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Explore this issueApril/May 2018
In the food industry, producers continually evaluate their processes to ensure the highest level of profitability, and a significant portion of the equation focuses on risk management. Risks like drought, flood, and pest infestation are considered acts of nature to which consumers are forgiving; however, other risks, such as releasing contaminated food items to consumers, is viewed by the public as preventable and less forgivable.
According to a study commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 77 percent of respondents estimated the financial impact of a Class I recall to be up to $30 million dollars; 23 percent reported even higher costs. The prospect of these types of losses frighten large companies and can bankrupt small companies.
The Food Safety Modernization Act rules and regulations now require food producers to perform pathogen testing to minimize the probability of recalls. Although there is a willingness to perform pathogen testing, food producers don’t want to excessively pay for testing, as it bites into their bottom line. Hence, food safety testing programs are all about sufficiently managing risk, while preserving the bottom line.
Over the past few decades, the incidence of food recalls has not declined, which is troubling. However, there is a reason for optimism as new technologies are under development that may provide better tools for food safety officers to carry out their jobs, presuming that they are more sensitive than current methods and can detect problems in a timelier manner.
The Problems with Culture
The practice of growing pathogens (i.e. culture) has long been used in the industry since it is relatively affordable, simple to perform, and confirms viability, but it does have two major drawbacks. First, it is slow and takes several days to return a result. For perishable products, every day that’s lost waiting for results impacts the product’s value since there is less time for those products to be sold. The delay in getting test results is responsible for additional incurred expenses for transporting the food products to a storage facility and then paying for refrigerated storage, if needed. Although indirect, these costs need to be factored into the cost per sample tested.