Columns

Do your homework

August 31, 2005
/ Print / Reprints /
ShareMore
/ Text Size+
Designing the right type of test for your plant makes all the difference in food safety.

Richard F. Stier
Statistics can be a dangerous thing. Today, the food industry has access to numerous types of tests-and, unfortunately, consumer advocates often gravitate towards them. Yet, frequently consumers don't understand the statistics behind these tests. In many cases, the test's sample size is so small that the probability of detecting a problem is miniscule. Further, people (both inside and outside our industry) sometimes don't understand the concepts of process control and testing as a basic verification activity.



Compounding the problem is that some food plants do not perform the right tests for the right situations. In microbiological testing for example, there are many cases in which people are testing for the wrong class or type of organisms because they have failed to closely consider the foods involved and the systems used to process them. Selection of the proper organism (i.e. pathogens or spoilage organisms) can be used to predict potential food quality or safety problems.

Part of the reason that plants perform incorrect tests is due to misunderstandings, either about the tests and/or what the results indicate. For example, coliforms are common waterborne contaminants and most species are completely harmless. However, thanks to the media and pseudo-scientists, there are many people who believe that coliforms are deadly rather than a potential index organism of poor sanitation.

Another common mistake is using the wrong media for testing or failing to modify a medium so that it will detect potential problems. Culturing tomato paste samples on something like nutrient agar or plate count agar, for example, will frequently reveal a high bacteria count. Yet, this is a product that may contain aerobic sporeforming bacteria, which will grow on a basic medium. That's why, in this example, orange serum or a modified juice agar is a better choice. Ultimately, the key point to remember is that media may need to be modified with sugars, acids, salts or other components to mirror the food system and provide a better picture of what is happening.



Finally, remember to evaluate which chemical and physical tests are appropriate for your facility. Today's food and beverage manufacturers have access to many types of rapid tests. There are quick tests for allergens, such as peanuts, soy, milk, proteins and mycotoxins, as well as a wide range of tests for measuring adenosine triphosphate (ATP). However, some companies do not fully understand how these tests should be used. (For example, the allergen and mycotoxin tests are meant to be screening tests.) If you use one of these tests, take the time and invest the money to properly validate the test. Find out if the foods or environment being tested are susceptible to false positives or negatives. Can the test be used with your plant's food system? The test supplier should be able to provide you with this information.

The bottom line? Do your homework before designing a testing program. Consider the microbiological and chemical parameters and obtain the information you need to ensure the tests perform properly and correlate with official methods. Ultimately, validating the tests and the systems in which they are used is your responsibility. Remember that the results will be used to verify that your products are safe. Isn't that enough of a reason to do your homework?

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

Recent Articles by Richard Stier, Contributing Editor

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.

Podcasts

Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

TYSON FOODS

Tyson Foods made headlines announcing the company intends to acquire Hillshire Brands in a deal valued at $8.55 billion. Do you think the acquisition for will be beneficial for meat and poultry processors?
View Results Poll Archive

Food Engineering

July 2014

2014 July

The July 2014 issue of Food Engineering features the 12th Annual Replacement Parts Survey. Also covered: OEE improvement steps and increased filtration cycle.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

THE FOOD ENGINEERING STORE

Food-Authentication-Flyer-(.gif
Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit www.foodmaster.com to learn more.

STAY CONNECTED

FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +