health and nutrition.

Consumers are also increasingly interested in personalization, due in part to the rise in new digital health and testing companies looking to deliver on the promise of personalized nutrition and wellness. Again, more transparency will be key.

FST: Additional comments are welcome.

Amini: Looking ahead, we expect that smaller, multi-use, and hyper-efficient tools with reduced physical footprints will gain market share. NGS is a great example of this, as it allows any lab to gather millions of data points about a single sample without needing to run it multiple times. It moves beyond the binary yes-no response of traditional testing, and lets you get much more done, with far less. Such wealth of information not only increases the confidence about the result, but can also be mined to generate more actionable insights for interventions and root cause analysis.

This “multi-tool” will be driven by a combination of advanced software, robotics, and testing capabilities, creating a food safety system that is entirely connected, driven by data, and powerfully accurate.

Salami, plastic packaging

Using Raman Spectroscopy to Evaluate Laminated Food Packaging Films

By Ellen Link, Gary Johnson, Ph.D.
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Salami, plastic packaging

Laminated plastics are common and popular food packaging options. They are strong and flexible, making them ideal for both packing and presentation, and can be used for cooking, frozen foods, drink pouches, snack products and even pet food. Yet, unreliable plastics can create a problem for food packaging and the safety of a product.

If a grade of plastic is not what was promised or needed, there can be issues that lead to spoilage, spills and messes, crystallization, mold or other risks. Additionally, there may be concerns about how laminated films will interact with the product itself, as it could impact food safety or lifecycle. For these reasons, it is critical to have accurate information when evaluating the plastics films used in food packaging.

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman spectroscopy (RS) is a powerful method of identifying and characterizing chemical compounds based on light scattering by a sample. It can be used to identify layers in food packaging films to accurately understand the chemical makeup of the laminated plastic. The effect is named for its inventor, C.V. Raman, who was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for its discovery in 1930. It is a non-destructive method that uses an induced-dipole mechanism to probe the vibrations of the chemical bonds in a molecule. The Raman spectrum shows a pattern of molecular vibrations that represents a detailed chemical fingerprint of a material, providing insights into the product composition.

A Raman spectrum is obtained by illuminating the sample with a laser and collecting and measuring the scattered light with a spectrometer. The molecular vibrational modes vary depending on the geometry and electronic structure of the chemical compound present in the sample. By controlling the position of the laser focus point on a sample, a map of the composition can be created. This provides valuable information on the plastic film related to its composition, such as number of layers, thickness of each layer and overall make-up.

In the food packaging and safety industry, this technique can be used to evaluate laminated plastic films by examining polymers, minerals, and/or inorganic fillers and pigments present in the film. Specific food packaging products that can benefit from RS assessments include heat seals, containers, lids, films and wrappers both for durability and performance and for diffusion, permeation or other concerns.

Benefits and Limitations

There are numerous benefits to using the RS method. A major advantage is that there is virtually no sample preparation necessary; spectra can be obtained without direct contact, such as through the sides of glass vials or through windows in reaction cells. As a non-destructive technique, it allows an easy, highly accurate way to take a sample, create a chemical composition map and better understand films’ barrier properties, structural integrity and layers. It has broad applicability and works using conventional microscope optics.

There are, of course, limitations to the approach, as well. Fluorescent components or impurities in a sample can emit a photoluminescent background that overwhelms the Raman scattering. Samples can also be damaged by the laser if too much power is used, or the sample absorbs light at the laser wavelength. Samples that do fluoresce and samples that are photolabile act as common interferences for the RS method. In many cases, these interferences can be overcome with the proper choice of laser and sampling techniques. Additionally, while RS provides an accurate analysis of laminated films, the technique cannot be used on metals or metallic compounds (which can be assessed using scanning electron microscopy or light optical microscopy) or organic pigments or ink layers (which can be assessed with other infrared techniques).

Using RS for Food Packaging

RS can offer a variety of insights for food packaging films:

  • Failure analysis. If a plastic used for a heat seal in a fruit or yogurt cup fails, it could result in a mess for manufacturers, stores or the consumer. Exposure to air or elements could also lead to spoilage, particularly for refrigerated foods. Inconsistent plastic packaging could result in weak points that break, crack or puncture, which could also result in mold, mess or other spoilage concerns. If a manufacturer experiences a failure in a heat seal or packaging leading to leakage or spoilage, RS analysis can help determine why the failure occurred (was in the plastic film or something else) to help prevent future issues.
  • Supply chain validation. It is extremely important that the plastic films coming from suppliers are what they are promising and what the manufacturer needs. RS analysis can be used to determine the chemical make-up and morphology of packaging to confirm a supplier’s claims before proceeding with use of the film in food packaging and products.
  • Simple decision making. If a manufacturer is trying to decide which material to use, RS can provide answers. For example, if there is a need for moisture non-permeating films and there are multiple options available, an RS chemical map can illustrate what to expect with each option, aiding in the decision-making process when combined with other known factors such as cost or timing. If there is an additive in the food product that may diffuse into the film, RS can determine which material might best resist the potential problem.
  • Packaging appearance. If there is a swirl or haze in the packaging, RS can compare the area with the issue to a clear section to determine if the defect in the film is a foreign polymer or an inorganic pigment or filler, identifying the source of the problem.

RS analysis provides a wealth of information in a manner that is non-destructive. Giving a chemical fingerprint to identify composition with extremely good spatial resolution gives manufacturers valuable information that can be used to mitigate issues, correct problems or make important decisions. These actions in turn can help ensure food safety, which builds brand image and manufacturer equity. Ultimately, RS analysis can play an important role in the success of a product, a brand or a company.

magnifying glass

Food Fraud and Adulteration Detection Using FTIR Spectroscopy

By Ryan Smith, Ph.D.
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magnifying glass

Producers of food-based products are faced with challenges of maintaining the safety and quality of their products, while also managing rapid screening of raw materials and ingredients. Failure to adequately address both challenges can be costly, with estimated recall costs alone starting around $10 million, in addition to any litigation costs.1 Long-term costs can accumulate further as a result of damage to brand reputation. A vast array of methods has been employed to meet these challenges, and adoption continues to increase as technology becomes smaller, cheaper and more user friendly. One such technique is Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, an analytical technique that is widely used for quick (typically 20–60 seconds per measurement) and non-destructive testing of both man-made and natural materials in food products. The uniformity and physical state of the sample (solid vs. liquid) will dictate the specifics of the hardware used to perform such analyses, and the algorithm applied to the identification task will depend, in part, on the expected variability of the ingredient.

Infrared spectral measurements provide a “compositional snapshot”— capturing information related to the chemical bonds present in the material. Figure 1 shows an example of a mid-infrared spectrum of peppermint oil. Typically, the position of a peak along the x-axis (wavenumber) is indicative of the type of chemical bond, while the peak height is related either to the identity of the material, or to the concentration of the material in a mixture. In the case of peppermint oil, a complex set of spectral peaks is observed due to multiple individual naturally occurring molecular species in the oil.

Mid-infrared spectrum, peppermint oil
Figure 1. Mid-infrared spectrum of peppermint oil. The spectrum represents a “chemical snapshot” of the oil, as different peaks are produced as a result of different chemical bonds in the oil.

Once the infrared spectrum of an ingredient is measured, it is then compared to a reference set of known good ingredients. It is important that the reference spectrum or spectra are measured with ingredients or materials that are known to be good (or pure)—otherwise the measurements will only represent lot-to-lot variation. The comparative analysis can assist lab personnel in gaining valuable information—such as whether the correct ingredient was received, whether the ingredient was adulterated or replaced for dishonest gain, or whether the product is of acceptable quality for use. The use of comparative algorithms for ingredient identification also decreases subjectivity by reducing the need for visual inspection and interpretation of the measured spectrum.

Correlation is perhaps the most widely used algorithm for material identification with infrared spectroscopy and has been utilized with infrared spectra for identification purposes at least as early as the 1970s.2 When using this approach, the correlation coefficient is calculated between the spectrum of the test sample and each spectrum of the known good set. Calculated values will range from 0, which represents absolutely no match (wrong or unexpected material), to 1, representing a perfect match. These values are typically sorted from highest to lowest, and the material is accepted or rejected based on whether the calculated correlation lies above or below an identified threshold. Due to the one-to-one nature of this comparison, it is best suited to identification of materials that have little or no expected variability. For example, Figure 2 shows an overlay of a mid-infrared spectrum of an ingredient compared to a spectrum of sucrose. The correlation calculated between the two spectra is 0.998, so the incoming ingredient is determined to be sucrose. Figure 3 shows an overlay of the same mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose with a spectrum of citric acid. Notable differences are observed between the two spectra, and a significant change in the correlation is observed, with a coefficient of 0.040 calculated between the two spectra. The citric acid sample would not pass as sucrose with the measurement and algorithm settings used in this example.

Mid-infrared spectrum, sucrose
Figure 2. An overlay of the mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose and a spectrum of a different sample of sucrose.
Mid-infrared spectrium, sucrose, citric acid
Figure 3: An overlay of the mid-infrared spectrum of sucrose and a spectrum of citric acid.

When testing samples with modest or high natural variability, acceptable materials can produce a wider range of infrared spectral features, which result in a correspondingly broad range of calculated correlation values. The spread in correlation values could be of concern as it may lead to modification of algorithm parameters or procedures to “work around” this variation. Resulting compromises can increase the potential for false positives, meaning the incorrect ingredient or adulterated material might be judged as passing. Multivariate algorithms provide a robust means for evaluating ingredient identity for samples with high natural variability.

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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.
Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Public Food Standards

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D., Steven M. Gendel, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

In 1995, a honey processing company was indicted on charges of adulterating industrial honey labeled “USDA Grade A” with corn syrup to increase profits. Ultimately, the jury found in favor of the honey processor, in part because there “weren’t enough regulations governing honey to make the charge stick.”

Honey is defined as “the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees” from the nectar of plants. However, there is not currently an FDA standard of identity for honey in the United States, which would further define and specify the allowed methods of producing, manufacturing and labeling honey (there is, however, a nonbinding guidance document for honey). Some of the details of honey production that a standard of identity might address include allowable timing and levels of supplemental feeding of bees with sugar syrups and the appropriate use of antibiotics for disease treatment.

In circumstances where strict regulatory standards for foods are not available, they may be created by other organizations.

What Is a Food Standard?

A food standard is “a set of criteria that a food must meet if it is to be suitable for human consumption, such as source, composition, appearance, freshness, permissible additives, and maximum bacterial content.”1

To ensure quality, facilitate trade, and reduce fraud, everyone in the supply chain must have a shared expectation of what each food or ingredient should be. Public standards set those expectations and allow them to be shared. They help ensure that stakeholders have a common definition of quality and purity, as well as the test methods and specifications used to demonstrate that quality and purity. Public standards help ensure fair trade, quality and integrity in food supply chains.

How Is a Standard Different from a Method?

A method is generally an analytical technique to assess a particular property of the content or safety of a food or food ingredient. For example, methods for detection of nitrates in meat products or baby food, coliforms in nut products, or high fructose syrups in honey. Methods are an important component of food standards.

A food standard goes a step further and provides an integrated set of components to define a substance and enable verification of that substance. Standards generally include a description of the substance and its function, one or more identification tests and assays (along with acceptance criteria) to appropriately characterize the substance and ensure its quality, a description of possible impurities and limits for those impurities (if applicable), and other information as needed (see Figure 1).

FCC Standard, USP
Figure 1. The Anatomy of an FCC Standard (Source: Food Science Program, Food Chemicals Codex, USP)

Figure 1. The Anatomy of an FCC Standard (Source: Food Science Program, Food Chemicals Codex, USP)

A standard defines both what a food or food ingredient should be and documents how to demonstrate compliance with that definition.

Public Standards and Food Fraud Prevention

Many of the foods prone to fraud are those that are not simple food ingredients, but agricultural products that can be more complex to characterize and identify (such as honey, extra virgin olive oil, spices, etc.). Milk products are an example of a commodity that is prone to fraud with a wide range of adulterants (for example, fluid cow’s milk is associated with 155 adulterants in the Food Fraud Database). Ensuring the quality and purity of a product link milk requires implementation of multiple analytical techniques or the development of non-targeted methods.

The creation of effective public standards with input by a range of stakeholders will be particularly important for ensuring the quality, safety and accurate labeling of these high value commodities in the future.

Reference

  1. A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition 2005, Oxford University Press.

Resources

  1. The Food Chemicals Codex is a source of public standards for foods and food ingredients. It was created by the U.S. FDA and the National Institute of Medicine in 1966 and is currently published by the nonprofit organization USP. The FCC contains 1250 standards for food ingredients, which are developed by expert volunteers and posted for public comment before publication.
  2. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from global sources and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification. Decernis also partners with standards bodies to provide information about fraudulent adulterants to support standards development.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Comparing Ceylon and Cassia

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

Cinnamon is in high demand worldwide, with Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon (Cinnamon verum) the most sought-after and higher priced variety. It is therefore tempting to “cut” Ceylon cinnamon with cheaper cassia cinnamon. Previous detection methods for such adulterations included HPLC testing or DNA barcoding, which was time consuming and could only be applied by experts. New FT-NIR (Fourier transform near-infrared) and FTIR (Fourier transform infrared) spectroscopic methods in combination with multivariate analysis enable quick detection of cinnamon adulteration.

Resources

  1. J. Yasmin, M.R. Ahmed, S. Lohumi, C. Wakholi, H. Lee, C. Mo, B.-K. Cho, Corresponding author: chobk@cnu.ac.kr, Quality Assurance and Safety of Crops & Foods: 11 (3)- Pages: 257 – 267 (25 April, 2019). “Rapid authentication measurement of cinnamon powder using FT-NIR and FT-IR spectroscopic techniques”. Retrieved from Wageningen Academic Publishers, wageningenacademic.com
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries
FST Soapbox

Modeling Cannabis Safety from Food and Beverage Quality Regulations

By Jill Ellsworth
1 Comment
Jill Ellsworth, Willow Industries

There’s a reason you can eat or drink pretty much anything you want from American grocery stores and not get sick. Food manufacturing is highly regulated and subject to rigorous quality control.

Before food and beverages hit store shelves, the manufacturer must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system in place. The HACCP system requires that potential hazards—biological, chemical and physical— be identified and controlled at specific points in the manufacturing process. In addition, fresh foods undergo a kill-step. This is the point in the manufacturing or packaging process where food is treated to minimize and remove deadly pathogens like bacteria, mold, fungus and E. coli.

Generally speaking, when cannabis hits dispensary shelves, a less stringent set of rules apply, despite the fact that cannabis is ingested, inhaled and used as medicine. Cultivators are required to test every batch, but each state differs in what is required for mandated testing. Compared to the way food is regulated, the cannabis industry still has a long way to go when it comes to consumer safety—and that poses a considerable public health risk. In the early stages of legalization, the handful of legal states did not have rigid cannabis testing measures in place, which led to inconsistent safety standards across the country. State governments have had a reactionary approach to updating testing guidelines, by and large implementing stricter standards in response to product recalls and customer safety complaints. While local regulators have had the best intentions in prioritizing consumer safety, it is still difficult to align uniform cannabis testing standards with existing food safety standards while cannabis is a Schedule I substance.

The stark differences in safety measures and quality controls were first obvious to me when I moved from the food and beverage industry into the cannabis industry. For five years, I operated an organic, cold-pressed juice company and a natural beverage distribution company and had to adhere to very strict HACCP guidelines. When a friend asked me for advice on how to get rid of mold on cannabis flower, a light bulb went off: Why was there no kill step in cannabis? And what other food safety procedures were not being followed?

What to know more about all things quality, regulatory and compliance in the cannabis industry? Check out Cannabis Industry Journal and sign up for the weekly newsletterThe current patchwork of regulations and lack of food safety standards could have dire effects. It not only puts consumer health in jeopardy, but without healthy crops, growers, dispensaries and the entire cannabis supply chain can suffer. When a batch of cannabis fails microbial testing, it cannot be sold as raw flower unless it goes through an approved process to eliminate the contamination. This has severe impacts on everyone, starting with the cultivator. There are delays in harvesting and delivery, and sometimes producers are forced to extract their flower into concentrates, which really cuts into profits. And in the worst cases, entire crop harvests may have to be destroyed.

So, what do cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have to fear the most? Mold. Out of all the pathogens, mold is the most problematic for cannabis crops, perhaps because it is so resilient. Mold can withstand extreme heat, leaving many decontamination treatments ineffective. And most importantly, mold can proliferate and continue to grow. This is commonplace when the cannabis is stored for any length of time. Inhaling mold spores can have serious adverse health effects, including respiratory illness, and can even be deadly for immunocompromised consumers using it for medical reasons.

What the industry needs is a true kill step. It’s the only way to kill mold spores and other pathogens to ensure that they will not continue to grow while being stored. States that mandate microbial testing will benefit from the kill step because more cultivators will be in compliance earlier in the process. In states that don’t require comprehensive microbial testing, like Washington and Oregon, the kill step is a critical way to provide consumers with a preemptive layer of protection. Microbial testing and preventative decontamination measures encourage customer brand loyalty and prevents negative press coverage.

Adopting a HACCP system would also build additional safeguards into the system. These procedures provide businesses with a step-by-step system that controls food safety, from ingredients right through to production, storage and distribution, to sale of the product and service for the final consumer. The process of creating HACCP-based procedures provides a roadmap for food safety management that ultimately aligns your staff around the goal of keeping consumers safe.

It’s high time for the cannabis industry to adopt FDA-like standards and proactively promote safety measures. Cannabis growers must implement these quality controls to ensure that their products are as safe to consume as any other food or drink on the market. Let’s be proactive and show our consumers that we are serious about their safety.

Aaron Riley, CannaSafe
In the Food Lab

How To Ensure Cannabis and CBD Edibles And Beverages Are Safe

By Aaron Riley
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Aaron Riley, CannaSafe

As cannabis and CBD edibles and beverages gain in popularity among consumers, the rush to cash-in on market opportunities has resulted in an influx of unregulated and untested products. Recently the FDA increased its scrutiny of cannabis and CBD company websites and social media accounts to make sure they were not making unverified or misleading marketing statements about their products.

To exacerbate the problem of unregulated products, recent scares around vape-related hospitalizations have flooded the news, and the public is looking to the cannabis industry for answers about what it will do to ensure CBD and cannabis products are safe for consumption.

The first step the cannabis business community can take is educating the public on the two types of edibles— tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is heavily regulated. Every batch must be tested before it is released to retail ensuring labeling and dosages are consistent.

Since CBD does not have psychoactive properties, most products do not go through the same testing standards and are far less regulated. An estimated 75% of CBD-only companies do not test their products. Even worse, independent testing has shown that CBD labels are often incorrect or inconsistent with its dosage and ingredient labels.

Both cannabis and CBD companies must advocate for a more regulated and legitimate market. Stricter regulations and testing standards will eventually weed out the bad players who are hoping to make a quick buck from those that intend to manufacture quality products that can benefit the health of consumers.

Short Cuts To Boost Profits

The current vape pen crisis underscores the lack of regulation and inconsistency in the CBD market. CBD-exclusive vapes are more likely to use cutting agents, whereas licensed THC vape companies are more likely to use pure cannabis oils and are required to undergo quality control testing.

Using cutting agents may lower operating costs, but often results in an inferior or dangerous product. Cutting agents also inhibit crystallization in CBD oils and increase the shelf life of a product. The cost of production for pure THC or CBD oil is $5–6 per gram, but a cutting agent can reduce the cost down to $0.10–$2 per gram.

With edibles, untested CBD products can introduce Salmonella or E.coli into the supply chain. This oversight could severely hurt the reputation of growers and manufacturers if a serious outbreak occurred.

Learn more about important regulatory & quality issues in the cannabis space from Cannabis Industry JournalThe Solution Is in Testing

Unlike food manufacturing, where quality controls are in place at the plant, the quality measures for edibles happens in a lab, after a product is manufactured.

Labs test edibles for potency. Both THC and CBD are used for medicinal purposes, and potency testing is critical for accurate dosing. A patient under or over dosing, or taking a poor quality CBD product with additives could detrimentally affect their long-term health.

They will also test for product contamination. Both CBD and THC cannabis can become contaminated with microbes (i.e., mold, mildew, bacteria and yeast), pesticides and heavy metals throughout the process of growing, cultivation and processing. Contamination is especially concerning because many medical marijuana patients are immunosuppressed and cannot fight off potentially dangerous infections and illnesses arising from these contaminants.

But even for the general population, cannabis and CBD contamination can cause serious health issues. Molds and bacteria such as aspergillus, Salmonella and E. coli present safety risks, and toxicity from sustained exposure to heavy metals can lead to high blood pressure, heart issues and kidney failure, among other issues. Fortunately for consumers, cannabis products sold in licensed dispensaries must all undergo contamination and quality control testing per state regulations.

However, because quality control measures are not required for edible manufacturers, there is no oversight that food-grade ingredients are used or that practices to avoid cross-contamination are used.

What Companies Can Do To Win Back Trust

Customers around the country are rightfully concerned about the safety and quality of their cannabis and CBD products in light of recent news surrounding vape-related illnesses. This is the perfect opportunity for manufacturers and consumer brands to seize on the subject and educate consumers about cannabinoids so they aren’t turned off from incorporating CBD into their lifestyles.

  1. First and foremost, test all products. At a minimum, companies should be adhering to state cannabis market regulations, even if they are just producing CBD. As the FDA rolls out more concrete regulations for CBD, which was only federally legalized last year, it is in the best interest of all CBD companies to meet FDA guidelines preemptively so products can pass inspection at a later date.
  2. Find a good credible lab to help with formulations and inputs. With edibles and beverages, there is more room to introduce contaminants within that scope.
  3. Hire food safety experts to help elevate safety standards and meet FDA regulations. Some forward-thinking companies are starting to hire quality experts from food manufacturing to get ready for broader federal acceptance.
  4. Help educate consumers on why the brand is better, based on inputs and testing.

Consumers should also conduct their own research regarding individual CBD companies’ supply chains and manufacturing standards. Transparent companies will do this proactively, providing cultivation information and lab results for their customers.

In the end, the safest place to buy cannabis and CBD products is a licensed dispensary. It is the responsibility of growers, distributors, manufacturers and retailers to keep the legal market safe and free from contaminants that could threaten the industry. The regulated cannabis space has advanced significantly in the past few years, and companies must set the highest manufacturing standards to maintain this forward momentum. Education and testing are the best solutions to ensure a safe and trusted cannabis marketplace.

Sasan Amini, Clear Labs
FST Soapbox

Beyond the Results: What Can Testing Teach Us?

By Sasan Amini
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Sasan Amini, Clear Labs

The microbiology lab will increasingly be understood as the gravitational center of big data in the food industry. Brands that understand how to leverage the data microbiology labs are producing in ever larger quantities will be in the best position to positively impact their bottom line—and even transform the lab from a cost center to a margin contributor.

The global rapid microbiology testing market continues to grow at a steady pace. The market is projected to reach $5.09 billion by 2023, up from $3.45 billion in 2018. Increased demand for food microbiology testing—and pathogen detection in particular—continues to drive the overall growth of this sector. The volume of food microbiology tests totaled 1.14 billion tests in 2016—up 15% from 2013. In 2018 that number is estimated to have risen to 1.3 billion tests, accounting for nearly half the overall volume of industrial microbiology tests performed worldwide.

The food industry is well aware that food safety testing programs are a necessary and worthwhile investment. Given the enormous human and financial costs of food recalls, a robust food safety testing system is the best insurance policy any food brand can buy.

We are going through a unique transition where food safety tests are evolving from binary tests to data engines that are capable of generating orders of magnitude of more information. This creates a unique opportunity where many applications for big data collected from routine pathogen testing can help go beyond stopping an outbreak. Paired with machine learning and other data platforms, these data have the opportunity to become valuable, actionable insights for the industry.

While some of these applications will have an impact on fundamental research, I expect that big data analytics and bioinformatics will have significant opportunity to push the utilities of these tests from being merely a diagnostic test to a vehicle for driving actions and offering recommendations. Two examples of such transformations include product development and environmental testing.

Food-Safety Testing Data and Product Development

Next-generation-sequencing (NGS) technologies demonstrate a great deal of potential for product development, particularly when it comes to better understanding shelf life and generating more accurate shelf-life estimates.

Storage conditions, packaging, pH, temperature, and water activity can influence food quality and shelf life among other factors. Shelf-life estimates, however, have traditionally been based on rudimentary statistical models incapable of accounting for the complexity of factors that impact food freshness, more specifically not being able to take into consideration the composition and quantity of all microbial communities present on any food sample. These limitations have long been recognized by food scientists and have led them to look for cost-effective alternatives.

By using NGS technologies, scientists can gain a more complete picture of the microbial composition of foods and how those microbial communities are influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

It’s unlikely that analyzing the microbiome of every food product or unit of product will ever be a cost-effective strategy. However, over time, as individual manufacturers and the industry as a whole analyze more and more samples and generate more data, we should be able to develop increasingly accurate predictive models. The data generation cost and logistics could be significantly streamlined if existing food safety tests evolve to broader vehicles that can create insights on both safety and quality indications of food product simultaneously. By comparing the observed (or expected) microbiome profile of a fresh product with the models we develop, we could greatly improve our estimates of a given product’s remaining shelf life.

This will open a number of new opportunities for food producers and consumers. Better shelf-life estimates will create efficiencies up and down the food supply chain. The impact on product development can hardly be underestimated. As we better understand the precise variables that impact food freshness for particular products, we can devise food production and packaging technologies that enhance food safety and food quality.

As our predictive models improve, an entire market for these models will emerge, much as it has in other industries that rely on machine learning models to draw predictive insights from big data.

Data Visualization for Environmental Monitoring

In the past one to two years, NGS technologies have matured to the point that they can now be leveraged for high-volume pathogen and environmental testing.

Just as it has in other industries, big data coupled with data visualization approaches can play a mainstream role in food safety and quality applications.

Data visualization techniques are not new to food safety programs and have proven particularly useful when analyzing the results of environmental testing. The full potential of data visualizations has yet to be realized, however. Visualizations can be used to better understand harborage sites, identifying patterns that need attention, and visualize how specific strains of a pathogen are migrating through a facility.

Some of this is happening in food production facilities already, but it’s important to note that visualizations are only as useful as the underlying data is accurate. That’s where technologies like NGS come in. NGS provides the option for deeper characterization of pathogenic microorganisms when needed (down to the strain). The depth of information from NGS platforms enables more reliable and detailed characterization of pathogenic strains compared to existing methods.

Beyond basic identification, there are other potential use cases for environmental mapping, including tracking pathogens as they move through the supply chain. It’s my prediction that as the food industry more broadly adopts NGS technologies that unify testing and bioinformatics in a single platform, data visualization techniques will rapidly advance, so long as we keep asking ourselves: What can the data teach us?

The Food Data Revolution and Market Consolidation

Unlike most PCR and immunoassay-based testing techniques, which in most cases can only generate binary answers, NGS platforms generate millions of data points for each sample for up to tens to hundreds of samples. As NGS technologies are adopted and the data we collect increases exponentially, the food safety system will become the data engine upon which new products and technologies are built.

Just as we have seen in any number of industries, companies with access to data and the means to make sense of it will be in the best position to capitalize on new revenue opportunities and economies of scale.

Companies that have adopted NGS technologies for food safety testing will have an obvious advantage in this emerging market. And they won’t have had to radically alter their business model to get there. They’ll be running the same robust programs they have long had in place, but collecting a much larger volume of data in doing so. Companies with a vision of how to best leverage this data will have the greatest edge.

FDA

FDA’s Pesticide Analysis Finds Most Foods Tested Below EPA Tolerance Levels

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Today FDA released the results of its yearly report on pesticide residues, and the good news is that of the 6504 samples taken, most of them were below EPA tolerance levels. As part of the Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program for FY 2017, FDA tested for 761 pesticides and industrial chemicals in domestic and imported foods for animals and humans. The following are some highlights of the FDA’s findings:

  • Percentage of foods compliant with federal standards
    • 96.2% of domestic human foods
    • 89.6% of imported human foods
    • 98.8% domestic animal foods
    • 94.4% imported animal foods
  • Percentage of food samples without pesticide residues
    • Milk and game meat: 100%
    • Shell egg: 87.5%
    • Honey: 77.3%
  • Percentage of food samples without glyphosate or glufosinate residues
  • Milk and eggs: 100%
  • Corn: 82.1%
  • Soybeans: 60%

“Ensuring the safety of the American food supply is a critical part of the work of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Our annual efforts to test both human and animal foods for pesticide residues in foods is important as we work to limit exposure to any pesticide residues that may be unsafe,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of FDA’s CFSAN, in an agency release. “We will continue to do this important monitoring work, taking action when appropriate, to help ensure our food supply remains among the safest in the world.”