More regulation is not the answer, but making vows to keep the food supply safe is a good start.

2009 was a rough year for the US food industry. The peanut butter problem sickened 700 people and resulted in a few deaths. The result of this and other high-profile outbreaks was a significant decline in consumer confidence accompanied by the knee-jerk reaction from government that we need more regulation and oversight of the food industry.

Our industry as a whole, plus individual companies, can do better, but in most cases, their problems do not pose significant health risks. The meat and poultry industry is under continuous inspection by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, yet it continues to have recalls and outbreaks. More regulation is not the answer. Like it or not, the US food industry already has new regulatory requirements that must be addressed (Reportable Food Registry), and there will be more (modernized GMPs and others).

As an industry, we should make the following resolutions for 2010:

• We vow that food plant managers and supervisors will make a total commitment to ensuring that the foods manufactured at their facility will be safe and wholesome.

• We vow to work with competent analytical laboratories and react accordingly when results are submitted, even if they are not what we had hoped. (Some companies “lab shop,” resubmitting samples until they get the desired results.)

• We vow to establish one set of food quality, safety, sanitation and management standards for our company. (Too many companies have multiple operating procedures. They produce one set of books when being audited by one firm and another with a different auditor.)

• We vow that processing and handling systems are maintained to ensure no potential for cross-contamination between unprocessed and processed products. This includes good design of air handling systems, proper storage of finished goods and raw materials and, if allergens are part of production, systems to minimize cross-contact.

• We vow to review and modify procedures to ensure that they accurately reflect what is being done in laboratories, warehouses, on the plant floor and by the operating groups. (Clear, well-written procedures are essential to ensuring that quality, safety and sanitation systems are done properly. Documentation is often lacking in cleaning and sanitizing. Plant protocols are either incomplete, too general or fail to address all areas that require cleaning.)

• We vow to provide education to all employees, including managers and supervisors, on all procedures and work instructions. Sessions will be properly documented and programs implemented to ensure that all persons trained understand the materials presented.

• We vow that our HACCP team will meet on a regular basis (at least once a year) to assess the HACCP plan and its supporting programs, and ensure that all critical control points and prerequisite programs required to ensure safety are validated. (Even though this is a regulatory requirement for HACCP-mandated industries and part of HACCP as defined by the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria for Foods and the Codex Food Hygiene documents, it slips through the cracks frequently.)

• We vow to purchase all ingredients, raw materials and packaging materials from approved vendors. These vendors will be selected using a documented vendor approval program, and the vendors will be subjected to a yearly evaluation.

• We vow that all visitors, including guests, contractors, regulators and delivery personnel, will be provided with documents summarizing plant requirements for GMPs, personal hygiene, plant safety and other issues. These persons will be asked to read these documents and indicate that they understand them.

These resolutions may not hold all the answers, but they make a good start. If all processors make similar resolutions, we will see a significant step toward restoring consumer confidence in our industry.  

Bench-top dissolved oxygen meter

Omega Engineering’s Model DOB-210/215 compact, bench-top dissolved oxygen meter is available in analog and digital versions and can display dissolved oxygen contents between 0 to 120% saturation and 0-15 ppm simultaneously with accuracies of ±2% saturation and ±0.2 ppm, respectively. Sample temperature reading from 0 to 50°C is also available. The meter operates from 8 AA batteries or with an ac adaptor.

Omega Engineering; 888-826-6342;

Spiral plating

Advanced Instruments, Inc.’s new Spiral Biotech Autoplate spiral plating system delivers faster cycle times, a touch-screen display, and a self-cleaning feature that boosts processing speed and efficiency in microbiology laboratories. The unit deposits microbial suspensions without the need for most serial dilutions, thus increasing efficiency in the lab. Labor and material costs associated with sample preparation and manual dilution are reduced by up to 75 percent. By eliminating the variability inherent in manual procedures, the system delivers higher degrees of both accuracy and repeatability. The unit is suited to any lab that uses microbial concentration samples greater than 1,000 cfu/g or cfu/ml, or for any application where counts are high and standardization and reproducibility are important.

Advanced Instruments Inc; 800-225-4034;

Texture analyzer

Brookfield Engineering’s CT3 texture analyzer features not only compression mode but also a new tension mode capability. The device offers load cells in 100 g, 1.0 kg, 1.5 kg, 4.5 kg and 10 kg. The analyzer has a higher load limit than its predecessor, a broader speed range for probe measurement, a USB port and an optional temperature probe. With a complete line of fixtures for use with the unit, it features seven test modes including normal, hold time, cycle count, bloom, TPA and tension test plus a static load calibrator check.

Brookfield Engineering, 800-628-8139,

Microplate photometer

Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Multiskan FC microplate photometer processes both 96- and 384-well microplates and can be controlled as a standalone instrument or via Thermo Scientific’s SkanIt software. Equipped with an onboard shaker and optional incubator, the photometer is suitable for a wide variety of photometric applications, such as end point, dual wavelength and kinetic assays. The device has a comprehensive range of built-in and optional quality, verification and self-diagnostic tools.

Thermo Fisher Scientific; 800-522-7763;

LC works with sub-2 micron particles

Waters’ ACQUITY UPLC H-Class (ultra-performance liquid chromatograph) provides sub-2-micron particle column technology, improving chromatographic performance when running UPLC columns as well as full supporting HPLC (high-performance) columns. The H-Class system emulates HPLC workflows, making transfer from HPLC to UPLC more seamless. In addition, the new system allows organizations to standardize their approach to LC with a common technology platform that makes the future transition from HPLC to UPLC methods practical. The system includes a new quaternary solvent manager (QSR) and sample manager (SM-FTN), with flow-through needle design, mimicking traditional HPLC system workflow.

Waters Corp.; 508-478-2000;

Hand-held pH meter

Mettler Toledo’s portable FiveGo pH food kit provides quick and easy pH measurements in food and beverage applications. The instrument features storage capacity up to 30 measurements, including automatic endpoint recognition and calibration with automatic buffer recognition. The kit includes pH meter, LE427 pH puncture electrode and buffer sachets for first calibrations.

Mettler-Toledo; 800-638-8537;

Fluorescence detectors for HPLC systems

Shimadzu’s RF-20A and RF-20Axs fluorescence detectors provide sensitivity and validation support functions in a wide range of applications from conventional to ultra-fast LC (liquid chromatographic) analysis. Using a newly designed optical system, both detectors achieve high sensitivity levels. A water Raman S/N (signal to noise) ratio of at least 1,200 for the RF-20A and 2,000 for the RF-20Axs provides the necessary performance for tests demanding analysis of trace-level components while retaining the acquisition speeds necessary for ultra-fast analysis. The detectors provide 10 ms response times to follow the sharp peaks in ultra-fast analysis and allow ultra-fast LC without loss of separation. Additionally, simultaneous testing of multiple components requires detection at optimal wavelengths. These detectors allow ultra-fast, highly sensitive multi-component analysis using wavelength switching via a time program.

Shimadzu Scientific Instruments; 800-477-1227;

FT-NIR spectrometer

ABB’s Model MB3600-PH FT-NIR spectrometer is a benchtop analyzer that can be fitted with a variety of accessories for accurate measurements on a broad range of applications such as QA/QC analyses, raw material identification and quantification, R&D, NIR method development and at-line process analytical technologies (PAT) measurements. The spectrometer features a very simple and robust interface for data acquisition and routine analysis in a 21 CFR Part 11-compliant mode.

ABB; 800 435 7365;