As this issue’s Product Focus shows, laboratory equipment for food science and the industry is changing rapidly. As the cover story for our December/January 2009 issue reported, one of the key changes in the lab is the emergence of tools that are more efficient, reliable, and automated, said Purnendu Vasavada, PhD, an extension food safety and microbiology specialist with the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. The lab will also be smaller.
“Space is increasingly a premium in processing plants,” Dr. Vasavada pointed out, with no pun intended. “So the lab of the future will be smaller to optimize space savings. An instrument or a system that formerly occupied a 10’ x 6’ table will now need a 4’ x 2’ counter and will be driven by a laptop computer. However, if you test for specific pathogens, you will need to have a dedicated facility with a specialized air handling system to minimize the risk of cross contamination.”
The lab of the future will be smaller to optimize space savings. An instrument or a system that formerly occupied a 10’x 6’ table will now need a 4’x 2’ counter and will be driven by a laptop computer.
Even if the lab is small and automation is at a competitive level, industry won’t see a lab without human intervention anytime soon. “There will, however, be hybrid, automated, or semi-automated systems that one technician can operate to efficiently conduct various analyses,” Dr. Vasavada said.
With a new generation of user-friendly test kits and instruments on the horizon, companies will be able to conduct in-house testing rather than sending samples to outside contract labs for analysis. “That will save time and money and minimize complications in data handling and interpretation,” added Dr. Vasavada, who is also a member of Food Quality magazine’s editorial advisory panel.
Pascal Yvon, PharmD, MBA, who at the time the article was published was chief executive officer for U.S. Markets of AES-Chemunex, agrees that automation will play a key role, as will standardization.
“Automation is a means to standardization, which saves time and increases productivity,” he said. “To do that, you must get rid of as many steps as possible that can be influenced by the operator. We must use methods and technologies with which every operator will get results and meet objectives that are not impaired by manual work. The goal is to first reduce the number of manipulations and then ultimately be fully automated so people can push a button, walk away from the instrument, and get results.”
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