Current consumer concerns about food safety, coupled with recent legislation—specifically, the FSMA—have made an impact on the food industry. Food product manufacturers are in need of reliable and accurate sample analyses, and many will outsource their testing to contract food laboratories.
These contract analytical laboratories are already seeing increases in sample volumes, but the new regulations and manufacturer demands are calling for more complex tests and procedures. The contract lab industry is poised for steady growth in the coming years, but some labs may need to revise current procedures and processes to ensure they’re at the top of their game.
The passage of the FSMA is bound to affect the business of independent testing labs, but many labs remain in a holding pattern while waiting for test requirements to be implemented.
“In theory, this could cause an increase in lab business,” said Harvey Klein, laboratory director of Garden State Laboratories in Hillside, N.J. “We have to wait and see, and it might be months, or even a year or two, before we see an impact.”
Mansour Samadpour, PhD, president and CEO of IEH Laboratories in Seattle, is apprehensive about the FSMA’s impact on the business of contract labs, and is concerned that the legislation will create a culture of “testing for the sake of testing.”
“My view has always been that food companies—or anyone who is doing testing—should be testing for a purpose to answer specific questions,” Dr. Samadpour continued. “Testing really has to help manufacturers in controlling their production process by assessing the risk of the raw material and ensuring the safety and quality of the product. There are places where you can do this, and places where you’re just wasting resources.”
As the food industry waits for new requirements to take effect, some food manufacturers are taking a proactive approach by requesting more testing now. “We’re seeing an impact from our existing customers and have new customers coming on board as well,” said Keith Klemm, director of food and microbiology at Sherry Laboratories in Warsaw, Ind. Business at Sherry Laboratories has been building steadily for the past two years, so much so that he’s added three employees in the past six months and will likely fill two more positions by the end of the year.
Pressure on food manufacturers from their own clients continues to increase, driven in part by consumer concerns over food safety. This, in turn, drives up sample volume.
“Bad press in the news can hurt an entire industry, so food manufacturers are looking to stay ahead of the curve,” said Carolyn J. Otten, PhD, senior manager of analytical services for Chemir in Maryland Heights, Mo. Manufacturers want to beat out their competition by being able to tell customers they have certain types of testing done, she said. To combat the “hysteria” associated with food scares, she added, they’ll try to develop the best quality checks and mechanisms they can to keep their customers safe.
Additionally, manufacturers often want testing to be done immediately. Sometimes this is complicated and may require method development, said Dr. Otten. “This takes time and money, and a lot of times these analytical tests can be quite costly.” Manufacturers also want the data faster. “The days of turning around pathogen testing in five days are over,” said Dr. Samadpour. “You’re now talking about 12 hours.”
These types of customer requests can make the business of food analysis more complex. Another relatively recent trend is an increased need for more sophisticated instrumentation and a more sophisticated knowledge base from operators and staff. Over the past year, Chemir has seen in increase in the number of requests regarding analyses adhering to specific components of California Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act that was passed in 1986 and now extends to food safety. The legislation applies to all manufacturers who sell products in the state of California, requiring them to notify consumers if their products contain chemicals that may cause cancer or reproductive harm. “With a lot of these analyses, they’re not necessarily established methods for detecting in food—maybe for waste water, but not necessarily for food,” Dr. Otten said. “Food matrices can be complex, and it’s tough to achieve the levels put forth by Prop 65.”
Future of the Industry
The FSMA will allow the FDA to create a food testing certification process, and the FDA will recognize these accreditations.