The Food Safety Modernization Act is now a reality as the rules’ compliance dates have already started to roll out according to the published schedule. Food safety is a critical issue for all stakeholders in the production chain as the U.S. FDA is exercising its power and authority to bring federal criminal charges against companies and their management for food safety violations.
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There is nowhere a company can hide from a food recall, whether it be voluntary or FDA enforced. Consumers and the legal profession are acutely aware of the food industry’s product recalls in real time due to 24/7/365 connectivity of technology and speed of sharing interactive information.
As technology is increasing the food safety awareness and knowledge of consumers, it is also improving the food industry’s ability to ensure that the food it provides is wholesome and safe. There are tremendous advancements in various technology platforms to support the food safety process at all stages throughout the production chain. These technologies range from enhancing “time-to-results” and accurate pathogen detection, supporting a company’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and Hazard Analysis Risk-Based Preventative Controls plans, streamlining the audit process, delivering and monitoring continuous improvement on food safety education for employees, and accurately documenting food and supplier traceability, to name a few.
In particular, new technologies are now available to better monitor foodborne pathogens onsite and there are no excuses for processors not to improve their overall processing environment. All processors can start by introducing small changes in their food safety program that includes using better, more nutritive sampling devices, better performing enrichment media, and better detection methods. The ROI is almost immediate and results in improved process control, longer-term sanitation cost reduction, better production efficiency, and, most important, lowering the risk of releasing contaminated products to the market that could result in pathogen outbreaks.
Faster, Better Enrichment Method
One of the biggest and elusive culprits in food safety management is the environmental presence and growth of pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella spp., in the processing or manufacturing facility. Environmental testing for microbiological contaminants is a key component of hygiene monitoring and risk characterization practices utilized across diverse fields of application. When selecting a detection method, a sensitive procedure is necessary as the target pathogen numbers are very low and more likely to be injured after going through heat stress, cold stress, dehydration, starvation, etc. These injured bacteria can be incapable of growth because of structural or metabolic damage resulting from an underestimation of the true population of viable cells given false-negative results. They also become sensitive to selective components present in enrichment broth to which they normally show resistance. This could worsen when using a highly selective media because the inhibitory ingredients comprised in the formulation are optimized for the growth of populations from samples rich in nutrients and can be highly damaging for organisms adapted to low-nutrient conditions, such as the ones present on a surface. In this situation, some cells of the stressed bacterial population will not initiate growth while others will show a longer lag phase than healthy cells due to repair time. The resulting consequence is a real risk of not reaching the bacterial concentration for the detection of the pathogens within the enrichment duration. This explains why it is challenging to obtain appropriate enrichment conditions to provide a balance between recovery of the desired organism while avoiding the overgrowth of competing organisms.
When selecting an enrichment broth and enrichment conditions, it is important that the method is developed taking into consideration the complexity of the samples to enrich and the morphology state of the target pathogens. A nutritionally rich, semi-selective broth that supports the use of an enrichment technique is desired to improve and accelerate the recovery of stressed cells in a variety of samples. Enrichment times may vary based on the performance of the media in resuscitating weak or injured cells as well as the detection capabilities of the test assay in complex environment surfaces. Also, when making a decision to use any media, it is important to confirm that the medium has been validated to work with the desired test assay to lower the probability in obtaining false positive or negative results. Other parameters that are important to know are the specificity and the sensitivity of the media and the detection system.