Tag Archives: Testing

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 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

Ask the Experts – Automation Pathogen Detection

An ideal pathogen detection solution should provide increased confidence in results, high reproducibility and robustness to routine testing labs, fit seamlessly in laboratory workflow without disrupting it, and work well for medium-to high-throughput testing laboratories. This Q&A provides some insights.

Q: How can an automation system help safeguard against false negative pathogen results?

Pathogen testing can typically be broken up into three categories:

  1. Raw material testing;
  2. Finished product testing; and
  3. Environmental monitoring.

Regardless of the type of testing that is done, it is clear that pathogen detection is an important component of any hazard analysis and risk-based preventative control program. Verification of results is crucial, particularly negative results. When performing pathogen testing with a real-time PCR based assay, the presence of an internal amplification control is critical. When present for each individual sample, the internal control monitors for inhibition, which can be common with matrices such as spices and chocolate. When a negative result is obtained, it is important to know if that sample is truly negative because the pathogen of interest is not present or if the reaction was inhibited.

Another potential for false negative results can come from technician error. If a sample is not actually added to the reaction block, tube or strip for testing, the result will be negative. Therein lies the power of an automation system. The iQ-Check Prep automation system employs a liquid level sensing volume verification step at the beginning of the run. Utilizing monitored air displacement technology and conductive pipette tips, users are alerted if a sample was missed in the setup. The user then has the option to add the sample or skip it and continue the run. If the sample is not added, the result is flagged as invalid. Combining the internal control of iQ-Check real-time PCR detection kits with the verification of the iQ-Check Prep automation system, users can be confident in their results and safeguard against false negatives.

Q: How can an automation system be incorporated into a laboratory without disrupting existing workflow?

Incorporating an automation system into a laboratory can greatly increase efficiency, traceability and throughput…if it is the right solution for the lab. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, for example batch processing. Examining time intervals at which samples finish incubation can determine how batch processing fits into the lab workflow. Technician responsibilities also play a part. Does the system require monitoring and continuous feeding of samples or is it a walk away system that frees technicians up to perform other lab duties? Another important consideration is maintenance. The scheduled upkeep of the system needs to be evaluated not only for the amount of time required but for the cost associated with the maintenance.

The iQ-Check Prep system was designed with efficiency in mind. Samples are processed in batches (plates of 94 samples at a time) for a throughout of >500 samples per instrument per eight hour shift. The system is a true walk away system that does not require constant monitoring or continuous feeding. The maintenance is self-contained and completed by the instrument in 5 minutes. These are just a few questions to ask when considering an automation system for the laboratory. The chosen system should fit effortlessly into the laboratory workflow and increase throughput and efficiency without causing major disruptions.

For more information, visit Bio-rad.com

John A. Wadie, U.S. Marketing Development Manager, 3M

Interview: 30 Years of Petrifilm Technology

By Sangita Viswanathan
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John A. Wadie, U.S. Marketing Development Manager, 3M

3M Food Safety celebrated a milestone this past summer – the 30th anniversary of its PetrifilmTM Plates – currently the worldwide standard for fast, simple, easy-to-interpret indicator testing.

First introduced in 1984, the 3M Petrifilm Plate technology has long been the industry standard for efficient and reliable colony interpretation and enumeration for the F&B industry. In a chat with Food Safety Tech, John A. Wadie, U.S. Marketing Development Manager for 3M Food Safety Department, talked about the adoption of Petrifilm continuing to grow worldwide, which spoke to the product’s value and utility to the industry. We present below excerpts from a Q&A.

FST: How has the food safety environment changed in the last 30 years?

Wadie: The food industry has become increasingly global, with great awareness among consumers about food safety issues. The combination of these trends, combined with constant information dissemination on a variety of food safety issues, has placed enormous pressure on food companies to test more, do it faster and do it more efficiently. From a regulatory stand point also, there is much more pressure on food companies to proactively maintain and manage stringent food safety procedures, and testing plays a big role in managing this. The biggest change has occurred with the speed of testing. Alongside even faster testing, is the demand for accurate and consistent testing and results.  

FST: What attributes of Petrifilm Plates have made it so popular over the last 30 years?

Wadie: With more than 2 billion units sold and counting, 3M Petrifilm Plates are the world’s leading food indicator testing technology. They are currently in used by all kinds of food processors, universities, governments and third-party contract labs in no fewer than 65 countries.

3M-Petrifilm-July-2014The standout feature of the product, and probably the primary reason for its longevity, is its simplicity, due to the fact there is no need for customers to prepare, purchase or store agar dishes. The technology has also received numerous country-specific, as well as global, validations from multiple, rigorous sources. With Petrifilm Plates, you also ensure the consistency and accuracy of test results from technician to technician, and between plant locations, and these are very important attributes in the current multi-location setting of food companies.

FST: Against the backdrop of FSMA, how is food safety testing set to change in the near future?

Wadie: With new regulations, there’s even greater focus on food safety testing, and getting fast, consistent and accurate results. The regulations, and the standards benchmarked under GFSI, are also laying emphasis on how the testing is done, where it’s done, and who is doing it.

The next 30 years will continue to bring faster and more accurate methods of testing as well as improvements to the preparation process. With greater innovation and rapid detection technologies, it may soon be possible to do inline testing – to identify pathogens and bacteria within production lines as opposed to testing being a separate step.

Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin

What Should You Know About Food Safety Testing?

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin

Food safety is in the news. Recent food industry, regulatory and consumer trends stress proactive, systematic and preventive approach to food safety by managing food hazards and risks. Testing for food safety hazards, particularly microbial hazards and allergens throughout the food production and processing chain is becoming increasingly important in assuring food safety. Food testing is also becoming important for detection of adulteration.

In next week’s Food Safety Consortium to be held in Schaumburg, IL, Purnendu C. Vasavada, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Wisconsin, River Falls, and President of PCV & Associates, LLC, will discuss trends in the food safety testing market and approaches for testing of food and food plant environment, emphasizing microbial and other significant food hazards. In this article, PC, as he is popularly referred to, gives a sneak-peek into his presentation.

Food Safety Tech (FST): You will be speaking about the Food Testing Market – what are some broad trends that you are seeing?

PC: Food Microbiology testing is increasing worldwide but majority of testing is still dealing with food quality assurance and ingredient and product testing. Testing for pathogens seem to be driven by regulatory requirement. According to recent market reports, 76 percent of test volume in North America is for routine microbiology. In the EU and Asia, routine microbiology accounts for 81 percent and 72 percent of test volume, respectively.

Most pathogen testing is for Salmonella, E. Coli 057:H7 and Stex, Listeria and as L. monocytogenes. There is an increasing interest in testing for Campylobacter.

Testing of in-process and environmental samples is more common in NA and Europe. In Asia in-process/environmental testing only accounts for 9 percent of total test volume.

FST: In your presentation at the Consortium, what will you talk about FSMA and its impact on food safety testing?

PC: I plan to include a brief discussion on testing as related to monitoring and verification of Preventive Controls.

FST: Where is food safety testing headed, and what should food safety managers keep in mind?

PC: Given the emphasis on supply chain management and process control to manage identified hazards in preventive mode, food safety managers should understand testing internal and external testing requirements and complexity of sampling, testing tools and approaches not simply focus on cost aspects. Even if testing is outsourced, becoming familiar with various methods and testing tools will be necessary.

FST: Who should attend your presentation and why?

PC: Plant managers, quality assurance supervisors, marketing managers, food safety testing methods, equipment and service providers as well as anyone interested in food safety testing would find this presentation very useful and relevant to their day-to-day activities.

Are you registered for the Food Safety Consortium yet? Sign up now, and hear from over 70 experts in this area.

Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

Interview: “Look at your Food Safety Testing Needs, and Carefully Assess your Lab”

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

Food Safety Tech (FST): What’s so important about IS0 17025 accreditation?

Shaw: The ISO 17025 standard is a gold standard for lab quality. The standard is system based, and not prescriptive, so there can be a lot of differences in how it’s implemented. ISO requires you to have a procedure to do something, it doesn’t tell you what that procedure is. For instance, the standard requires you to have a procedure for customer complaints, however the lab can either have a very basic system of recording and investigating these complaints, or it could process that complaint and get to the root cause, and correct the nonconformance, so that the problem wouldn’t be repeated. Similarly when it comes to personnel requirements, the standard can be interpreted as having competent people on staff, or having elaborate six-week long training programs and documenting this.

FST: How does laboratory design impact microbiology operations?

Shaw: Lab design is very important from both an operation and quality point of view. It’s important to keep in mind that you are dealing with potentially dangerous pathogens and contaminants, and after you have prepped and enriched the sample, and it’s positive for a pathogen, you have a huge number of microorganisms in that sample. You have to make sure that this is not moved back into the lab. Thus lab design has to ensure single directional flow of sample from one side of the lab to the other side, with both sample and personnel moving along the clean to dirty direction. Once samples come in, are prepped, enriched, incubated, and then tested, positive samples then are a threat to the lab, and the environment, in case there’s a spill or a bad technique in place.

From an efficiency point of view, LEAN is a big concept now. So lab design, if done well, can help realize efficiencies in consumables, personnel, minimizing foot traffic etc. If everything is set up correctly – in terms of reagents, equipment, testing kits etc – then you can reduce time and effort spent in gathering samples, and moving around the lab. At Eurofins, we take this very seriously. We have a team that’s dedicated to lab design process and engineering around our workflow, and believe investing resources in the necessary software system LIMS to drive up efficiencies.

FST: How should high risk samples be treated? Should customers notify the lab of hot samples?

Shaw: There are two schools of thought about this. The first one is we want to treat all samples the same, so that we don’t bias the technician. We barcode all samples in the same way, test them in the same way.

On the other hand, we don’t want to open the lab to unnecessary risk, and contaminate the lab. So we handle high-risk samples differently, by taking extra precautions. Sometimes, a customer can bring in a sample and say it has Salmonella, and needs to be tested. We will still run the sample through the same procedure, but will separate it from the other batches. We also have to take care to schedule testing of these positive samples carefully such as moving it towards the end of a shift or break.

FST: With changing rules for food safety testing, what’s changing with regards to documentation?

Shaw: It’s important, as always, to record anything that can affect the result of a test. Also clear time stamps must be documentation. When things happened, who did the preparation of the sample, who analyzed the sample? Consumption of media, test kits, chemicals and agents, or anything that was used in the analys, all must be clearly recorded. In some labs, all of the documentation is still in paper, and hence is a very manual process, while other labs are highly digitized and have the ability to track a lot of this information electronically.

FST: What are some practical challenges that food safety testing lab typically encounter?

Shaw: Labs typically face challenges with result validation, typos in documenting test results, and customer requests around retest situations. When it comes to reporting, it’s important to have a number of eyes looking at your data, to make sure that it makes complete sense. For instance, if you are testing a product for coliform bacteria, and specifically for E.coli, then the latter number cannot be higher than the total coliform number. If there is, it means there’s an issue with the analysis.

Typos with lab results, sample number etc. are other issues that every lab suffers on a day to day basis. Fundamentally, humans make errors, but as technology evolves, and systems learn to interface better with each other, such errors can be minimized.

Another challenge relates to situations when we have released the CoA and then the customer calls us to modify the lot numbers. This is a gray area, and potentially could become problematic. In such situations, when the customer requires something to changed, it’s prudent to have some kind of documentation about this, clearly specifying that it was a customer-initiated request. Of course, such situations also have an ethical component to it, so they need to be handled carefully.

Accommodating requests for retesting samples can also be a challenge. For instance, you test a sample on Day 1, and are also to test again on Day 3, you could get different results. Getting similar results with microorganisms, even when the samples are homogenized etc., is challenging and not realistic if you consider that the microorganism could increase or decrease in those few days.

Overall, Shaw encourages food companies to take a careful look at their food safety testing needs and the lab’s abilities. “Don’t just accept an ISO certificate. Ask to look at the labs, their processes etc. Good labs will encourage that, while the not so robust ones, may not accept that request, even though they have an ISO certificate, and that, in my mind, should raise a red flag,” explains Shaw.

Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

Molecular Diagnostics – Generation 3: 2005 to Present

By Ravi Ramadhar
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Ravi Ramadhar, Food Safety Business Director for Life Sciences Solutions, Thermo Fisher Scientific

In my previous blog, I covered the first two generations of Molecular Diagnostics: Generation one, was the advent of these tests prior to 1995, while the second generation saw the evolution of molecular diagnostics with the emergence of standardized food molecular and method workflow.

The advent of automated DNA sequencing and use of multiple fluorescent dyes by companies like Applied Biosystems and Roche led to the development of multiple fluorescent dyes and real- time quantitative PCR systems (qPCR). At first these qPCR systems were only used in the research environment, but quickly found their way to the food industry.

Applications such as quantitation of GMOs and multiple pathogen targets became common. Real-time PCR systems permitted users to visualize amplification as it happened and enabled simultaneous detection of multiple targets. With the use of newer chemistries and improved enzymes, shorter amplification cycles – sometimes as low as 40 minutes – could be achieved. The real-time systems offered faster time-to-result with additional target probes and thus higher target specificity. As with most molecular methods, the workflow was sensitive to food matrix inhibition and required alternative sample preparation methods to meet the wide variety of food matrixes.

Within this generation of solutions, alternatives were introduced, that promised faster, easier or more sensitive results. These included alternative to either the detection method or enzymes utilized Iisothermal amplification, for example without need for multiplexing capability of qPCR or internal controls, as well as targeting alternative nucleic acid such as RNA were introduced to the food market. These incremental improvements did not lead to any significant new paradigms or improvements to the food testing workflow. Their emergence instead led to an explosion of additional and alternative molecular platforms for food, without any real innovation. Within this, solutions introduced to the food industry eventually brought us to where we are today.

Directly taking systems from the clinical diagnostics workflow and introducing these platforms and systems as food solutions. While these systems automate the entire workflow or automate the PCR setup it remains to be seen if with their higher complexity and high maintenance these systems can survive the food industry. The basic molecular workflow for food has remained intact since its introduction in the late 1990s with innovation more or less stagnant. What’s needed is for someone to truly develop a platform from the ground up with the food laboratory in mind.

Today’s landscape and what’s next

Today, there are some early signals of where innovations and changes for food labs will emerge. A recent poster by Nestle, for example, highlighted the uses of next-generation sequencing (NGS) and DNA sequencing to develop a DNA method to allow the identification of coffee varieties through the value chain, from the field to the finished product. The method is applied on routine basis to guarantee the purity and authenticity of raw material used by Nespresso.

Applications of NGS in outbreak response and trace back investigations are being used in parallel with existing technologies. Finally, availability of new sequencing data enables better assay design and development of adjacent technologies.

NGS was preceded by emulsion amplification and sequencing by synthesis. These developments led to the development and introduction of digital PCR. Within a digital PCR reaction, millions of simultaneous reactions from one sample occur. The advantages of dPCR include lower and absolute, not relative gene copy number. The data has high precision and has better tolerance to inhibitors. These characteristics can lead to better and more precise molecular tests in food. , Before dPCR wide spread adoption is seen, however, the limitations of high cost and limited dynamic range must be addressed.

It’s not only in the testing labs and adjacent technologies that NGS is having an impact. In the labs driving innovation in food and food ingredient development, applications of NGS are being used to develop targeted food ingredients.

Nestle is the leader in this convergence of food, health and nutrition and over the last three years, the company has acquired and formed partnerships targeting the space. In its formation of the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences, Emmanuel Baetge, head of NHIS, emphasized NHIS expertise and research capabilities using systems biology, next generation sequencing, and human genetics.

The world of food safety is as dynamic as the natural flora of food itself. Changing regulations, evolving organisms, technological change and consumers’ changing tastes require new solutions. The requirements of the food laboratory have not changed. They are the protectors of brands and the teams we trust to deliver safe and quality foods. However, how they do that has and will continue to change.

Next time… molecular serotyping.


  1. Wetterstrand KA. DNA Sequencing Costs: Data from the NHGRI Genome Sequencing Program (GSP) Available at: www.genome.gov/sequencingcosts. Accessed 1/13/2014 [DOA 1/13/12014].
  2. Beilei Ge and Jianghong Meng , 2009 14: 235 Advanced Technologies for Pathogen and Toxin Detection in Foods: Current Applications and Future Journal of Laboratory Automation DOI: 10.1016/j.jala.2008.12.012.
  3. Morisset D, Sˇ tebih D, Milavec M, Gruden K, Zˇ el J (2013) Quantitative Analysis of Food and Feed Samples with Droplet Digital PCR. PLoS ONE 8(5):e62583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062583.
  4. http://www.nestle-nespresso.com/asset-libraries/Related%20documents%20not%20indexed/Nespresso%20poster%20ASIC2012%20DNA%20traceability.pdf
Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B
Retail Food Safety Forum

Testing and Evaluation of Food Safety Tools Simplified

By Dan Okenu, Ph.D.
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Dan Okenu, Ph.D., Food Safety Manager, H-E-B

The management of Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) system is a key business function that plays a very important role in the sustenance of the food industry. Its primary objective is to produce and serve safe quality food to consumers, through compliance with all relevant Federal, State and Local regulatory laws. It assists in the reduction of food wastage or food spoilage, and thus has a strong impact on the bottom line. Proper management of the FSQA system protects business brands, ensuring that they don’t become part of the gloomy statistics on foodborne disease outbreaks and damaging recalls. In all cases, the protection of the entire public health remains sacrosanct, and in fact, closely aligns with the primary business objective of getting a reasonable return-on-investment. Inevitably, businesses rely on a timely and cost-effective project management to ensure that their FSQA system remains relevant and sustainable for a continuous business growth.

Potential sources of new FSQA projects

Projects intended for the improvement of an FSQA system may be identified and initiated based on input from the following sources:

  • Regulatory compliance with applicable Federal, State and Local laws;
  • Voice of customers through complaints obtained by customer calls;
  • Technology-driven continuous improvement to upgrade to a smarter method, process, equipment or service;
  • Voice of business franchise operators, owners, managers and team members aimed at improving operational efficiency; and
  • Operational challenges observed by corporate staff during field visits.

Examples of FSQA projects that require testing and evaluation

At every stage, there will be tons of very important projects requiring urgent attention and competing for limited resources with corporate advertising and brand campaigns which have fixed budgets. Some of these projects may be as simple as putting a new dish-washing scrub pad in the system. This project may have been initiated following several reports by team members that current green scrub pad is not effective and also releases greenish color with scrub pad debris reported in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. The associated risk is that foreign material in food constitutes a health hazard while improper washing of dish wares may lead to cross-contamination and outbreak of foodborne illness. This is easy but still requires testing to confirm that the new scrub pad is the best cost-effective option. Other projects however may be as complex as introducing a new produce (fruits & vegetables) safety system that includes a pathogen kill-step, instead of the regular cold water rinse. This will provide an extra layer of produce safety at the retail level, in case the system fails at the processing plant facility level, for instance, in the case ofthe multistate Listeria outbreak involving Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado in 2011.

Another new initiative could be working with suppliers to validate a new method for detecting bone fragments and physical contamination of boneless poultry meat. Revamping the automated dish-washing room to improve food code compliance is a multifaceted project that requires a lot of resources and planning for a successful testing and evaluation.

Testing and evaluation milestones

A systematic approach is required to properly test and evaluate new FSQA products or services before a chain-wide roll-out is authorized by management. Depending on whether we are looking to introduce a new product or service into the system, some of the testing and evaluation milestones may include a combination of:

  • R&D to determine and evaluate options to resolve issue;
  • Review of options for industry best practices by FSQA team;
  • Cross-functional team evaluation by stakeholders to determine impact on key business functions, including a robust business analysis to determine cost implications;
  • Vendor verification to certify compliant business status;
  • Execution of a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or Master Vendor Agreement (MVA) between corporate and vendor partner, to legally protect all parties;
  • Preliminary testing at the corporate Technical Center for proof of principle and to evaluate product safety and potential OSHA requirements at a controlled environment;
  • One store test to determine operational feasibility in an actual business environment;
  • Three to 10-store testing to evaluate operational dynamics in a larger number of stores;
  • Thirty to 60 store-market testing in different markets to carefully monitor usage and operational outcome and ensure compliance and expectations, and extrapolate results to mimic a national chain wide roll-out;
  • Performance survey of test stores, data collation, analysis and review of results, followed by management approval;
  • Chain-wide roll-out by a cross functional team representing all impacted areas of the business; and
  • Post-chain-wide roll-out follow-up to monitor usage and resolve any lingering issue, namely:
  • Adequate SOP training to reinforce proper use;
  • Vigorous marketing campaign to increase chain-wide usage and compliance;
  • Effective ordering and delivery logistics; and
  • Potential short term and long term quality issues.

Developing an FSQA project matrix template

Certainly, the need to initiate new FSQA projects will increase as the various parts of the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) come into full force. Since FSMA brings a new regulatory burden on the food industry, its full implementation will require new ways of doing business, and most likely will affect the overall cost. This calls for a smarter management strategy to keep costs down and customers happy. The massive number of legitimate but competing food safety projects literally begging for attention can be overwhelming for Managers, especially with resources always in short supply. With this scenario, it is critical for the Manager to develop an FSQA project matrix template that delineates the level of importance of each project based on overall risk assessment, cost-benefit ratio, regulatory food code requirements, and buy-in by stakeholders, including management and final end-users.

FSQA project implementation and recipe for success

Testing and evaluation can be an expensive venture considering the test duration, number of test stores involved and capacity utilization for test products. The good news however is that most vendors are willing to fund substantial portion or even the entire test. This is essentially because vendors want to demonstrate that their product works, are in compliance, certified and approved by relevant federal, state and local agencies, and fulfills all obligations as outlined in the statement of work. It is a win-win situation for both vendor and corporate because once a product is approved for chain wide roll-out, it can stay in use for several years until an upgraded becomes available. Thus, corporate funding commitment may be minimal and restricted only to staff time for overseeing the testing process. It is important to mention that training is a critical component at every stage of the testing process. Standard operating procedures, training video clips and on-site training are required to ensure that test product is used according to manufacturer’s instruction and in compliance with all relevant regulations. Due diligence and proper training of end-users including store managers, team members and associates will ensure that the roll-out of a food safety tool to mitigate an existing risk does not introduce a new risk in food service operations. An example is the introduction of a new disinfectant to comply with a new regulation that requires a Norovirus approved disinfectant grade chemical for cleaning playgrounds. The disinfectant however is not approved for food contact surfaces since it’s not a regular strength sanitizer.

Consequently, any inadvertent cross-usage on food contact surfaces may constitute a serious food safety risk. Similarly, an SOP training gap may result in higher risk if associates using yellow color-coded aprons for raw food processing cross-contaminates the RTE food board areas with raw chicken/beef contaminated aprons. For instance, the Costco Rotisserie Chicken recall of late 2013 appears to have been linked with Salmonella cross-contamination after the cooking process in the food preparation area. Thus, proper training on the useof food safety tools and processes is critical both during product testing and post-chain-wide roll-out, to accurately evaluate and monitor risk mitigation practices.

To enable success, food retail chains employ the services of third party consultants to assist in-house staff and bring project-specific subject matter expertise to the table for rigorous risk assessment and risk mitigation. This strategy will also assist in timely communication that support buy-in by senior management and other relevant stakeholders. In addition, the implementation of such projects will remain effective and efficient, freeing up valuable time for corporate staff to continue supporting the business in the most critical areas of providing seamless customer services. Most importantly, a third party working in concert with vendors and corporate staff will bring an unbiased product testing and evaluation standard that cannot be left entirely at the discretion of vendor partners.

Proper documentation is required at every stage to ensure that all potential confounding factors are considered and evaluated at every level. Surveys, feedback compilation and analysis by a third party will assist in building credibility for test data, and enable management have the right set of data to make an informed business decision. Some level of customization may be involved as issues raised by stakeholders are addressed during the testing process. Open communication is important to keep all parties in the loop and encourage honest discussion of issues and how best to resolve them in a cost-effective manner.


Testing of new FSQA tools and services is a cost saving process that helps Managers to completely resolve potential issues upfront before introducing products into the system. Improperly tested food safety products may lead to a breach in the system down the road. Ordinarily, the use of transparent plastic wrap to cover raw chicken pans during the thawing process is an excellent barrier against cross-contamination of food-contact and non-food contact surfaces with raw chicken juice. However, the transparent nature of the plastic wrap makes it extremely difficult to see a torn piece of plastic wrap inside the raw chicken pan. Due diligence during testing should identify such aberration and resolve it by customizing into easily identifiable yellow color coded plastic wrap. This test-mode corrective action will ensure that torn pieces of plastic wrap won’t get into food served to customers after chain-wide roll-out.

While proper testing, evaluation and roll-out of new FSQA products and services may be laborious, time consuming and somewhat expensive, it is still considered one of the industry best practices that supports the delivery of safe quality food to customers and protects the business brand. Overall, it benefits businesses in the long run to budget enough resources for this very important business function, instead of postponing or scrapping risk mitigation programs until crisis situation that may hurt customers, business brand and undermine return-on-investment.