Consumers have never been more aware of food safety issues. A quick Google News search for “food safety” turns up headlines from around the world. In addition to the usual suspects such as botulism, E. coli, and Salmonella, consumers worry about pesticides and other chemical contaminants in their foods. Another fear is food bioterrorism.
Just the mere suspicion of a contaminated product has far-reaching consequences for a food supplier. Because testing food samples (whether it is to look for contaminants or to examine nutritional components) can help find irregularities before products reach consumers, it is a vital activity in the food industry.
According to Mark Carter, general manager of Silliker, Inc.’s Food Science Center (Homewood, Ill.), sample preparation is the most overlooked aspect of food safety. “A lot of work gets done on the back end in detection or enumeration, but we tend to neglect the sample prep area,” he says. Sample prep needs to be validated and optimized along with test procedures and should be re-examined every time any change is made to verify that the procedures being used are still applicable.
“There are a lot of directions to consider,” Carter says. “For example, how do you categorize your product? Is it meat, poultry, dry powder, or liquid? How you begin obviously depends on what you’re testing and what you’re testing it for. Currently, there is no compendium.” Some people, including Carter, would like to change that.
Desperately Seeking a Compendium
A working group of 19 met in July at the International Association for Food Protection’s (IAFP) Annual Meeting, held in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to discuss the state of sample prep in the food industry. Led by co-chairs Mary Lou Tortorello, PhD, of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Lee-Ann Jaykus, PhD, associate professor, North Carolina State University Food Science Department, the group’s long-term goal is to create a compendium for sample test methodology in the food industry.