Tag Archives: validation

Manuel Orozco, AIB International
FST Soapbox

Detecting Foreign Material Will Protect Your Customers and Brand

By Manuel Orozco
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Manuel Orozco, AIB International

During the production process, physical hazards can contaminate food products, making them unfit for human consumption. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the leading cause of food recalls is foreign material contamination. This includes 20 of the top 50, and three of the top five, largest food recalls issued in 2019.

As methods for detecting foreign materials in food have improved over time, you might think that associated recalls should be declining. To the contrary, USDA FSIS and FDA recalls due to foreign material seem to be increasing. During the entire calendar year of 2018, 28 of the 382 food recalls (7.3%) in the USDA’s recall case archive were for foreign material contamination. Through 2019, this figure increased to approximately 50 of the 337 food recalls (14.8%). Each of these recalls may have had a significant negative impact on those brands and their customers, which makes foreign material detection a crucial component of any food safety system.

The FDA notes, “hard or sharp foreign materials found in food may cause traumatic injury, including laceration and perforation of tissues of the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestine, as well as damage to the teeth and gums”. Metal, plastic and glass are by far the most common types of foreign materials. There are many ways foreign materials can be introduced into a product, including raw materials, employee error, maintenance and cleaning procedures, and equipment malfunction or breakage during the manufacturing and packaging processes.

The increasing use of automation and machinery to perform tasks that were once done by hand are likely driving increases in foreign matter contamination. In addition, improved manufacturer capabilities to detect particles in food could be triggering these recalls, as most of the recalls have been voluntary by the manufacturer.

To prevent foreign material recalls, it is key to first prevent foreign materials in food production facilities. A proper food safety/ HACCP plan should be introduced to prevent these contaminants from ending up in the finished food product through prevention, detection and investigation.
Food manufacturers also have a variety of options when it comes to the detection of foreign objects from entering food on production lines. In addition to metal detectors, x-ray systems, optical sorting and camera-based systems, novel methods such as infrared multi-wavelength imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance are in development to resolve the problem of detection of similar foreign materials in a complex background. Such systems are commonly identified as CCPs (Critical Control Points)/preventive controls within our food safety plans.

But what factors should you focus on when deciding between different inspection systems? Product type, flow characteristics, particle size, density and blended components are important factors in foreign material detection. Typically, food manufacturers use metal and/or x-ray inspection for foreign material detection in food production as their CCP/preventive control. While both technologies are commonly used, there are reasons why x-ray inspection is becoming more popular. Foreign objects can vary in size and material, so a detection method like an x-ray that is based on density often provides the best performance.

Regardless of which detection system you choose, keep in mind that FSMA gives FDA the power to scientifically evaluate food safety programs and preventive controls implemented in a food production facility, so validation and verification are crucial elements of any detection system.

It is also important to remember that a key element of any validation system is the equipment validation process. This process ensures that your equipment operates properly and is appropriate for its intended use. This process consists of three steps: Installation qualification, operational qualification and performance qualification.

Installation qualification is the first step of the equipment validation process, designed to ensure that the instrument is properly installed, in a suitable environment free from interference. This process takes into consideration the necessary electrical requirements such as voltage and frequency ratings, as well as other factors related with the environment, such as temperature and humidity. These requirements are generally established by the manufacturer and can be found within the installation manual.

The second step is operational qualification. This ensures that the equipment will operate according to its technical specification. In order to achieve this, the general functions of the equipment must be tested within the specified range limits. Therefore, this step focuses on the overall functionality of the instrument.

The third and last step is the performance qualification, which is focused on providing documented evidence through specific tests that the instrument will performs according to the routine specifications. These requirements could be established by internal and industry standards.

Following these three steps will allow you to provide documented evidence that the equipment will perform adequately within the work environment and for the intended process. After completion of the equipment validation process, monitoring and verification procedures must be established to guarantee the correct operation of the instrument, as well procedures to address deviations and recordkeeping. This will help you effectively control the hazards identified within our operation.

There can be massive consequences if products contaminated with foreign material are purchased and consumed by the public. That’s why the development and implementation of a strong food safety/ HACCP plan, coupled with the selection and validation of your detection equipment, are so important. These steps are each key elements in protecting your customers and your brand.

Crop spraying, Ellutia

From Farm to Fork: The Importance of Nitrosamine Testing in Food Safety

By Andrew James
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Crop spraying, Ellutia

N-nitroso compounds (NOCs), or nitrosamines, have once again made headline news as their occurrence in some pharmaceuticals has led to high profile product recalls in the United States.1 Nitrosamines can be carcinogenic and genotoxic and, in the food industry, can compromise a food product’s quality and safety. One nitrosamine in particular, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), is a highly potent carcinogen, traces of which are commonly detected in foods and may be used as an indicator compound for the presence of nitrosamines.2

NOCs can potentially make their way into the food chain in a number of ways, including (but not limited to): Via the crop protection products used to maximize agricultural yields; via the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve certain meats from bacterial contamination; as a result of the direct-fire drying process in certain foods; and via consumption of nitrates in the diet (present in many vegetables due to natural mineral deposits in the soil), which react with bacteria and acids in the stomach to form nitrosamines.3

The crop protection and food manufacturing industries are focused on ensuring that levels of nitrosamines present in foods are minimal and safe. Detection technology for quantitating the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in a sample had not advanced in nearly 40 years—until recently. Now, a thermal energy analyzer (TEA) —a sensitive and specific detector—is being relied on to provide fast and sensitive analysis for players throughout the food supply chain.

Regulatory Landscape

Both NDMA and the nitrosamine N-nitrososodiethylamine (NDEA) have been classified by national and international regulatory authorities as ‘probable human carcinogens’.3 NDMA in particular is by far the most commonly encountered member of this group of compounds.7

In the United States there are limits for NDMA or total nitrosamines in bacon, barley malt, ham and malt beverages, yet there are currently no regulatory limits for N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in foods in the EU.7

Developers of crop protection products are required to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantify the amount at ppm levels to ensure they are within the accepted guidelines.

Crop Protection

The presence of nitrosamines must be traced and risk-managed along the food’s journey from farm to fork. The issue affects testing from the very beginning – particularly at the crop protection stage, which is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. Without crop protection, food and drink expenditures could increase by up to £70 million per year and 40% of the world’s food would not exist.7

Development of a new crop protection product (herbicide, fungicide, insecticide or seed treatment) involves several steps: Discovery and formulation of the product, trials and field development, toxicology, environmental impacts and final registration. New product registration requires demonstration of safety for all aspects of the environment, the workers, the crops that are being protected and the food that is consumed. This involves comprehensive risk assessments being carried out, based on data from numerous safety studies and an understanding of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP).

One global producer of agrochemicals uses a custom version of the TEA to verify the absence of nitrosamines or quantitate the amount of nitrosamines (ppm levels) in its active ingredients. The LC-TEA enables high selectivity for nitro, nitroso and nitrogen (when operating in nitrogen mode), which allows only the compounds of interest to be seen. Additionally, it provides very high sensitivity (<2pg N/sec Signal to Noise 3:1), meaning it is able to detect compounds of interest at extremely low levels. To gain this high sensitivity and specificity, it relies on a selective thermal cleavage of N-NO bond and detection of the liberated NO radical by the chemiluminescent signal generated by its reaction with ozone.

The customized system also uses a different interface with a furnace, rather than the standard pyrolyser, to allow for the additional energy required and larger diameter tubing for working with a liquid sample rather than gas.

The system allows a company to run five to six times more samples with increased automation. As a direct result, significant productivity gains, reduced maintenance costs and more accurate results can be realized.

Food Analysis

Since nitrite was introduced in food preservation in the 1960s, its safety has been debated. The debate continues today, largely because of the benefits of nitrite in food products, particularly processed meats.6 In pork products, such as bacon and cured ham, nitrite is mostly present in the sodium and/or potassium salt added to preserve the meat from bacterial contamination. Although the meat curing process was designed to support preservation without refrigeration, a number of other benefits, such as enhancing color and taste, have since been recognized.

Analytical methods for the determination of N-nitrosamines in foods can differ between volatile and non-volatile compounds. Following extraction, volatile N-nitrosamines can be readily separated by GC using a capillary column and then detected by a TEA detector. The introduction of the TEA offered a new way to determine nitrosamine levels at a time when GC-MS could do so only with difficulty.

To identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) approached Premier Analytical Services (PAS) to develop a screening method to identify and determine constituent amounts of NOCs in foods formed as a direct result of manufacturing and processing.

A rapid and selective apparent total nitrosamine content (ATNC) food screening method has been developed with a TEA. This has also been validated for the known dietary NOCs of concern. This method, however, is reliant on semi-selective chemical denitrosation reactions and can give false positives. The results can only be considered as a potential indicator rather than definitive proof of NOC presence.

In tests, approximately half (36 out of 63) samples returned a positive ATNC result. Further analysis of these samples by GC-MS/MS detected volatile nitrosamine contamination in two of 25 samples.

A key role of the TEA in this study was to validate the alternative analytical method of GC-MS/MS. After validation of the technique by TEA, GC-MS/MS has been proven to be highly sensitive and selective for this type of testing.

The Future of Nitrosamine Testing

Many countries have published data showing that toxicological risk from preformed NOCs was no longer considered an area for concern. Possible risks may come from the unintentional addition or contamination of foods with NOCs precursors such as nitrite and from endogenous formation of NOCs and more research is being done in this area.

Research and innovation are the foundations of a competitive food industry. Research in the plant protection industry is driven by farming and the food chain’s demand for greater efficiency and safer products. Because the amount of nitrosamines in food that results in health effects in humans is still unknown, there is scope for research into the chemical formation and transportation of nitrosamines, their occurrence and their impact on our health. Newer chromatographic techniques are only just being applied in this area and could greatly benefit the quantification of nitrosamines. It is essential that these new approaches to quality and validation are applied throughout the food chain.

References

  1. Christensen, J. (2020). More popular heartburn medications recalled due to impurity. CNN.
  2. Hamlet, C, Liang, L. (2017). An investigation to establish the types and levels of N-nitroso compounds (NOC) in UK consumed foods. Premier Analytical Services, 1-79.
  3. Woodcock, J. (2019). Statement alerting patients and health care professionals of NDMA found in samples of ranitidine. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
  4. Scanlan, RA. (1983). Formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food. Cancer res, 43(5) 2435-2440.
  5.  Dowden, A. (2019). The truth about nitrates in your food. BBC Future.
  6.  Park, E. (2015). Distribution of Seven N-nitrosamines in Food. Toxicological research, 31(3) 279-288, doi: 10.5487/TR.2015.31.3.279.
  7.  Crews, C. (2019). The determination of N-nitrosamines in food. Quality Assurance and Safety of Crops & Foods, 1-11, doi: 10.1111/j.1757-837X.2010.00049.x
  8. (1989) Toxicological profile for n-Nitrosodimethylamine., Agency for Toxic substances and disease registry.
  9. Rickard, S. (2010). The value of crop protection, Crop Protection Association.

Food Labs Conference Announced for Spring 2020

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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— UPDATE — March 9, 2020 – IPC and the Food Labs/Cannabis Labs Conference want to reassure you, that in case of any disruption that may prevent the production of this live event at its physical location in Rockville, MD due to COVID-19, all sessions will be converted to a virtual conference on the already planned dates. Please note that if you initially register as a virtual participant (meaning you have no intentions of traveling to the event regardless) and the on-site event is not cancelled, you will ONLY be able to listen to the General Sessions and the Cannabis Sessions. You will have not have access to the Food Labs Sessions and there will be NO recording of these sessions. If you have any questions, please contact Veronica Allen, Event Manager.

–END UPDATE —

EDGARTOWN, MA, Jan. 22, 2020 – Innovative Publishing Co., the publisher of Food Safety Tech and organizer of the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo is announcing the launch of the Food Labs Conference. The event will address regulatory, compliance and risk management issues that companies face in the area of testing and food laboratory management. It will take place on June 3–4 in Rockville, MD.

Some of the critical topics include discussion of FDA’s proposed FSMA rule, Laboratory Accreditation Program for Food Testing; considerations in laboratory design; pathogen testing and detection; food fraud; advances in testing and lab technology; allergen testing, control and management; validation and proficiency testing; and much more.

The event is co-located with the Cannabis Labs Conference, which will focus on science, technology, regulatory compliance and quality management. More information about this event is available on Cannabis Industry Journal.

“By presenting two industry conferences under one roof, we can provide attendees with technology, regulatory compliance and best practices that cannabis and food might share but also focused topics that are unique to cannabis or food laboratory industry needs,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Co., Inc. and director of the Food Labs Conference.

The call for abstracts is open until February 28.

The agenda and speakers will be announced in early March.

About Food Safety Tech
Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

Say What? Perspectives We Heard at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium

By Maria Fontanazza
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2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

Last week’s seventh annual Food Safety Consortium brought together a variety of industry experts to discuss key topics around regulation, compliance, leadership, testing, foodborne illness, food defense and more. The following are just a few sound bytes from what we heard at the event. (Click on any photo to enlarge)

Food Safety Consortium, Frank Yiannas, FDA “The food system today, while it’s still impressive, it still has one Achilles heel—lack of traceability and transparency.” – Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy & response, FDA. Read the full article on Yiannas’ keynote session

“A typical food company only has about 5% visibility into known supply chain threats.” – Ron Stakland, senior business development, FoodChain ID, Inc.

“For most of us, our supply chain is a big black hole. Why are we so fearful of technology? Is it the implementation itself? What if technology could help us solve some of those perennial problems? There are resources available to help us get there.” – ¬ Jeremy Schneider, business development director, food safety and quality assurance, Controlant

“The records tell the story of how well the facility is being managed. It’s the first thing the regulators are going to look at.” – Glenn Black, Ph.D., associate director for research, CFSAN, FDA, on validation considerations and regulations for processing technologies in the food industry 2019 Food Safety Consortium, Glenn Black, CFSAN, FDA

“We’ll see more robotics enter the food space.” – Gina Nicholson Kramer, executive director, Savour Food Safety International

Melody Ge, Corvium, 2019 Food Safety Consortium “Changes are happening; you can choose to face it or ignore it. We’re at least 10 years behind on technology. Automation/technology is not a new term in aerospace, etc., but to us [the food industry], it is. We will get there.” – Melody Ge, head of compliance, Corvium, Inc., on how industry should prepare for the data-driven transformation occurring in the smarter era of food safety

It’s okay to risk and fail, but how are going to remediate that with your employee? The more learners practice in different scenarios, the less they rely on specific examples. [They] become more adept with dealing with decision making.” – Kathryn Birmingham, Ph.D., VP for research and development, ImEpik, on employee training

“As a contract lab with the vision of testing for foodborne viruses for about 10 years—it wasn’t until about three or four years ago that we had the test kits to turn that into a reality. We also didn’t have a reference method.” – Erin Crowley, chief scientific officer, Q Laboratories, on the viral landscape of testing in the food industry

“You have to be strong and you have to believe in yourself before you get into any situation—especially as a food safety professional.” – Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president of quality assurance and food safety at The Cheesecake Factory, on what it takes to earn respect as a food safety professional Jorge Hernandez, Al Baroudi, Ph.D., 2019 Food Safety Consortium

“’See something, say something’ is likely not enough. We recommend that companies develop a formal detection program that includes management buy-in, HR and governance, and policy documents, formal training and an awareness program…While FDA focuses on the insider threat, we feel that using a broader mitigation approach works best.” – R. Spencer Lane, senior security advisor, Business Protection Specialists, Inc. on lessons learned from food defense intentional adulteration vulnerability assessments

“Food safety is a profession, a vocation, [and] a way of life.” – Bob Pudlock, president of Gulf Stream Search

Melody Ge, Corvium
FST Soapbox

Changes in the Food Safety Industry: Face Them or Ignore Them?

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

“A new era of smarter food safety is coming,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner of food policy and response, at the GFSI Conference 2019 in Nice, France. He went on to explain, “a smarter food safety is people-led, FSMA-based and technology-enabled.” Afterwards, Yiannas announced the need for a greater budget for the FDA to invest in modern food safety for 2020 and beyond.

Now the question is, when this new era comes, are you ready?

The food industry is relatively behind on technology compared to other industries, or even within our daily lives. Take a look at the cell phone you have now compared to what you had 10 years ago; it has come a long way with all of its handy and useful features. Why can’t the food industry also benefit from technology? Of course, every coin has two sides, but no one would deny that technology played a significant role in bringing the world closer and making it more efficient nowadays.

The scary part of change is that it’s hard to predict what and when they will come to us, however, they also force us think outside of the box. Instead of debating whether incorporating advanced technology into our daily operations makes sense, why don’t we take a look at our current processes in place and see where technology can truly help us? We now have the opportunity to take advantage of technology to enhance our food safety and quality culture at our own facility. Here are some thoughts to share.

1. Identify what can be automated in your current process with technology

Certain things just can’t be replaced by technology, such as risk assessment or hazard identification (at least for now). However, inventory, temperature checking, testing results recording, or anything executing a command from you or implementing a part of your SOPs can potentially be automated. Execution is also the part where the most error could occur, and technology can help improve accuracy and consistency. Identify those steps systematically and understand what data needs to be captured to help your food safety management system.

2. Work with your technology developer to build technical requirements

Explain to the technology developer exactly how you want the program to operate daily. List the operating steps along with responsibilities step-by-step, and identify what requirements are needed for each step. Translating the paper SOP to a computer program plays an important role in this transition. Not only does it set the foundation for your future daily operation, but it also ensures that the control parameter is not lost during the transition.

3. Keep the integrity of the food safety management system through verification and validation

Once processing steps are done by technology, it doesn’t mean that we no longer have to do anything. We need to verify and validate the technology with certain frequency to ensure the steps are controlled as intended. Confirming that the software or system is capturing the right data at the right time becomes key to ensure the integrity of control risks is not compromised.

4. Utilize “preventative maintenance” on all technology used on site

Just like all equipment, food safety technology needs a preventive maintenance schedule. Check whether it is properly functioning on a certain frequency based on the safety impact in your process flow and take actions proactively.

5. Learn from your own records

The time saved from traditional ways allows us to have more time for looking at control points and records received to identify areas for continuous improvement. There are many ways of studying the data with modeling and trend analysis based on your own facility situation. Either way, those records are your own supporting documents of any changes or modifications to your food safety management system, as well as strong support to your risk assessment for justifications.

Just like Yiannas said, a smarter food safety system is still FSMA based. The goal has never changed; we want to produce sustainable, safe and high-quality products to our consumers, whether we use traditional or advanced approaches. After all, we are utilizing technology as a modern way to help us enhance and simplify our food safety management system; the outcome from the automated technology is still controlled by us.

So when the era comes, we all want to be ready for it.

Emily Kaufman, Emport, Allergens
Allergen Alley

Skip Validation, You’re Asking for Problems

By Emily Kaufman
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Emily Kaufman, Emport, Allergens

Running an unvalidated program or product is like betting your life’s savings on a horse because you overheard a “surefire tip” outside the racetrack, or driving around without any mirrors.

To put it less dramatically: Skipping validation is asking for problems. But what does validation mean, how much is necessary, and what’s the best way to include it in your plans?

In order to start understanding validation, we must first break it down into two main categories: Product validation and process validation. From there, it’s important to look at whether something has been broadly validated for general use, and whether it has been narrowly validated for use in your specific situation. That last question is where people often struggle: How can we ensure this product or process is validated for use in the way that we plan to use it?

Validating an on-site allergen test kit requires a few different layers of research and testing. Taking the time to carefully design and vet a validation process may seem tedious, and it may require some additional up-front costs—but in the long run, it’s the only way to ensure you are spending your money on a test kit that works. And if you’re using an allergen test kit that doesn’t actually detect allergens in your facility—best-case scenario, you’re wasting money and time. Worst-case scenario, you’re headed straight for a recall and you won’t see it coming until your customers get sick.

If you are buying a test to determine the absence or presence of allergens in your facility (specific or general), you’ll likely ask the kit manufacturer if the test kit has been validated. This validation can come in many forms, most commonly:

  • Third party validation (eg., AOAC)
  • Internally produced validation documents or whitepapers
  • Published studies

A product with more validation (third-party certifications, studies, whitepapers) isn’t necessarily better than a product with less. It may have simply been on the market longer or be produced by a company that allocates its funding differently. However, validation documents can be very comforting when reviewing a product, as they provide a starting point for your own research. When you are reviewing validation data, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does this data cover products like mine?
    • Are the ingredients similar (raw meat, ice cream, spices, etc.)?
    • Are the preparation processes similar (heat, fermentation, etc.)?
  • Does this data cover an environment like mine?
    • Will the tests be run the same way in my facility as in the data?
    • Is the contamination being introduced in a way and amount that feels realistic to the risk factors I know about in my facility?
  • Does the data mention any complicating factors (and do I need to care about them)?
    • Are there ingredients known to cross-react or cause false negatives?
    • Are there processes known to change the LOD or cause false negatives?
  • If I am aware of limitations with other similar test kits, are those limitations addressed in the data for this test kit as well?

To give an example, let’s imagine you make premium ice cream and are reviewing allergen test kits that look for peanuts and almonds in product, in rinsewater and on surfaces. You’ll want to ask questions like:

  • How does the kit perform in a high-fat environment?
  • Does the validation data cover product, rinsewater and surfaces?
  • Are there ingredients in our facility that are called out as cross-reactive (or otherwise troublesome)?
  • Do our ingredients get exposed to temperatures, pH levels, or other processes that impact the LOD?

You might learn, for example, that one of the matrices tested in validation was ice cream. If so: Wonderful! That’s a vote of confidence and a great starting point. Or maybe you learn that the kit in question isn’t recommended for matrices that include an ingredient in your formulation. If so: That’s equally wonderful! Now you know you need a different solution. Or maybe the instructions on your current peanut test kit indicate that heavily roasted peanuts have a higher detection limit than raw peanuts, but this new test kit only has data for raw peanuts. If so: OK! You have more research to do, and that’s fine too.

In short: Pre-existing product validation data is a helpful starting point for determining whether or not an allergen test kit MIGHT work well in your facility—but it doesn’t eliminate the need for you to run your own internal validation study.

Once you’ve identified an allergen test kit that you want to use in your facility, you’ll want to prove that it can work to identify contamination in your specific environment. This is where a more narrowly tailored validation comes into play. Your test kit provider may have resources available to help you design an internal validation. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! A reputable test kit provider should care not just about making the sale, but also about making your food safer.

Before you even order a new test kit, you should have a good idea of how your validation process is going to work. It’s important to have both the study design and study outcome on file. Here are some possible additions for your internal validation study:

Validating that an allergen test kit can reliably prove your surfaces are clean of said allergen:

  • Test the surface prior to cleaning, after the allergen in question has been run. Do you see positive results? If not, then a negative result after cleaning is essentially meaningless.
  • Test the surface after cleaning. Do you see negative results? If not, it could mean a problem with your cleaning process—or a strange interference. Both require further research.
  • If your products encounter multiple surfaces (eg., stainless steel and also ceramic), test them all with before and after testing.

Validating that an allergen test kit can reliably prove your rinsewater is free of said allergen:

  • Test water from the beginning of the cleaning cycle as well as the end. Do you see a change in results, from positive to negative?
  • If you don’t ever see the allergen present in your rinsewater, you may want to “spike” a sample by adding a small amount of the product that contains the allergen into the rinsewater you’ve collected. Could it be that something in your cleaning protocol or some aspect of your matrix is affecting the detection limit?

Validating that an allergen test kit can reliably prove your ingredients or finished products are free of said allergen:

  • Test a product that you know contains the allergen but is otherwise similar. Keep in mind that some allergen test kits can be overloaded and can show false negatives if too much allergen is present in the sample—if you aren’t sure whether the test kit you are trialing has this limitation, ask your supplier. Do you see a positive?
  • Have you encountered batches of your product with accidental cross-contamination from the allergen in question? If so, and you have some of that batch archived, run a test on it. Would this kit have identified the problem?
  • Do you have a batch or lot of product that has been analyzed by a third-party lab? If so, do your results in-house match the lab’s results?
  • Run—or ask a lab to run—a spiked recovery. This is especially important if there is no pre-existing data on how the test kit works against your specific matrices.
    • Some test kit manufacturers can provide this service for you—you would simply need to send them the product, and they can add various amounts of allergen into the product and confirm that the test kit shows positive results.
    • Some kit manufacturers or other suppliers can send you standards that have known quantities of allergen in them. You can mix these into your product and run tests, and confirm that you get positive results when expected.
    • You may want to simply do this on your own, by adding small quantities of the allergen into the sample and running tests. However, take care to be especially careful with your documentation in case questions arise down the line.
  • No matter how the spiked recovery is being run, consider these two factors:
    • Be sure you’re including what could be a realistic amount of contamination—if you’re concerned about catching 25ppm of allergen, loading up your sample with 2000ppm won’t necessarily help you prove anything.
    • The matrix of your allergen-containing foods is just as important as the matrix of your allergen-free foods. If your allergen has been fermented, roasted, pressurized, etc. —your spike needs to be processed in the same way. If you aren’t sure how to think about your matrices, this previous Allergen Alley post is a good starting place.

Once you’ve proven that the test kit in question can in fact show positive results when traces of allergen are present, you can confidently and comfortably incorporate it into your larger allergen control plan. If your matrices change, you’ll want to re-validate whatever’s new.

While it can be tempting to rely on a kit’s general validation, taking the extra step to validate your unique matrices is an essential part of a truly robust food safety plan. If you’re stumped for how to begin, contact your kit provider—after all, you share the same goals: Safe, allergen-free food for consumers who rely on you to keep themselves and their families healthy and well fed.

Gabriela Lopez, 3M Food Safety
Allergen Alley

Five Steps to Creating a Successful Validation Study

By Gabriela Lopez-Velasco, Ph.D.
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Gabriela Lopez, 3M Food Safety

Manufacturing large volumes of food product that must be safe for human consumption with finite resources is, simply put, a demanding responsibility. For many food brands, having dedicated production lines is not always an option, so lines are often shared amongst a variety of food products. A potential problem arises when products containing allergenic foods are manufactured on the same equipment as other products, and those allergenic foods are not meant to be declared in the product label. As a result, residues of the first product manufactured may move to the next product. Known as direct cross-contact contamination, this issue can have a severe adverse impact on allergic consumers.

Cross-contact contamination can occur at various stages of production, but it’s direct food cross-contact in shared production lines that is often found as a particularly significant food safety hazard. Addressing cross-contact through effective cleaning procedures is one of the most critical allergen management activities in establishing preventive controls and minimizing the potential of unintentional presence of food allergens. Allergen cleaning validation enables food manufacturers to evaluate that their cleaning procedure is adequate when it comes to removing ingredients from direct food contact surfaces.

Cleaning validation consists of generating data to demonstrate that allergenic foods are removed from direct food contact areas to a pre-defined acceptable level. A basic cleaning validation design consists of determining the residual level or presence of allergenic food before cleaning (baseline), and then assessing the level of the allergenic food after cleaning.

If the cleaning procedure exists in several steps (i.e., more than one rinse or purge, as with dry cleaning) additional testing to assess the level of allergens between cleaning stages and in the final product can also be incorporated. It is important to remember that a single validation study may not be applicable for an entire site operation. Different production lines within a food production site may require an individualized validation analysis. This determination will depend on the cleaning process as well as the formulation of the products being manufactured.

There are five important considerations for establishing a successful validation study:

  1. Set up a team and assign a leader to carry out the design of the validation. Involving relevant personnel with knowledge in the product formulation, manufacturing process, equipment design and cleaning and sanitation regimes may provide valuable insight to identify processes that should be included in the validation. It may also bring to light critical sampling points in the equipment that should be considered.
  2. Determine the scope of the study. This is where you describe and justify which equipment, utensils, cleaning regime and production processes will be validated. It may be wise to group different processes or select the worst-case scenario. For example, you might choose to focus on food production equipment regarded as hard to clean or equipment that contains the highest concentration of the allergenic food.
  3. Design a sampling plan. This is a critical prerequisite before starting a validation study. The plan should be clearly defined, with critical sampling points and locations prescribed to challenge the effectiveness of the cleaning regime and to find evidence of allergenic food presence. In both open equipment and equipment that will be dismantled as part of the cleaning regime, it is important to select sites where food can get trapped, as well as other sites that are hard to clean. Also consider other surfaces that can be a source of direct cross-contact like protective clothing and utensils. For clean-in-place (CIP) systems, wash water should be collected from the onset of cleaning and then at intervals leading up to the final rinse water. This helps to demonstrate that allergen food levels are diminishing, thereby validating the use of CIP analysis as a verification method. Note that it is important to consider that the sampling plan for the validation should also reflect the sampling plan that will be used during routine verification. Support from a statistician may facilitate the decision to define how many samples and type of samples (swabs, CIP or final product) should be collected for the validation and how many cleaning runs should be performed to demonstrate validity.
  4. Select a method of analysis. Validation and verification involve the use of a specific method to detect allergenic foods. The selected method should be validated as well, an undertaking most often done by the commercial supplier. Then it should be verified by the food processor that the method is fit for purpose, such that the allergenic food will be recovered and detected under the conditions in which samples are routinely collected. This ensures there will not be interference due to the food itself or due to cleaning chemicals. There are a variety of different analytical methods; most are based in technologies designed to detect proteins. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and immune-based lateral flow devices (LFDs) offer detection of specific protein targets (i.e., egg proteins, milk proteins, peanut proteins) and are ideal for a validation study. ELISA can provide quantitative data from pre-cleaning, at various intervals during the cleaning process, at post-cleaning and at final product, offering a measurable level of the allergenic food during the cleaning process. Rapid detection through LFDs also allows food processors to assess the presence or absence of a specific protein or group of proteins, but different from ELISA, the result is only qualitative. In either case, these rapid tests may be used for both validation and routine verification. In addition, there are non-specific tests that can detect total protein that may be selected for a cleaning validation study. These tests do not provide specific information about the allergen to be managed, and thus may be more suitable for routine verification. During a cleaning validation study, it is important to include the test that will be utilized for verification and ensure it is also fit for purpose and detects the allergenic food to an appropriate pre-defined sensitivity. This is particularly important if the test is different from the analytical method chosen for cleaning validation.
  5. Establish acceptance criteria. Proteins from allergenic foods may cause an adverse reaction at very low levels. To date, there are very few regions in the world in which threshold or permitted levels for allergens in food are established. Each individual food manufacturer should define a criterion to establish when a surface is clean from allergens after routine cleaning. The limits that are set up should be practical but also measurable and verifiable, thus it is important to define a level with knowledge of the sampling and analytical method selected. The sensitivity of the analytical methods currently available may be used as a criterion to verify that levels of an allergen are under control if they fall below the limit of detection of the analytical method.

Once a cleaning regime has been validated and documented, routine allergen cleaning verification should be performed as part of a monitoring program to demonstrate that the cleaning process in place is effective and that the risk of direct cross-contact is consequently being controlled. The validation should be repeated at defined intervals, often once a year. However, it is expected that a cleaning verification will be performed after each production run and cleaning procedure in order to reflect that the validated cleaning process is still effective. Cleaning verification, along with other allergen management activities, strengthens implemented food safety programs and helps to protect consumers.

Robert Rogers
FST Soapbox

Validating Your Foreign Material Inspection System

By Robert Rogers
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Robert Rogers

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires that food manufacturing and processing companies identify potential hazards within their production systems and then:

  • Put in place preventive controls to address those hazards,
  • Monitor those preventive controls to ensure their effectiveness &
  • Provide documentation proving compliance with these requirements.

There are also requirements for each company to develop and establish its own plan identifying potential food safety hazards and preventive controls to counter them, and to establish the monitoring procedures that will verify the efficacy and reliability of the preventive controls.

Validating, verifying and monitoring the performance of the systems that ensure that only safe food enters the market enables food manufacturers and processors to meet the specific regulatory standards mandated by the countries where they operate and sell. This enables them to avoid product recalls that are costly and that severely damage brand identity. But these processes, in addition to satisfying regulators, also play a valuable part in protecting the companies from potential liability lawsuits, which can often be even more damaging.

The preventive controls most often used to effectively deal with such identified hazards are inspection systems (checkweighers and metal detection, X-ray and machine vision inspection systems) that quickly and efficiently detect non-standard and contaminated products and defective packaging and reject them from production lines before they can enter the marketplace. The performance of these systems must be validated, verified and monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are performing as intended.

These terms–validation, verification and monitoring–are often used interchangeably, creating confusion within organizations and across industries because people interpret and use these terms in different ways. In fact, each term identifies a distinct process that has a clear purpose and role to play at different points throughout the equipment lifecycle. It is important to understand the purpose of each process to make sure that validation, verification and routine performance monitoring tests are performed to comply with regulatory requirements, particularly where the equipment is designated as a Critical Control Point (CCP).

Validation

The fundamental act of “validation,” when applied to inspection systems that are part of a food manufacturing or processing production line, is conducting an objective, data-based confirmation that the system does what it was designed, manufactured and installed to do. The International Featured Standards (IFS) organization defines validation as “confirmation through the provision of objective evidences, that the requirements for the specific intended use or application have been fulfilled.” In 2008, the Codex Alimentarius Commission defined validation as, “Obtaining evidence that a control measure or combination of control measures, if properly implemented, is capable of controlling the hazard to a specified outcome.” An important part of the validation procedure is the production of detailed data that demonstrates to line managers and to regulators that the system is operating as designed.

The manufacturer of each inspection system will validate its performance before delivery, testing it with generic products and packaging similar to what the customer will be producing. But that is only the beginning of the validation process. Onsite, that same system needs to be validated when inspecting the specific products that the production line where it will operate will be processing and/or packaging. This is ideally done at the time the system is originally installed in a production line, and then becomes one element of a complete program of validation, periodic verification and ongoing monitoring that will keep the system operating as intended and ensure that products are adequately and accurately inspected, and that accurate records of those inspections are kept.

It is critical for producers to remember, however, that the original onsite validation relates only to the specific products tested at the time. As new or additional sizes of products are developed and run on the production line, or packaging (including labeling) changes, the system will need to be re-validated for each change.

Verification

Verification is the process of periodically confirming that the inspection equipment continues to be as effective as when it was first validated. The verification process uses standard, established tests to determine whether the inspection system is still under control and continuing to operate as originally demonstrated. This verification process is conducted periodically at regular intervals to provide evidence-based confirmation that the system continues to be effective as specified. Formal performance verification is typically an annual process, to support audit requirements. It should continue throughout the productive life of the system.

Both validation of an installed system and periodic verification of operating systems can be conducted either internally by the end-user, or by the supplier of the equipment. Validation and verification services are often included as part of equipment purchase contracts.

Monitoring

Routine performance monitoring, as distinct from periodic verification, consists of a series of frequent, regular performance checks, during production, completed to determine whether processes are under control and to confirm that there has not been a significant change in the system’s performance level since the last successful test. The monitoring frequency may be as often as every two hours, depending on company standards, industry standards and/or retailer codes of practice.

If the monitoring process finds that a particular device is out of specification, all product that has passed through the production line since the last successful routine performance-monitoring event must be considered suspect and re-inspected.

In many cases, it is line operators that conduct online performance monitoring. However, many of today’s more sophisticated product inspection systems incorporate built-in performance monitoring software that automates this process and alerts operators when deviations occur. This valuable software feature removes any human error factor from the monitoring activity to help ensure that inspection processes are still being performed properly. It also provides documentation that will guide the end-user company’s QA groups in their continuous improvement efforts, and that will also be a valuable asset in the event of an inspection visit from regulators.

Routine performance monitoring can also have a direct impact on the production line’s OEE. Installing a system with built-in condition monitoring capability that automatically detects when the system may need correction and communicates that information directly to line operators reduces the frequency needed for verification testing, maximizing the line’s production uptime.

Reliance on the experts

Finally, food manufacturers and processors should remember that, while they are knowledgeable experts regarding their products, it is their equipment suppliers that are the experts on the capabilities and qualification procedures of their equipment. That expertise makes them the best source of reliable recommendations on questions from the most effective inspection equipment type for specific product needs, where to place that equipment on the production line for optimum results and how to validate, verify and monitor its performance.

Relying on these experts to conduct onsite validation and to advise on conducting periodic verification and ongoing performance monitoring can reduce both the time needed for the original onsite validation time and that needed for verification and ongoing monitoring procedures, increasing productivity.

Companies can also rely on these experts to be knowledgeable on the most current food safety regulations and the technology that affect equipment validation. It is critical for their success that they stay current on those topics, and sharing that knowledge is a valuable part of their service.

The Validation Conversation

By Joy Dell’Aringa
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Our industry is in a perpetual food safety discussion. We are constantly mulling over the finer points of hazards, risk, preventive controls, training, sanitation, and regulations. Validation is also a key component of the food safety dialog. Here we will explore common themes industry professionals discuss in regard to validation in this era of food safety.

Definitions

In any good conversation, terms must be set and semantics agreed upon. It is helpful to start off with a simplistic definition of validation and verification that can be applied across industries and applications. We often return to these reductive definitions throughout conversations to recalibrate and ensure that all parties are on the same page.

  • Validation:  Are we using the correct system / method?
  • Verification: Are we using the system / method correctly?

From there, we narrow our focus. Using the FSMA backdrop, from the FDA’s “Draft Guidance for Industry: Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods” we find the following definitions:

Validation: Obtaining and evaluating scientific and technical evidence that a control measure, combination of control measures, or the food safety plan as a whole, when properly implemented, is capable of effectively controlling the identified hazards.

Verification: The application of methods, procedures, tests and other evaluations, in addition to monitoring, to determine whether a control measure or combination of control measures is or has been operating as intended and to establish the validity of the food safety plan.

Validation and Verification: Semantics Matter.

Definitions for validation and verification are available from various standards organizations and regulatory bodies. What is most important, however, is that in this conversation there is a clear distinction between validation and verification—both in activities and objectives. These are not interchangeable terms. Further, validation and verification can be discussed from two general perspectives in the food safety landscape. Process validation addresses manufacturing activities and controls to prevent product hazard and contamination. Method validation addresses the analytical methods used to verify the physical, chemical or microbiological properties of a product.

Process Validation

Our industry is comprised of a variety of categorical segments. Each segment faces unique processing challenges, risks and requirements that must be addressed in the validation and verification conversation.

Some segments, such as the dairy industry, have long standing processes in place that have a robust scientific backbone and leave little room for guesswork, experimentation or modification. “Milk  processes were validated years ago and are part of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO). The science is there,” states Janet Raddatz, vice president of quality & food safety systems at Sargento Foods, Inc. ” It is well established that when you pasteurize the product for the time and temperature that has been validated, then you simply verify the pasteurizer is working to the validated specifications.”

However, process validation challenges arise when novel applications, ingredients and processes are employed. Even in an established industry, reformulations of products such as sauces and dressings require fresh validation perspective and risk assessment. “You must assess the risk anytime there is a change. Properties such as pH, salt and water are critical variables to the safety and microbial stability of a product. Novel processing techniques aimed at ‘all natural’ or ‘minimal processing’ consumer demands should also be challenged.” Raddatz suggests conducting a full assessment to identify potential areas of risk. A challenge study may also be a critical piece to validate that a certain process or formulation is appropriate.

To help the food industry understand, design and apply good validation and verification practices, the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) published “Validation and Verification: A Practical, Industry-driven Framework Developed to Support the Requirement of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011.” This insightful document provides various definitions, guidance, practical advice, and offers several Dos and Don’ts on validation and verification activities.

Do:

  • Divide validation and verification into separate tasks
  • Think of validation as your scientific evidence and proof the system controls the hazards
  • Use science-based information to support the initial validation
  • Use management to participate in validation development and operations of verification
  • Use lessons from “near-misses” and corrections to adjust and improve the food safety system

Don’t:

  • Confuse the activities of verification with those of routine monitoring
  • Rely on literature or studies that are unlike your process/ product to prove controls are valid
  • Conduct audit processes and then not review the results
  • Perform corrective actions without determining if a system change may be needed to fix the problem
  • Forget, reanalysis is done every three years or sooner if new information or problems suggest

Method Validation

Analytical methods used to verify a validated food process must also be validated for the specific product and conditions under which they will be conducted. For example, a manufacturer that has their laboratory test a product for Salmonella to verify that a kill step in the manufacturing process worked, must ensure that the method the laboratory uses is both validated for that product and has been verified as appropriate for use in that laboratory. Three general considerations should be discussed with the laboratory:

  • Is the method validated for the product (matrix)?
    • Often, the method will carry several matrix validations that were previously conducted by the diagnostic provider, an industry organization or as a reference method.
    • If the matrix to be tested is not validated the laboratory should conduct a validation study before proceeding.
  • Has the laboratory verified this method on the product (matrix)?
    • The laboratory should demonstrate that they can indeed perform the validated method appropriately.
    • Verification activities typically involve a matrix specific spiked recovery.
  • Are there any modifications made to the validated method?
    • All method modifications should be validated and verified. Additionally, modification should be noted on the laboratory report or Certificate of Analysis issued.
    • Method modifications may include time and temperature alterations, media changes and sample preparation factors.

AOAC International is an organization that certifies the validation of methods to a specific prescribed standard. “Diagnostic companies seek AOAC approval, which entails rigorous validation protocol with the selected matrices,” says Ronald Johnson Ph.D., president of AOAC International and associate director of validation for bioMérieux, describes the importance of commercial standardization.  “The AOAC validation scheme ensures that the method is robust, rugged, inclusive and exclusive, stable and meets the sensitivity presented.” Standards such as these provide confidence to the user that the method is fit-for-purpose, a critical first step in method selection.

While many diagnostic companies will perform standardized validation as described above, how a laboratory validates and verifies a method is incredibly nuanced in the food industry. Currently, there is no standardized approach to study design and execution. Even ISO 17025 accredited laboratories are only required to have a validation and verification protocol—there is no dictation about what that protocol should look like.

“Currently, there is a lot of variation in the industry around [method] validation,” says Patrick Bird, microbiology R&D laboratory supervisor at Q Laboratories. Bird is a method validation expert who is on the U.S. ISO TAG TC34/SC9 working group 3 for the new ISO validation and verification standards, including ISO/DIS 16140-4 guidelines, “Microbiology of the food chain – Method Validation – Part 4: Protocol for single-laboratory (in-house) method validation.”

“Variables such as number of replicates, spike levels, and even acceptance criteria vary widely from lab to lab—both in manufacturing laboratories and contract testing laboratories. We hope the ISO guidelines will standardize that, ” says Bird. He goes on to discuss the importance of good laboratory stewardship in the industry. “While some look at validations as a proprietary or competitive advantage, the testing industry must realize that without standardization, poor validation and verification practices by a few can tarnish the great science done by the many, and ultimately jeopardize the safety of our food supply.” He stresses the importance of quality operations and open communications with laboratories, whether in house or third party. “Now that validation is highlighted as a required area in FSMA Preventive Controls, more and more companies are paying attention to the methods and associated validation/verification data their labs can provide.”

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Listeria

How One Company Eliminated Listeria Using Chlorine Dioxide Gas

By Kevin Lorcheim
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Listeria

The previous article discussed the various decontamination options available to eliminate Listeria. It was explained why the physical properties of gaseous chlorine dioxide make it so effective. This article focuses on one company’s use of chlorine dioxide gas decontamination for both contamination response and for preventive control.

The summer of 2015 saw multiple ice cream manufacturers affected by Listeria monocytogenes. The ice cream facility detailed in this article never had a supply outage, but ceased production for a short amount of time in order to investigate and correct their contamination. After a plant-wide review of procedures, workflows, equipment design and product testing, multiple corrective actions were put into place to eliminate Listeria from the facility and help prevent it from returning. One such corrective action was to decontaminate the production area and cold storage rooms using chlorine dioxide gas. This process took place after the rest of the corrective actions, so as to decontaminate the entire facility immediately before production was set to resume.

Responsive Decontamination

The initial decontamination was in response to the Listeria monocytogenes found at various locations throughout the facility. A food safety investigation and microbiological review took place to find the source of the contamination within the facility in order to create a corrective action plan in place. Listeria was found in a number of locations including the dairy brick flooring that ran throughout the production area. A decision was made to replace the flooring, among other equipment upgrades and procedural changes in order to provide a safer food manufacturing environment once production resumed. Once the lengthy repair and upgrade list was completed, the chlorine dioxide gas decontamination was initiated.

The facility in question was approximately 620,000 cubic feet in volume, spanning multiple rooms as well as a tank alley located on a different floor. The timeline to complete the decontamination was 2.5 days. The first half-day consisted of safety training, a plant orientation tour, a meeting with plant supervisors, and the unpacking of equipment. The second day involved the setup of all equipment, which included chlorine dioxide gas generators, air distribution blowers, and a chlorine dioxide gas concentration monitor. Gas injection tubing was run from the chlorine dioxide gas generators throughout the facility to approximately 30 locations within the production area. The injection points were selected to aid its natural gaseous distribution by placing them apart from one another. Gas sample tubing was run to various points throughout the facility in locations away from the injection locations to sample gas concentrations furthest away from injection points where concentrations would be higher. Sample locations were also placed in locations known to be positive for Listeria monocytogenes to provide a more complete record of treatment for those locations. In total, 14 sample locations were selected between plant supervisors and the decontamination team. Throughout the entire decontamination, the gas concentration monitor would be used to continuously pull samples from those locations to monitor the concentration of chlorine dioxide gas and ensure that the proper dosage is reached.

As a final means of process control, 61 biological indicators were brought to validate that the decontamination process was effective at achieving a 6-log sporicidal reduction. 60 would be placed at various challenging locations within the facility, while one would be randomly selected to act as a positive control that would not be exposed to chlorine dioxide gas. Biological indicators provide a reliable method to validate decontamination, as they are produced in a laboratory to be highly consistent and contain more than a million bacterial spores impregnated on a paper substrate and wrapped in a Tyvek pouch. Bacterial spores are considered to be the hardest microorganism to kill, so validating that the process was able to kill all million spores on the biological indicator in effect also proves the process was able to eliminate Listeria from surfaces. The biological indicators were placed at locations known to be positive for Listeria, as well as other hard-to-reach locations such as the interior of production equipment, underneath equipment and inside some piping systems.

In order to prepare the facility for decontamination, all doors, air handling systems, and penetrations into the space were sealed off to keep the gas within the production area. After a safety sweep for personnel, the decontamination was performed to eliminate Listeria from all locations within the production area.

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