Tag Archives: verification

FST Soapbox

A Digital Approach to Environmental Monitoring: Let’s Get Proactive!

By David Hatch
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Technology and automation for safety and surveillance have already impacted nearly every industry in the world. For example, in the United States and many other developed regions, we have just lived through the transformation to electronic health records within the healthcare industry. Prior to that, we lived through the digital transformation of all of our banking information to an online banking platform—now the norm across the world.

However, the food and beverage industry is still learning how technology can improve their organizations. The food safety segment of this market is particularly in need of a digital transformation, as the risk associated with foodborne illness is potentially catastrophic to food companies, and moreso, to the end consumers who are impacted by preventable pathogenic outbreaks.

Along with regulation advancements, such as the timed roll-out of FSMA, the industry continues to work towards a more effective approach to food safety. But most regulations, and advancements in the industry are pointed toward a reactive stance to food safety issues, rather than a preventive stance. For example, although traceability is important in leading investigations to the source and taking remediation steps sooner, a more proactive approach to prevention should be considered when investing in food safety programs.

This is where the importance of an automated environmental monitoring program comes in. To be proactive requires a commitment to embracing data and digital technology. Knowing where to start to effectively pivot your digital approach can be a challenge.

Understanding the following thought process can help you to recognize areas of potential improvement and growth within your environmental monitoring program.

  • Define Your Business Objectives. Ask how profitability and production uptime is connected to food safety issues.
  • Verify Suppliers. Establish protocols for incoming product from external suppliers and validate their food safety performance and ability to maintain a clean facility.
  • Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP). Are you able to confirm that your EMP is being executed consistently? Across all facilities?
  • Understand Data Exhaust. See how your organization’s valuable data can be used to identify trends and accelerate root cause analysis that impact decision-making processes.

Define Your Business Objectives

Food companies large and small are being challenged to implement required processes and procedures to meet the demands of FSMA, and ultimately achieve a more proactive and preventative food safety stance. Transformation in this arena, led by government regulation, and enhanced by standards certification requirements, has highlighted the responsibility of suppliers and manufacturers to protect consumers.

Many organizations are not aware that a single failure in their food safety program could actually be the most devastating profitability risk that the organization faces today. When your organization is focused on production uptime and profitability, it can be easy to overlook the details involved in maintaining a strong food safety program. In reality, though, food safety and profitability are inextricably linked due to the risk of production interruptions that can be caused by safety issues.

Whenever a food recall occurs, it has the potential to start the dominoes falling, with major implications regarding costs, reputational damage, compliance penalties, supply chain interruption, and sales declines. Worse yet, these impacts can last for years after the actual event. By delaying both the importance of recognizing the seriousness of this risk as well as taking necessary steps to prevent it, your organization’s reputation could be on the line.

Unfortunately, planning is often sacrificed when managers fail to implement the proper technological solutions. Fulfilling fundamental documentation requirements involves a smart, automated approach. This is the best way to optimize recall prevention. By incorporating an automated EMP process, a supplier management system, and other FSMA Preventive Controls measures, suppliers ultimately improve the strength of the entire chain for their partners, consumers and themselves.

There are many other facets to food safety, but the EMP is where inspectors and auditors will look to see the indicators of contamination and the efficacy of your sanitation controls. Therefore, it is critical that your organization exhibit not only that you are on top of things and are following your EMP procedures consistently, but that you can analyze and pinpoint issues as they arise, and that you have a track record of corrective actions in response to those issues. This, in-turn, allows you to see where your business objectives are most at-risk.

Regardless of which specific food industry segment your company operates in, or which governing body it reports to, it’s essential to stay informed and compliant with changing regulations in order to reduce the risk of experiencing a recall. In a strategic operational role, intelligent environmental monitoring allows companies to not only proactively work to avoid public health issues, but is vital to retaining a consistent bottom line.

Verify Suppliers

Earlier this year, the FDA heralded what they call a “New Era of Smarter Food Safety”. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, more and more companies are investigating how technology can be used to harness and control the growing complexity of supply chain implications.

The challenge of making sure your organization is doing its due diligence to prevent recalls is further complicated when incorporating outside suppliers. For example, 15% of the United State’s overall food supply is imported from more than 200 other countries, according to the FDA. Making sure the product coming into a facility is also meeting your standards is vital to preventing pathogens from entering your supply chain either through containers, people, or the incoming product itself.

The complexity grows exponentially when we contemplate what this means for tracking food safety across a supply chain of this scope. Generally suppliers are asked to provide verification for the cleanliness of the product they are bringing into your facility. However, by going a step further and establishing test points for the product when it comes in, you will be better equipped to catch pathogens before they can enter into your own supply chain and potentially contaminate other products. While you may already have a good relationship with your suppliers, being able to independently verify the safety of their products and that their own processes are working, creates a mutually beneficial relationship.

Modernize Your Environmental Monitoring Program

Food experts at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva discussed the critical nature of ensuring food safety across geographic boundaries, as it is an issue that affects everyone. Incidents of pathogen outbreaks around the world have a direct impact on the health of global citizens, with one in 10 people falling ill due to food contamination.

A traditional EMP allows organizations to continuously verify that their sanitation programs are working by scheduling testing, monitoring results for any signs of pathogens, and maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies. Historically, this type of program is documented in spreadsheets and three-ring binders, but today the acceptance of new tools being offered by vendors and labs are expanding offerings to modernize the monitoring process.

Food safety professionals, many of whom are trained microbiologists, should have better tools at their disposal than spreadsheets that force them to manually sift through data. All regulatory bodies in the food industry have guidelines when it comes to where, what, and when you should be testing in your facilities. Ensuring that this is happening is a basic requirement for meeting regulatory mandates.

By choosing an automated EMP, FSQA teams are able to schedule testing plans including randomization and test point coverage rules, see what testing is being performed when, and obtain all testing data in one system for ease of access before or during an audit. This offers an “always-on” source of audit data and more importantly, trending and root-cause analysis capabilities to find and define actions to remediate recurring problems.

Further, an automated EMP that is integrated with your food safety plan allows you to set up workflows and automatically notify appropriate team members according to your organization’s policies. Each remediation step can be recorded and time stamped as the corrective action moves towards completion.

Understand Data Exhaust

A dominant theme pushed forward by FSMA is the need to document all aspects of your food safety plan, from the written outline to the records indicating proper implementation. Today’s manufacturers face a time of heightened regulation, and with stricter enforcement comes greater requirements for documentation. Automated EMPs not only provide your organization insight into what is happening within your facilities for documentation, it also gives time back to your FSQA team who, instead of spending their days with three ring binders, can analyze and investigate recurring issues in your facility to look for new, innovative ways for the organization to maintain a high standard of quality.

However, effective testing also means reading, understanding and responding to results. It is not enough to simply meet the required volume and frequency of environmental testing metrics. You need to use the resulting information to effect change and improvements by lowering the likeliness of pathogens, allergens and contaminants from entering the food supply chain. The more data collected, the more it leads to true understandings. What testing might show is just the symptoms of the problem—not the root cause of a far bigger problem. As more data is available, it becomes more valuable through the insights that can be gained through trend analysis. This, in turn, moves the conversation to higher levels within the organization who care about ensuring productivity and reducing avoidable risk.

Incorporating your lab into the equation is essential. Find a lab partner that offers an automated testing program that is integrated with their LIMS. Your organization will then be in a better position to ensure results are being responded to in an appropriate time frame.

There are many diagnostic tools in use today, both in-plant and at the lab. Each of these tools generates “data exhaust” in the form of a diagnostic result. But are your data streams being integrated and analyzed to find correlations and potential cause/effect relationships? Or does your ATP device simply record its data to a dedicated laptop or spreadsheet?

Testing, combined with an automated EMP, can allow you to combine data from various diagnostic systems (on-premise or from your lab partner) to identify trends and therefore a more holistic path to remediation. For this to occur, data must be accessible, aggregated and actionable, which an automated EMP achieves.

Forward-thinking companies and facility managers are leveraging valuable software solutions to improve processes, protect reputations, minimize inefficiencies, and simplify multifaceted compliance and audit tasks. Over the next three to five years, numerous organizations will reduce their risk of food recalls by combining their EMPs with analytics capabilities to reduce food risk and improve quality using diagnostic solutions and data assets. This change will be arduous, as all digital transformations in other industries have shown. But, in the end, they have shown the value and long-term success that the food industry now needs to experience.

AFSAP

FDA Issues First Import Alert for FSVP Non Compliance

By Trish Wester
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AFSAP

The Import Alert for FSVP noncompliance is applicable to any human and animal food subject to the FSVP regulation, and allows FDA to detain imported foods at the port of entry under the protocol for Detention Without Physical Examination (DWPE). DWPE is a standard enforcement tool for FDA.

July 31, 2019: FDA issued Import Alert #99-41, the first Import Alert based on noncompliance with the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) regulation.
The FSVP Import Alert contains the following reason for the alert and the relevant charge.

Reason

“Section 805 of the FD&C Act (21 U.S.C. 384a) requires each importer of food to perform risk-based foreign supplier verification activities for the purpose of verifying that the food imported by the importer is produced in compliance with the requirements of section 418 (21 U.S.C. 350g) (regarding hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls) or section 419 (21 U.S.C 350h)(regarding standards for produce safety) of the FD&C Act, as appropriate; and that the food is not adulterated under section 402 or misbranded under section 403(w).” – FDA

Charge

“The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to section 801(a)(3) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) in that it appears that the importer (as defined in section 805 of the FD&C Act) is in violation of section 805.” – FDA

Join Trish Wester for the closing plenary 2019 Food Safety Consortium panel discussion FDA Presentation on The Third-Party Certification Program | Thursday, October 3, 2019“Import alerts inform the FDA’s field staff and the public that the agency has enough evidence to allow for Detention Without Physical Examination (DWPE) of products that appear to be in violation of the FDA’s laws and regulations. These violations could be related to the product, manufacturer, shipper and/or other information,” states FDA on its webpage about import alerts.

A Trend of Increased Import Enforcement?

FDA enforcement actions in this area have recently seen a dramatic increase. Only one alert was posted in the first quarter, and less than 10 food-related alerts were posted prior to June. July 2019 saw eight food alerts, including one on radionuclides and the FSVP. FDA posted more than 30 food-related import alerts in August, and September is on a similar pace currently showing 21 food-related alerts, indicating this may be an ongoing focus for the agency.

The information in this update is provided by AFSAP, the Association for Food Safety Auditing Professionals. Please contact Patricia Wester @ trish@pawesta.com if you have any questions regarding DWPE, or to request a complete copy of the alert.

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.

Gabriela Lopez, 3M Food Safety
Allergen Alley

Method Acting: Comparing Different Analytical Methods for Allergen Testing and Verification

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

Every day, food industries around the world work to comply with the food labeling directives and regulations in place to inform consumers about specific ingredients added to finished products. Of course, special attention has been placed on ensuring that product packaging clearly declares the presence of food allergens including milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, sesame and mustard. (Additional food allergens may also be included in other regions.)

But labeling only covers the ingredients deliberately added to foods and beverages. In reality, food manufacturers have two jobs when it comes to serving the needs of their allergic consumers:

  1. Fully understand and clearly declare the intentional presence of allergenic foods
  2. Prevent the unintended presence of allergenic foods into their product

Almost half of food recalls are the result of undeclared allergens, and often these at-fault allergens were not only undeclared but unintended. Given such, the unintended presence of allergenic foods is something that must be carefully considered when establishing an allergen control plan for a food processing facility.

How? It starts with a risk assessment process that evaluates the likelihood of unintentionally present allergens that could originate from raw materials, cross-contact contamination in equipment or tools, transport and more. Once the risks are identified, risk management strategies should then be established to control allergens in the processing plant environment.
It is necessary to validate these risk management strategies or procedures in order to demonstrate their effectiveness. After validation, those strategies or procedures should then be periodically verified to show that the allergen control plan in place is continually effective.

In several of these verification procedures it may be necessary to utilize an analytical test to determine the presence or absence of an allergenic food or to quantify its level, if present. Indeed, selecting an appropriate method to assess the presence or the level of an allergenic food is vitally important, as the information provided by the selected method will inform crucial decisions about the safety of an ingredient, equipment or product that is to be released for commercialization.

A cursory review of available methods can be daunting. There are several emerging methods and technologies for this application, including mass spectroscopy, surface plasmon resonance, biosensors and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Each of these methods have made advancements, and some of them are already commercialized for food testing applications. However, for practical means, we will discuss those methods that are most commonly used in the food industry.

In general, there are two types of analytical methods used to determine the presence of allergenic foods: Specific and non-specific methods.

Specific tests

Specific methods can detect target proteins in foods that contain the allergenic portion of the food sample. These include immunoassays, in which specific antibodies can recognize and bind to target proteins. The format of these assays can be quantitative, such as an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that may help determine the concentration of target proteins in a food sample. Or they can be qualitative, such as a lateral flow device, which within a few minutes and with minimum sample preparation can display whether a target protein is or is not present. (Note: Some commercial formats of ELISA are also designed to obtain a qualitative result.)

To date, ELISA assays have become a method of choice for detection and quantification of proteins from food allergens by regulatory entities and inspection agencies. For the food industry, ELISA can also be used to test raw ingredients and final food products. In addition, ELISA is a valuable analytical tool to determine the concentration of proteins from allergenic foods during a cleaning validation process, as some commercial assay suppliers offer methods to determine the concentration of target proteins from swabs utilized to collect environmental samples, clean-in-place (CIP) final rinse water or purge materials utilized during dry cleaning.

ELISA methods often require the use of laboratory equipment and technical skills to be implemented. Rapid-specific methods such as immunoassays with a lateral flow format also allow detection of target specific proteins. Given their minimal sample preparation and short time-to-result, they are valuable tools for cleaning validation and routine cleaning verification, with the advantage of having a similar sensitivity to the lowest limit of quantification of an ELISA assay.

The use of a specific rapid immunoassay provides a presence/absence result that determines whether equipment, surfaces or utensils have been cleaned to a point where proteins from allergenic foods are indiscernible at a certain limit of detection. Thus, equipment can be used to process a product that should not contain a food allergen. Some commercial rapid immunoassays offer protocols to use this type of test in raw materials and final product. This allows food producers to analyze foods and ingredients for the absence of a food allergen with minimum laboratory infrastructure and enables in-house testing of this type of sample. This feature may be a useful rapid verification tool to analyze final product that has been processed shortly after the first production run following an equipment cleaning.

Non-Specific Tests

While non-specific testing isn’t typically the best option for a cleaning validation study, these tests may be used for routine cleaning verification. Examples of non-specific tests include total protein or ATP tests.

Tests that determine total protein are often based on a colorimetric reaction. For example, commercial products utilize a swab format that, after being used to survey a defined area, is placed in a solution that will result in a color change if protein is detected. The rationale is that if protein is not detected, it may be assumed that proteins from allergenic foods were removed during cleaning. However, when total protein is utilized for routine verification, it is important to consider that the sensitivity of protein swabs may differ from the sensitivity of specific immunoassays. Consequently, highly sensitive protein swabs should be selected when feasible.

ATP swab tests are also commonly utilized by the food industry as a non-specific tool for hygiene monitoring and cleaning verification. However, the correlation between ATP and protein is not always consistent. Because the ATP present in living somatic cells varies with the food type, ATP should not be considered as a direct marker to assess the removal of allergenic food residues after cleaning. Instead, an analytical test designed for the detection of proteins should be used alongside ATP swabs to assess hygiene and to assess removal of allergenic foods.

Factors for Using One Test Versus Another

For routine testing, the choice of using a specific or a non-specific analytical method will depend on various factors including the type of product, the number of allergenic ingredients utilized for one production line, whether a quantitative result is required for a particular sample or final product, and, possibly, the budget that is available for testing. In any case, it is important that when performing a cleaning validation study, the method used for routine testing also be included to demonstrate that it will effectively reflect the presence of an allergenic food residue.

Specific rapid methods for verification are preferable because they enable direct monitoring of the undesirable presence of allergenic foods. For example, they can be utilized in conjunction with a non-specific protein swab and, based on the sampling plan, specific tests can then be used periodically (weekly) for sites identified as high-risk because they may be harder to clean than other surfaces. In addition, non-specific protein swabs can be used after every production changeover for all sites previously defined in a sampling plan. These and any other scenarios should be discussed while developing an allergen control plan, and the advantages and risks of selecting any method(s) should be evaluated.

As with all analytical methods, commercial suppliers will perform validation of the methods they offer to ensure the method is suitable for testing a particular analyte. However, given the great diversity of food products, different sanitizers and chemicals used in the food industry, and the various processes to which a food is subjected during manufacturing, it is unlikely that commercial methods have been exhaustively tested. Thus, it is always important to ensure that the method is fit-for-purpose and to verify that it will recover or detect the allergen residues of interest at a defined level.

Food Safety Supply Chain panel 2017

Registration Open for 4th Food Safety Supply Chain Conference

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Supply Chain panel 2017

Do you trust your suppliers? What about your supplier’s suppliers? Strengthening the links within your supply chain can be a challenging task, but it is necessary with FDA, and FSMA, recognizing the risk that exists.

Key topics, including vulnerabilities, inspections & audits, traceability, supplier verification, transportation, and recalls will be addressed at the 4th Food Safety Supply Chain conference from June 12–13 in Rockville, MD. The event will be held at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention.

This year’s agenda will be posted by March 1. In the meantime, the following are some topics covered at last year’s event:

Industry Experts Weigh in on Supply Chain Issues

Import Safe Food, Stay Out of Trouble with FDA

 

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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Sequencing pattern, pathogens

Build Stronger Food Safety Programs With Next-Generation Sequencing

By Akhila Vasan, Mahni Ghorashi
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Sequencing pattern, pathogens

According to a survey by retail consulting firm Daymon Worldwide, 50% of today’s consumers are more concerned about food safety and quality than they were five years ago. Their concerns are not unfounded. Recalls are on the rise, and consumer health is put at risk by undetected cases of food adulteration and contamination.

While consumers are concerned about the quality of the food they eat, buy and sell, the brands responsible for making and selling these products also face serious consequences if their food safety programs don’t safeguard against devastating recalls.

A key cause of recalls, food fraud, or the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, continues to be an issue for the food safety industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, food fraud is estimated to be a $10–15 billion a year problem.

Some of the more notorious examples include wood shavings in Parmesan cheese, the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the United Kingdom, and Oceana’s landmark 2013 study, which revealed that a whopping 33% of seafood sold in the United States is mislabeled. While international organizations like Interpol have stepped up to tackle food fraud, which is exacerbated by the complexity of globalization, academics estimate that 4% of all food is adulterated in some way.

High-profile outbreaks due to undetected pathogens are also a serious risk for consumers and the food industry alike. The United States’ economy alone loses about $55 billion each year due to food illnesses. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 1 in 10 people become ill every year from eating contaminated food. In 2016 alone, several high-profile outbreaks rocked the industry, harming consumers and brands alike. From the E. coli O26 outbreak at Chipotle to Salmonella in live poultry to Hepatitis A in raw scallops to the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak at Blue Bell ice cream, the food industry has dealt with many challenges on this front.

What’s Being Done?

Both food fraud and undetected contamination can cause massive, expensive and damaging recalls for brands. Each recall can cost a brand about $10 million in direct costs, and that doesn’t include the cost of brand damage and lost sales.

Frustratingly, more recalls due to food fraud and contamination are happening at a time when regulation and policy is stronger than ever. As the global food system evolves, regulatory agencies around the world are fine-tuning or overhauling their food safety systems, taking a more preventive approach.

At the core of these changes is HACCP, the long implemented and well-understood method of evaluating and controlling food safety hazards. In the United States, while HACCP is still used in some sectors, the move to FSMA is apparent in others. In many ways, 2017 is dubbed the year of FSMA compliance.

There is also the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a private industry conformance standard for certification, which was established proactively by industry to improve food safety throughout the supply chain. It is important to note that all regulatory drivers, be they public or private, work together to ensure the common goal of delivering safe food for consumers. However, more is needed to ensure that nothing slips through the food safety programs.

Now, bolstered by regulatory efforts, advancements in technology make it easier than ever to update food safety programs to better safeguard against food safety risks and recalls and to explore what’s next in food.

Powering the Food Safety Programs of Tomorrow

Today, food safety programs are being bolstered by new technologies as well, including genomic sequencing techniques like NGS. NGS, which stands for next-generation sequencing, is an automated DNA sequencing technology that generates and analyzes millions of sequences per run, allowing researchers to sequence, re-sequence and compare data at a rate previously not possible.

The traditional methods of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are quickly being replaced by faster and more accurate solutions. The benefit of NGS over PCR is that PCR is targeted, meaning you have to know what you’re looking for. It is also conducted one target at a time, meaning that each target you wish to test requires a separate run. This is costly and does not scale.

Next-generation sequencing, by contrast, is universal. A single test exposes all potential threats, both expected and unexpected. From bacteria and fungi to the precise composition of ingredients in a given sample, a single NGS test guarantees that hazards cannot slip through your supply chain.  In the not-too-distant future, the cost and speed of NGS will meet and then quickly surpass legacy technologies; you can expect the technology to be adopted with increasing speed the moment it becomes price-competitive with PCR.

Applications of NGS

Even today’s NGS technologies are deployment-ready for applications including food safety and supplier verification. With the bottom line protected, food brands are also able to leverage NGS to build the food chain of tomorrow, and focus funding and resources on research and development.

Safety Testing. Advances in NGS allow retailers and manufacturers to securely identify specific pathogens down to the strain level, test environmental samples, verify authenticity and ultimately reduce the risk of outbreaks or counterfeit incidents.

Compared to legacy PCR methods, brands leveraging NGS are able to test for multiple pathogens with a single test, at a lower cost and higher accuracy. This universality is key to protecting brands against all pathogens, not just the ones for which they know to look.

Supplier Verification. NGS technologies can be used to combat economically motivated food fraud and mislabeling, and verify supplier claims. Undeclared allergens are the number one reason for recalls.

As a result of FSMA, the FDA now requires food facilities to implement preventative controls to avoid food fraud, which today occurs in up to 10% of all food types. Traditional PCR-based tests cannot distinguish between closely related species and have high false-positive rates. NGS offers high-resolution, scalable testing so that you can verify suppliers and authenticate product claims, mitigating risk at every level.

R&D. NGS-based metagenomics analysis can be used in R&D and new product development to build the next-generation of health foods and nutritional products, as well as to perform competitive benchmarking and formulation consistency monitoring.

As the consumer takes more and more control over what goes into their food, brands have the opportunity to differentiate not only on transparency, but on personalization, novel approaches and better consistency.

A Brighter Future for Food Safety

With advances in genomic techniques and analysis, we are now better than ever equipped to safeguard against food safety risks, protect brands from having to issue costly recalls, and even explore the next frontier for food. As the technology gets better, faster and cheaper, we are going to experience a tectonic shift in the way we manage our food safety programs and supply chains at large.

Dr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories
Food Genomics

Microbiomes a Versatile Tool for FSMA Validation and Verification

By Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., Gregory Siragusa
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Dr. Douglass Marshall, Chief Scientific Officer – Eurofins Microbiology Laboratories

The use of genomics tools are valuable additions to companies seeking to meet and exceed validation and verification requirements for FSMA compliance (21 CFR 117.3). In this installment of Food Genomics, we present reasons why microbiome analyses are powerful tools for FSMA requirements currently and certainly in the future.

Recall in the first installment of Food Genomics we defined a microbiome as the community of microorganisms that inhabit a particular environment or sample. For example, a food plant’s microbiome includes all the microorganisms that colonize a plant’s surfaces and internal passages. This can be a targeted (amplicon sequencing-based) or a metagenome (whole shotgun metagenome-based) microbiome. Microbiome analysis can be carried out on processing plant environmental samples, raw ingredients, during shelf life or challenge studies, and in cases of overt spoilage.

As a refresher of FSMA requirements, here is a brief overview. Validation activities include 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 microbial hazards. In other words, can the food safety plan, when implemented, actually control the identified hazards? Verification activities include 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. Verification ensures that the controls in the food safety plan are actually being properly implemented in a way to control the hazards.

Validation establishes the scientific basis for food safety plan process preventive controls. Some examples include using scientific principles and data such as routine indicator microbiology, using expert opinions, conducting in-plant observations or tests, and challenging the process at the limits of its operating controls by conducting challenge studies. FSMA-required validation frequency first includes before the food safety plan is implemented (ideally), within the first 90 calendar days of production, or within a reasonable timeframe with written justification by the preventive controls qualified individual. Additional validation efforts must occur when a change in control measure(s) could impact efficacy or when reanalysis indicates the need.

FSMA requirements stipulate that validation is not required for food allergen preventive controls, sanitation preventive controls, supply-chain program, or recall plan effectiveness. Other preventive controls also may not require validation with written justification. Despite the lack of regulatory expectation, prudent processors may wish to validate these controls in the course of developing their food safety plan. For example, validating sanitation-related controls for pathogen and allergen controls of complex equipment and for how long a processing line can run between cleaning are obvious needs.

There are many routine verification activities expected of FSMA-compliant companies. For process verification, validation of effectiveness, checking equipment calibration, records review, and targeted sampling and testing are examples. Food allergen control verification includes label review and visual inspection of equipment; however, prudent manufacturers using equipment for both allergen-containing and allergen-free foods should consider targeted sampling and testing for allergens. Sanitation verification includes visual inspection of equipment, with environmental monitoring as needed for RTE foods exposed to the environment after processing and before packaging. Supply-chain verification should include second- and third-party audits and targeted sampling and testing. Additional verification activities include system verification, food safety plan reanalysis, third-party audits and internal audits.

Verification procedures should be designed to demonstrate that the food safety plan is consistently being implemented as written. Such procedures are required as appropriate to the food, facility and nature of the preventive control, and can include calibration of process monitoring and verification instruments, and targeted product and environmental monitoring testing.

AOAC Neogen

Neogen’s AccuPoint Advanced receives AOAC approval

AOAC Neogen

Neogen recently received approval from the AOAC Research Institute for its rapid and accurate AccuPoint Advanced ATP Sanitation Verification System.

Neogen’s AccuPoint Advanced is the first sanitation verification system to receive an AOAC approval, and this approval follows a recent study by NSF International that showed AccuPoint Advanced exceeded the performance of competitive systems.

“Each time we receive a validation from an independent third party on any of our tests, it provides further assurance to the food production and processing industry that our tests perform as expected,” said Ed Bradley, Neogen’s vice president of Food Safety. “The performance of our AccuPoint Advanced system in recent independent evaluations by AOAC and NSF is very gratifying. We developed the product with the goal of creating a new sanitation verification system that is superior to anything else on the market.”

The results in the AOAC validation report (Performance Tested MethodSM 091601) provided evidence that AccuPoint Advanced produces consistent and reliable data for evaluating sanitation program effectiveness in food processing and food services facilities.

AccuPoint Advanced is an enhanced version of its earlier AccuPoint test system. Improvements with AccuPoint Advanced include: improved sampler chemistry to produce more consistent results with even greater sensitivity; an enhanced instrument to produce even faster results (less than 20 seconds); and advanced Data Manager software to easily streamline the testing process by creating test plans and syncing important data, while keeping a permanent record of sanitation test results.

AOAC International is a globally recognized, independent forum for finding appropriate science-based solutions through the development of microbiological and chemical standards. The Applied Research Center at NSF International is a not-for-profit global research group that provides product development support to manufacturers and developers of products in the food safety, agriculture, clinical and life science markets.