Eventually, the carbon monoxide detector was invented, and mine safety was dramatically improved. However, it took many lives and tragedies for people to force this change and push on inventors for a better solution. The food industry also wants improvement. Companies want to implement whatever protocols that enable them to deliver better and safer food products to customers. Every food safety official, from top to bottom, already recognizes the problem of pathogens and contaminants, as well as their impact.
The Next Safety Revolution
The problem of food safety is even more nuanced than the above example. While the analogy is useful for understanding the prevalence and arch of the problem, it is imperfect. Most notably, with food safety, there isn’t merely one contaminant—like carbon monoxide—to worry about. There are many possible adulterations or issues. That’s why it’s crucial to have technology that is comprehensive in scope and execution.
A promising technology that is thorough and fast enough to speak to these unique challenges of the food safety industry is next-generation sequencing (NGS). NGS looks at the very DNA of foods to discover their composition. It’s a methodology that has revolutionized both the study and application of genomics and molecular biology. Now it’s taking the food safety world by storm.
Unlike PCR, which requires different tests for each pathogen, NGS can ask almost infinite questions about a sample and get the answers all in one test. Additionally, it can sequence hundreds of samples at a time. This amount of data enables companies to identify pathogens at the strain and serotype level even in mixed-ingredient and packaged foods. In addition, all tests go from sample to answer within 24 hours.
The rapid access to in-depth information is something that companies are hungry for. For safety and for consumer satisfaction, having product accuracy that borders on the absolute is not just crucial; it’s a competitive advantage. NGS can provide this certainty with an accuracy of 99.9 percent. PCR’s accuracy is approximately 98 percent, according to a study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology on accuracy and sensitivity of commercial PCR-based methods for detecting Salmonella enterica in feed.
“Tunable” pathogen profiling is also available from such products as Clear Safety’s Clear Labs NGS platform, which enables companies to set the level of molecular characterization based on the information they need.
This awareness is empowering rather than overwhelming thanks to the complete capabilities of NGS. For every discovery, it offers a solution.
Food safety is a complex, ever-evolving conversation. NGS fits into that conversation with its own complexity of analysis and delivery of results.
Endeavoring Towards a Safer Future
NGS provides an opportunity to enter a new era of safety where companies have unprecedented information about their food products—and consumers have unparalleled peace of mind.
Of course, the obvious benefit to NGS is helping the industry better prevent and react to contamination along the supply chain. However, the key here is not that we’re just better at knowing what happened, we can actually begin to prevent the contamination from making it beyond its first touchpoint along the supply chain. With the speed, accuracy, and affordability provided by NGS, food safety testing can be done early and often, helping brands avoid the consequences of an extensive recall.
The rise of NGS means that we are building a future of food safety that is preventive as well as proactive.
Ghorashi is co-founder and COO of Clear Labs, where he leads commercial activities, including product, sales, and marketing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.