Tag Archives: Testing

David Hammond, Eurofins, food fraud

Proactive Approach to Preventing Food Fraud

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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David Hammond, Eurofins, food fraud

Several different approaches can be used to verify authenticity of food, from a heteroduplex assay to microsatellite analysis. In part II of a presentation by fruit juice and authenticity expert David Hammond, Ph.D. of Eurofins Scientific at the 2015 Food Labs Conference, learn about the DNA methodologies as well as the proactive steps that companies should be taking to prevent food fraud or economically motivated adulteration of product.

3M Molecular detection assay for Listeria

Molecular Detection Assay for Listeria Promises Faster Results

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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3M Molecular detection assay for Listeria

A molecular detection assay for Listeria monocytogenes has been approved by the AOAC Performance Test Methods

3M Molecular detection assay for Listeria
The new test was developed in response to customer engagement and a desire to work with food processors to protect the world’s food supply, says 3M Food Safety.

(PTM) program. Developed by 3M Food Safety, the assay is based on isothermal DNA amplification and bioluminescence detection technologies. With a streamlined workflow that is 30% faster than the first generation assay, the new test is designed to provide expedited, simple and more accurate real-time pathogen detection.

Obtaining AOAC PTM status involved a thorough independent lab examination of the test method’s ability to accurately detect Listeria monocytogenes within a variety of foods. During the validation study, analyzed food samples included beef hot dogs, queso fresco cheese, vanilla ice cream, 4 % milk fat cottage cheese, 3% chocolate whole milk, romaine lettuce, bagged raw spinach, cold smoked salmon, deli turkey, raw chicken, cantaloupe, and various environmental surfaces (plastic, stainless steel, concrete). Achieving AOAC PTM approval certifies that the test kit is equivalent or better than standard reference methods, according to 3M Food Safety.

Sample6 executives, Tim Curran, Jim Godsey and Mike Koeris

Food Safety Testing Must Live Up to Higher Expectations

By Maria Fontanazza
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Sample6 executives, Tim Curran, Jim Godsey and Mike Koeris

From sanitation and processing to testing and analysis to transportation and imports, government requirements of companies in the food industry are changing. Many companies are already prepared for the transformation that FSMA will bring. Within food testing and analysis, expectations will be higher than ever. Companies should be able to more accurately and rapidly identify contamination in order to take immediate action. What are some of the biggest concerns in testing and analysis? What changes can we expect? In a roundtable discussion with Sample6 executives, Michael Koeris, Ph.D., founder and vice president of operations, Tim Curran, CEO, and Jim Godsey, vice president of research & development, share their perspective on the hurdles that industry is facing and how innovative technology plays an important role in the future of food safety.

Key trends:

  • Focus in testing shifts from not just testing and recording data, but also analyzing and communicating results. Having data analysis and reporting skills will be a critical function for the next generation of food safety professionals.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. If you’re finding problems at the finished product level, it’s too late.
  • The need for stronger partnerships between industry and government, especially relating to providing industry with the tools to effectively gather and analyze data in a timely manner.

Food Safety Tech: What are the current industry challenges, especially related to advances in pathogen detection technology?

Tim Curran, CEO of Sample6, pathogen detection
Tim Curran, CEO of Sample6

Tim Curran: When I look at food companies and food safety managers, [their jobs] have become harder to do well, instead of easier. The environment in which they’re working is more challenging, and the pressures are increasing. There’s more regulatory scrutiny, whether we talk about FSMA or the regulatory environment [in general], and there are more testing and inspection [expectations].

Second, the nature of the foods that we need make for the U.S. population (and I think it is a trend around the world): Ready-to-eat products. We’re producing products that are more convenient for families where they won’t necessarily have a cook step down the road. The kinds of foods in demand have a higher risk profile.

Third is the globalization of food supplies. Raw materials are coming in from all different directions, and there is an increasing number of shipping points. That creates more pressure, and from a food safety perspective, that is a bad thing.

“It is okay to find positives for Listeria or Salmonella in the appropriate zones that are far away from food contact surfaces. It is inconceivable to have a plant that has no actual bacterial organisms living there.” -Michael KoerisFinally, there’s social media. There’s a lot of scrutiny from the public. Information around any kind of fear or recall is rapidly disseminated.

These factors add up to higher pressure, a higher bar, and a harder job to accomplish—and the tools and methods available to keep the plant safe and food safe are not keeping pace.

Although I think food plants want to test more at the point of contamination, it’s just not possible. Unless they have a sophisticated lab, most food companies ship out samples because enrichment is required. As a result, they’re getting feedback on the safety of their plant and food in two, three, or four days, depending on where they fall as a priority to that outside lab.

Jim Godsey: With FSMA, testing is decentralizing from the larger lab, which is typically staffed with experienced personnel, to the facility where those personnel don’t exist. Having a test with a workflow that can be easily accommodated by someone with a high school education is absolutely critical for the field.

Michael Koeris, Ph.D., founder and vice president of operations, Sample6, pathogen detection
Michael Koeris, Ph.D., founder and vice president of operations

Michael Koeris: Visibility of data is generally extremely poor, because many people touch individual data points or pockets of data. The hand-off between the different groups is usually shaky, and the timeliness of delivering data to the operators has been a huge issue. This has been an opportunity for us: Our control offering is an operating system for environmental control. It’s an open system, so it accepts both our data and other people’s data, enabling visibility across an entire corporate infrastructure. Plant managers and other [users] of these systems can generate timely reports so they can see what is happening on a daily basis.

FST: In considering professional development, what skills are necessary to ensure that employees will be well equipped to address the issues discussed here?

Godsey: The role of the food safety manager becomes a much more critical and challenging role. To support that, they need better tools; they need to know with a high degree of confidence that their facility has been tested, that the testing was done at the proper times and intervals, and that the data has been analyzed in a timely manner. It’s not just assay/analysis [or] reporting results anymore; it’s the holistic review of those results and translating that [information] into whether or not the plant is safe at that point in time.

Koeris: The persona of the food safety manager is changing. They need to see themselves as the brand protection manager. If you have food safety issues, your brand is at risk. We need to empower the food safety manager at the local level to act, remediate and change processes.

Jim Godsey, vice president of research & development, Sample6, pathogen detection
Jim Godsey, vice president of research & development

There also has to be fundamental change in the industry in how results are viewed. Not all tests are created equal. It is okay to find positives for Listeria or Salmonella in the appropriate zones that are far away from food contact surfaces. It is inconceivable to have a plant that has no actual bacterial organisms living there. This is not a pharmaceutical production facility. Setting the wrong goals at the corporate level of zero positives disincentivizes operators to not look hard enough. You have to actually understand the plant and then make sure that you’re safe with regards to your control plan.

FST: How do you expect the final FSMA rules and implementation process will impact industry?

Koeris: Most of the larger food players are already doing what FSMA mandates or will mandate. The medium and smaller processors will have to adapt and change. They have to implement better standards and more standards, more surveillance, and implement more rigorous processes. The [key] is to help them do this on a tight budget.

FSMA has increased awareness of food safety across the supply chain. It is still focused on the processors, but we know it doesn’t stop there; it doesn’t stop at the distributor or the retailer. Food safety has to be throughout that supply chain.

Having an understanding and awareness of all of the challenges that exist downstream—that will [lead to] the real innovation and increase in foods safety.

More Food Labs Using Certified Reference Materials

By Karin Pauly
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A notable section of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) calls for the development and implementation of model laboratory standards.  To ascertain the level of laboratory standards currently employed by food laboratories, a laboratory testing services company commissioned a survey of laboratory directors, quality assurance managers and technical supervisors.  One area of questioning focused on certified reference materials (CRM).

According to a recent survey, more than 50% of laboratory directors, quality assurance managers and technical supervisors report using certified reference materials.
According to a recent survey, more than 50% of laboratory directors, quality assurance managers and technical supervisors report using certified reference materials. (Click to enlarge)

In response to whether their laboratory uses CRM, 65% of respondents said yes. Most of the remaining survey respondents (31%), volunteered that they sometimes use these materials, if required. Only 4% replied “No” (see Figure 1).

The responses are significant in that they provide a glimpse into current food laboratory quality practices.  FSMA tasks the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with making certain that analytical procedures and quality systems are established and followed.  Yet, it is not clear what procedures and systems are currently employed.  This survey provides a baseline measure from a segment of the food laboratory community, indicating, that a majority of respondents use certified reference materials.

Quality Controls vs. CRM

A food laboratory aims to provide the correct result every time a test is performed. In order to achieve this consistency and reliability, laboratories should use standard measurements, known as quality controls. Quality controls are essentially the stable norm against which testing processes and instruments may be assessed. By using quality controls, it is possible to find areas in the testing process that may be weak or failing.

CRM, used as a form of quality control, are highly characterized, homogenous, authenticated control materials. Food laboratories often have options available for obtaining commercially sourced materials for quality controls, but not all of these options are well characterized or authenticated. CRM are used by laboratories to assess the quality of method validation as well as to trace to an established standard. In the food lab, CRM help provide a level of certainty in the results when instruments and processes are validated and verified. CRM may be obtained from accredited producers, as established under ISO Guide 34.

The survey also asked whether on-site and contract laboratories use quality controls. Interestingly, not all laboratories surveyed are using quality control materials as part of their testing processes and procedures.  For on-site laboratories, 81% of survey respondents acknowledged using quality control materials. For contract laboratories, the number slips to 67%.  For survey respondents not using quality control materials, it is unknown if or how their test results are validated and verified.

Quality control is a basic component of laboratory testing as well as a requirement for accreditation.  Whether CRM or non-certified reference materials are used, quality controls are important components needed to ensure test results are valid and reliable for food consumers and industry alike.  As future FSMA rules on model standards are likely to address this essential provision of laboratory testing, these survey results support the use of CRM.

The survey discussed in this article was commissioned by Microbiologics, Inc.

Why Should Food Manufacturers Consider Lab Automation?

By Dr. Christine Paszko
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Food manufacturers that think strategically understand that labor efficiency is a measure of how effectively a workforce completes a task in comparison to industry. Companies frequently access efficiency and other metrics to identify weak points in their operations, with the end goal of enhancing data quality and streamlining costs. This approach has led many food and beverage manufacturers to embrace lean manufacturing and six sigma programs in their organizations. These leaders have a clear understanding that labor is money (or money is stored labor), and money equals margins. Food and beverage manufacturers often acquire several raw materials and convert them into finished products for consumers to purchase. These manufacturers have found that robotics and automation have greatly increased productivity and enhanced product quality while maximizing resources and profitability.

LIMS offer a variety of benefits. Image courtesy of ATL
LIMS offer a variety of benefits. Image courtesy of ATL

Ease Operations with Automation

Analytical testing laboratories within food manufacturing firms leverage LIMS to realize automation savings. LIMS is an acronym for Laboratory Information Management System, which can also be a manual paper/Excel based solution, however, this article will focus on completely automated, computerized, enterprise, software solutions. Manual systems are cumbersome, costly, and lack efficiency.

Just as automation and robotics have transformed the food manufacturing process, intelligent laboratory operations leverage LIMS, because it enables increased quality and faster turnaround, while providing significant cost savings. LIMS are computerized systems that organize, manage and communicate all of the laboratory test data and related information such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Certificates of Analysis (COAs), final analysis reports, invoices, nutritional labels, formulations and information to support an organization’s operations and meet regulatory compliance goals.

Traditional LIMS facilitate overall laboratory organization, from sample management to test data to final reporting and disposal. LIMS begin with sample management and typically the generation of barcoded labels (of a unique identification number), testing is automatically assigned based on project or sample type (Note: Additional tests can be added or deleted, and ad hoc samples can also be logged). Some laboratories test all raw materials that arrive to confirm acceptance criteria against the COA, in addition to in-process, final product testing and environmental testing. Once samples are logged into the system, worklists are created in the LIMS of the samples to be run and the information is scanned via barcode and sent to the instrument controller. Tests that include associated quality control data are run by loading instruments. Results are electronically imported back into the LIMS from instrumentation (this is the most common and most efficient method). For manual, subjective tests that require interpretation, results must be entered into the LIMS by hand. Managers can also manage and track samples that have been subcontracted to other laboratories (i.e., for testing capabilities that do not exist internally). Once the subcontracted data is submitted back to the laboratory in an electronic format, it can be directly imported into the LIMS, and all data related to the sample is stored in a single, secure database.

Automation significantly reduces cost, enhances quality and provides a means to rapidly scale production. This image shows a cheese processing plant. Image courtesy of ATL
Automation significantly reduces cost, enhances quality and provides a means to rapidly scale production. This image shows a cheese processing plant. Image courtesy of ATL

This approach offers a major advantage, especially to global operations, due to the ability to deliver real-time data across an enterprise. End-users can leverage the technology to make intelligent buying decisions based on product specifications of incoming raw materials, customer demand, specification criteria and blending simulations.

Managers can view a variety of metrics, including the number of samples that have been run for a particular product, statistical process control charts, instruments in service for workload management, and supplier performance in any given period. Complete product traceability is possible.

LIMS has evolved to manage many additional functions, such as communications with ERP/SAP systems, shelf life studies, performing skip lot testing, formulations, and field and plant data collection by integration with tablets and smartphones for real-time updates, managing competitive analysis data as well as special projects. A few of the major areas in which LIMS are leveraged include:

  1. Sample management of all testing initiated
  2. Quality assurance (including in process quality checks)
  3. Workflow management (optimization of processes)
  4. Regulatory compliance (FSMA, GFSI, HACCP, FDA)
  5. Specification management, formulations and blending
  6. Dashboards for real-time updates (in a single site or across operations)
  7. Customer relationship management (organizing and responding to customer inquiries)
  8. Reporting (COA, final analysis and invoice reports)
  9. Inventory management and product release

Enabling Standardization

A LIMS not only enhances communication across a laboratory, but also across a global organization with multiple sites, ensuring effective cooperation and relationships between suppliers, production and customers. A LIMS promotes standardization in global firms and gives management teams real-time data access from site to site, so that data is readily available for better management and resource allocation decisions. Standardization makes business and financial sense, as organizations can realize cost savings in buying testing equipment and supplies in larger quantities, exchanging staff to different sites (potentially reducing training costs), and managing a user-friendly, single secure database that supports localization (each site can implement LIMS in its native language). Standardization does not mean that systems must be ridged; each facility can leverage its own unique workflows and terminology while saving data to a standard database format.

A LIMS can manage an entire organization’s laboratory SOPs or work instructions, and documents associated with the following:

  • Laboratory testing
  • Assets
  • Inventory
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Supplies
  • Formulations
  • Blending
  • Automated calculations
  • Customer interactions
  • Employee training records
  • Laboratory instrumentation
  • Purchase orders
  • Sample storage
  • Reporting
  • Invoicing
  • Facilitating governmental laboratory compliance requirements

Today, LIMS’ have expanded to manage all aspects of laboratory operations and have significant overlap with ERP, SAP systems and other enterprise solutions. The goal is to move away from multiple separate databases and distinct islands to one centralized data management solution. Amazingly, some laboratories do not make the investment in new LIMS technology and continue use in-house created database systems, manual paper systems and Excel spreadsheets (or a combination of these systems) to manage portions of the critical product testing data. These systems are often costly, labor intensive, subject to data loss, and difficult to manage and maintain.

A LIMS ensures that analytical resources have been best utilized to maximize productivity and efficiency to generate high-quality data to support operations, while facilitating regulatory compliance goals. Organizations that embrace quality often leverage technology such as LIMS, and typically hold ISO 17025 certification and embrace six sigma, lean manufacturing and other best practices.

Robotics has transformed food manufacturing to allow greater volumes of final product to be produced, with an emphasis on speed, standardization, consistent product quality and volume, with increased efficiency and cost savings. LIMS’ have transformed the manufacturing process and the laboratory analysis process from raw material testing to in-process /environmental testing and finished product testing. For example, on-line monitors can feed data into an LIMS (i.e. flow, temperature from freezers or incubators), and if there are any alarming data points, instant notification is provided to the team via email or a phone call. This rapid response saves time for a corrective action to be put into place. Within the laboratory, if a shelf life study is underway and the incubator fails, an alert can be sent after one out-of-range temperature measurement, allowing the problem to be corrected and the study saved, versus having to start over.

The analytical testing group in any food and beverage testing facility generates hundreds, thousands, even millions of data points a year. They gather data on raw materials (based on COAs), in-process manufacturing (quality checks, statistical process control and specification confirmation), environmental monitoring, and finished product testing as well as performing competitive analysis. These are some of the main areas that are impacted by sample collection and testing. LIMS and laboratory automation have transformed the way that data is collected, monitored and analyzed. Today’s LIMS’ are based on modern technology, providing a valuable tool to ensure that product is within specification, and collected and disseminated in real-time to improve efficiency, reduce costs, increase profitability.

Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

New Catfish Test Catches Mislabeling Faster

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

As Americans seek to make healthier choices, seafood is becoming more popular than ever before. In fact, U.S. consumers eat 50% more seafood now than they did 50 years ago and spend $80 billion annually on creatures from the sea, according to Oceana. Coupled with the increasing popularity is the growing problem of seafood fraud and mislabeled imports. Oceana’s study in 2013 performed DNA testing on seafood samples taken around the United States and found that nearly 33% of those samples were mislabeled.

FDA has made a significant investment in DNA sequencing to improve its ability to detect misrepresented seafood species in interstate commerce and from other countries. “The Agency has trained and equipped eight field laboratories across the country to perform DNA testing as a matter of course for suspected cases of misbranding and for illness outbreaks due to finfish seafood, where the product’s identity needs to be confirmed,” stated Steven M. Solomon, deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs at FDA, before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in May. “FDA also trained analysts from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the National Marine Fisheries Service in its new DNA-based species identification methodology.”

With some of the most common seafood choices including white fish varieties like tilapia and catfish, DNA-based testing plays a critical role in detecting mislabeling of species.  If you’re a knowledge seafood person and you get a whole fish, there’s a high likelihood you can identify it correctly,” says Steven Guterman, CEO of InstantLabs. “However, once that fish has been filleted—let’s call it a white fish—it’s almost impossible for anyone to visually correctly identify that fish. That’s where the DNA testing comes into play.”

Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.
Lab technicians use the Hunter device during a test process. InstantLabs manufactures the Hunter system as well as test kits for food pathogens and species identification such as the catfish testing commercialization agreement outlined with the FDA.

InstantLabs offers a series of DNA-based seafood tests for species identification. Last week the company announced a partnership with FDA to co-develop and commercialize a new Ictalurid catfish species identification test that enables much faster sequencing of samples and at a lower cost. “I think everyone is recognizing that the current method industry uses for validation, which is to take a sample and send it out to a lab for sequencing, just takes too long,” says Guterman. There is a typical time lag of about one to two weeks from taking a sample to getting a result.

The Hunter System is a real-time PCR instrument that delivers results in a much shorter period of time. “Switching from a sequencing test to a PCR test where you’re looking for a specific target DNA and getting results on site in two hours, or in a laboratory within a day, changes the way the industry operates,” says Guterman. “It enables better enforcement, and government regulators and suppliers can do validation in a way that’s not disruptive to their normal course of business.”

FDA and InstantLabs began talking about the technology about a year ago, as both have worked closely with the University of Guelph, according to Guterman. FDA was looking for a company that would be able to commercialize a test kit for U.S. catfish, and the new partnership is part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the agency. U.S. Farm Bill legislation states that only members of the Ictaluridae family can be legally marketed as catfish within the United States.

The FDA-InstantLabs CRADA collaboration will help ensure the integrity of labeling related to U.S. catfish. The Pangasiidae species, which hails from Southeast Asia, has been increasingly mislabeled as U.S. catfish. This is not only a concern from a cost standpoint but also a safety perspective, as FDA has detected toxins in catfish that come from Asia.

Environmental Monitoring Programs and The Cost of Failure

What happens when a food company does not have an effective environmental monitoring program in place? The cost of failure can be significant, warns Prof. Ann Draughon, ranging from placing contaminated food in the markets, to managing product recalls, and businesses getting shut down.

Effective Environmental Monitoring, Sampling and Testing (EMS) Programs are absolutely necessary to protect our consumers, and make safe food, and are also required from a regulatory and food safety point of view, and to verify that our food safety programs are working.

In a recent webinar, Prof. Ann Draughon offered some insights on what happens when such an EMS program is not set in place – the cost of failure is much greater, and the repercussions can be severe, she warns.

What is on the horizon with EMS given the new regulatory landscape under the Food Safety Modernization Act and the proposed rules? Prof. Draughon talked about the Mandatory Preventive Controls described in Section 103 of the Act that lists the following controls that FDA will require:

  • Environmental monitoring programs;
  • Sanitation and cleaning requirements;
  • Allergen control;
  • Mitigation of hazards; and
  • Supplier verification.

How will FSMA affect FDA’s regulatory sampling of food facilities and products? The volume of environmental samples will increase at a much higher rate than sampling for allergens or ingredients, she adds. And in order to meet such a high demand for environmental inspection and sampling, it will be important to have in place effective EMS programs. Prevention will be cost-effective and give companies the ability to detect and destroy the microorganism before they cause any issues. Prof. Draughon provided the following numbers as cost of reinspection: $224 per hour for domestic inspections, $325 per hour for foreign inspections, and cost of FDA reinspection in FY 2012 estimated to be around $21,000.

She described two case studies of companies that suffered bankruptcy, and business losses due to massive food safety related recalls, caused by inadequate or lack of environmental monitoring programs.

3M-Envi-Monitoring_March2015-1

“This company is currently bankrupt due to a massive recall. While they had a great food safety plan, they did not back it up with a strong EMS program,” Prof. Draughon explained.

Speaking about the second company, she explained that the strong and capable leadership had done everything right for the company, but what went wrong? “There was a:

  • 3M-Envi-Monitoring_March2015-2Lack of trend analysis of environmental data;
  • Lack of communication within company about any positives Listeria results;
  • Sporadic Listeria positives occurred – while the problem was fixed, they continue to reoccur and the source was never detected or fixed;
  • The company had a reactive EMS, but not proactive,” she explained.

What are some of the recurring problems due to ineffective EMS programs? Prof. Draughon listed these as:

  • Increased risk of recall;
  • Increase loss of product;
  • Increased liability exposure;
  • Build-up of pathogens and spoilage agents or chemicals in environment;
  • Lack of regulatory compliance; and
  • Reaction to problems, not prevention.

Based on this high cost of compliance, Prof. Draughon strongly recommended establishing an effective EMS program, which has the following attributes:

  • Focus on having the appropriate indicators and hazards;
  • Ensure the best procedures selected and validated;
  • Strong sampling plan, which is well-designed and dynamic;
  • Data analysis and data management; and
  • Education and training.

Learn more by listening to the series of webinars on Environmental Monitoring, presented by 3M Food Safety. Click here for more details.

Four Large Retailers Asked to Stop Selling ‘Mislabeled’ Herbal Supplements

The New York Attorney General’s office has ordered Walmart, Target, Walgreens and GNC to stop selling “mislabeled” herbal supplements, after independent lab tests of these supplements have revealed that they do not contain ingredients as stated on the labels.

NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sent cease-and-desist letters to all four companies demanding that they stop selling their store-brand herbal supplements because DNA barcoding showed that 79 percent of them either didn’t contain the stated ingredient(s), or were contaminated by other filler materials such as rice and wheat to which some people might be allergic. The companies have been asked to respond by February 9, with information about how their store-brand supplements are processed, according to a NY Times report.

“The topic of purity (or lack thereof) in popular herbal dietary supplements has raised serious public health and safety concerns, and also caused this office to take steps to independently assess the validity of industry and advertising,” the letters stated, adding that “Contamination, substitution and falsely labeling herbal products constitute deceptive business practices and, more importantly, present considerable health risks for consumers.”

Tests were done at the request of the New York AG’s office on the following store-brand supplements: Ginkgo Biloba, St. John’s Wort, Ginseng, Echinacea, Valerian Root, Garlic and Saw Palmetto. Three to four samples of each supplement purchased in different parts of the state were tested. Each sample was tested five times, for a total of 390 tests on 78 samples.

Only 4 percent of Walmart’s supplements (“Spring Valley” brand) actually contained the ingredients listed on the label, while 18 percent did at Walgreens (“Finest Nutrition” brand), 22 percent at GNC (“Herbal Plus” brand), and 41 percent at Target stores (“Up & Up” brand). Only the GNC garlic consistently tested as advertised, according to the AG’s office.

A Walmart spokesperson has said that the retailer is immediately reaching out to the suppliers of these products to learn more information and will take appropriate action. Walgreens agreed to remove the products from its stores across the country, even though only New York was requiring it to do so. GNC confirmed that the products in question had been removed from its store shelves.

Creighton R. Magid is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney and head of its Washington DC office, supported Attorney General Schneiderman’s actions and described that “he is taking aim at these herbal supplements not by attacking their efficacy or health risk, which would be more difficult to prove, but by alleging false labeling – something that can presumably be proved with a lab test to establish the actual ingredients.”

“Unless the manufacturers or retailers can show that the ingredients of these products are as shown on the labels – and not merely powdered versions of a junior high lunch – these products will probably start disappearing from store shelves rather quickly,” Magid added.

Mitigate Food Contamination Risk

Whether mycotoxins or microbiological values, heavy metals or pesticides – independent sampling and testing provide an objective and comprehensive overview of what food products contain and help comply with food safety regulations.

Nuts containing mould, frozen strawberries contaminated with hepatitis pathogens, and pesticide-laden vegetables – more than 3,000 products were objected by EU authorities in 2013. With increasing government, industry and consumer concerns about the hazards of food contaminants, and the risks they pose, food manufacturers, governments and non-governmental agencies, are implementing policies and processes to monitor and reduce contaminants.

Key food contaminants

Food contaminants cover a wide range of potential substances including:

  • Dioxins: Produced as unintentional by-products of industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical manufacturing and paper bleaching, dioxins can be found in the air, in water and contaminated soil.
  • Allergens: Virtually all of the known food allergens are proteins that can subsist in large quantities and often survive food processing.
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Banned in a number of countries, controversy still exists with regard to the use of GMOs. Selling food and/or feed that is non-GMO in restricted markets places the burden of proof on the supply chain.
  • Heavy metals: Whilst heavy metals, such as lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and arsenic (As), can be found in nature, industrial and environmental pollutants have resulted in their increased presence in food and feed.
  • Hormones: Commonly used in animal husbandry to promote growth, hormone residues can be found in the food supply.
  • Melamine: Harmful to animal and human health, melamine is not a permitted food additive.
  • Mycotoxins: Produced by several strains of fungi found on food and feed products, mycotoxins are often invisible, tasteless, and chemically stable both at high temperatures and during long periods of storage.
  • Pesticide residues: Over-use of pesticides can lead to dangerous levels of hazardous chemicals entering the food chain with fresh fruit and vegetables being most susceptible to pesticide residues.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Used in many products, some PCBs are toxic and stable enough to resist breaking down even when released into the environment.
  • Radiation contamination: There are three ways that foodstuffs can become contaminated by radiation: surface, ground and water contamination.
  • Veterinary drug residues: Used in the treatment of animals, veterinary drugs can leave residues in animals subsequently sent into the food chain. The impact of contaminants varies. Depending on their toxicity and the level of contamination their effects can range from causing skin allergies, to more serious illnesses (including cancers and neurological impairments) and, in the most extreme cases, death.

To ensure that your food and feed products are fit for consumption, you need to test for specific contaminants throughout the value chain. For example, in concentrated levels, melamine, antibiotics and hormones can be harmful to animals and humans. Only thorough contaminant testing will determine if the above-mentioned impurities, among others, are present. After identification the relevant goods can be eliminated from the production and distribution chain.

Maximum levels and regulations

In order to protect consumers, maximum levels permitted in food products have been set by food safety legislation in many countries. Disappointingly, and despite efforts in some product areas, maximum levels are rarely harmonized across national borders. This inconsistency places responsibility for compliance firmly with the food supply chain. A comprehensive testing program can verify that your products meet maximum levels and the safety standards they represent.

In the European Union (EU), it is the food business operator who carries primary responsibility for food safety and the General Food Law Regulation (EC) 178/20022 is the primary EC legislation on general food safety. More specific directives and regulations compliment this, for example, EU regulations concerning non-GMO/GMO products, include Directive 2001/18/EC and regulations 1829/2003 and 1830/2003.

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration has overseen the development and signing into law of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Within the U.S., state regulators retain the right to apply additional regulations and laws. As result, rules regarding maximum levels, for example, vary from state to state.

In China, the Food Safety Law (FSL) was passed into law by the Chinese government in 2009. It introduced enhanced provision for monitoring and supervision, improved safety standards, recalls for substandard products and dealing with compliance failures.

Brazil’s food safety agency, Anvisa, coordinates, supervises and controls activities to assure health surveillance over food, beverages, water, ingredients, packages, contamination limits, and veterinary residues for import. No specific restrictions have been established yet for export.

Monitoring

Monitoring programs are frequently used to identify any contamination issues. From seeds, through the growing process and harvest, transportation, collection, storing and processing to the market channel, independent monitoring delivers credible and independently collected data on both quality and contaminants.

With so many policies and standards, both nationally and internationally, anyone involved in the food industry needs to be sure of accurate and up-to date information on food contaminant regulations. Whether mycotoxins or microbiological values, heavy metals or pesticides – independent sampling and testing provide an objective and comprehensive overview of what grain and food products contain.

For more information, please visit: www.SGS.com/foodsafety.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

Using Microbiology Studies to Support your Product

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

What is a Special Project? These are special testing projects that are not typically covered by laboratory testing when you run into a question that you really can’t answer, says Centrella. Special projects can be used for:

  • Development, validation or implementation of a new testing method;
  • Comparing performance of a new testing platform against a standard;
  • Validation of pathogen control, for instance, to check effectiveness of CCPs;
  • Shelf-life investigation;
  • Verification of effectiveness of antimicrobials; and
  • Determination of whether a product requires refrigeration.

With method validation, the situation can be that you work with PCR for Salmonella, and there are certain number of matrices approved, but you want to take advantage of that method and extend the matrix. So special projects can help you answer if that method would be suitable for your product.

Another category of special projects is pathogen control. In this situation, you can see if you have a process or an ingredient that’s in your product, or simulate that intervention in a lab setting (either heat or cool step or a treatment like a wash) to check for pathogen growth. In this case, the target matrix is inoculated with high level of analyte, and the aim is to show large log reduction, or even complete elimination, once the matrix is treated with the intervention.

Shelf-life studies is another example of special projects. In this case, we simulate retail storage of the product to determine expected shelf life or determine typical storage conditions. Here, assay are prepared to assess threats to product shelf-life, microbial, chemical or nutritional in nature. Such threats could be build-up of lactic acid due to bacterial activity, or might be gas-producing microorganisms, or chemical targets that cause rancidity in oils. Often these include an organoleptic compound which could change how a product looks, or if it has an odor. It’s important to remember that often the souring of the product due to lactic acid, gas bubbles or off odors will present themselves before microbial counts become obvious.

Shelf life testing is conducted at predetermined intervals, and depending on need, we can stagger these intervals, for instance, we can do more frequent testing during the anticipated end of shelf life. The final shelf life is defined by the last acceptable result.

Antimicrobial effectiveness is another example of special projects, and these involve products that already have an antimicrobial ingredient. In these situations, we inoculate target microorganism into the product and use assay to determine log reduction, or prevention of outgrowth. Antimicrobial effectiveness studies often include aspects of shelf life studies, where product is typically held at a given time-temp combination. These studies may use specific references such as using USP <51>, or reference could include specific microorganisms, and criteria to determine effectiveness (such as log reduction).

Another example is determination of if a product requires refrigeration. For this, we first start with the food product itself, which has a specific combination of pH and water activity to prevent growth of groups of pathogens. Once we have this information, we don’t have to look at broad range of organisms, but can look at specific organisms. The remaining potential threats become challenge organisms for the study. We store the product at room temperature and test for these challenge organisms.

For more information on Special Projects, contact Eurofins US or email Bill Centrella at WilliamCentrella@EurofinsUS.com