Test ingredients on arrival

In some instances, processors may require third-party tests and a review of the results before a shipment is authorized. However, some processors still want to do the checks themselves, and for especially high-risk or critical ingredients, this may take the burden of testing the ingredient in house, says PerkinElmer’s Palmer.

But, there are other reasons for further testing. “Even if a food company confirms a supplier has met all requirements, it still may want to employ non-targeted screening,” says Palmer. The goal of this approach is to employ fast, easy-to-use technology that allows a chemical “fingerprint” of the good ingredient to be developed for comparison with future shipments.  Then, if a suspicious sample is received, it can be quarantined until further confirmatory tests can be performed as to the source of the variation, and the processor is confident the ingredient poses no risk to the quality or integrity of its product or brand. Molecular spectroscopy techniques are widely accepted by the industry as key in this determination.

Besides long supply chains, foreign suppliers can be problematic in other ways, according to Palmer. With any supplier, local regulatory controls have to be met, an additional consideration when working with foreign suppliers. In some countries, local regulators may not be as stringent as those in the country in which the food is to be processed, and therefore, the processor must ensure explicitly the required specifications and residue limits of the ingredients. The local technology capability of the supplier or local testing lab is another complication to consider since either may not be sufficient to ensure the ingredient specifications are met. In these situations, many processors turn toward testing in-bound ingredients themselves in their more advanced labs.


Supply chain issues

If an ingredient leaves the supplier’s location in perfect condition and arrives at a processor’s location in less-than-perfect condition, it’s time to look at the supply chain. Start with the basics. A processor should have an employee training program that includes receiving and what to look for, i.e., damaged cartons, wet cartons, food stains on cartons, etc., says Capell. “If ingredients are time or temperature sensitive, tracking devices can be placed in the trailer before they are shipped to the receiving establishment.”

“Sampling and rapid testing are the most common ways to determine shelf-life issues,” says Traylor. However, technology is coming out that will include chemical, sensory and microbiological testing that is integrated into the package. For example, the MAP (modified atmospheric packaging) gas volume can be measured quickly to determine leaks or fermentation. Within a few years, technology may be available to allow these tests without interfering with a package. In addition, the eventual development of smart sensors will change the scene in the same way RFID has changed logistic tracking.

“Technology exists to monitor, record and identify environmental conditions during transit that can be inspected upon receipt, which is frequently done today through RFID tags,” says Scioscia. “Warehouse management systems are also really important for tracking products through the complete lifecycle—from the time the products hit your door until they are finally shipped out.” In particular, warehouse management systems excel at lot control—they expertly track lots and the shelf life dates while providing data on how long the processor has had the product and how it was moved in its facility. The systems also know which ingredients are in the product and what specific lots went into the finished products. In addition, fleet management software can monitor the overall temperature of a truck as well as the products, how many times the truck door was open and shut, etc. It fully satisfies cold chain compliance requirements, which are particularly important for frozen foods like ice cream and even non-frozen items such as meat and poultry.

The warehouse management system and fleet management system can track the products and mitigate the risk of bad incoming raw ingredients. Labeling is also very important, says Scioscia. “One of the biggest challenges our customers face is getting the correct labeling from their suppliers. That is a very important part of this process because you need to know the lot information, production date and shelf life date.” 


Staying safe

While there are analytical tools for testing products after they’re made, they may be put to better use keeping tabs on incoming ingredients—to be sure they are free of bacteria and  are what they’re claimed to be.

It’s important for suppliers to get their products right the first time, so good working supplier relationships need to be cultivated. Quality ingredients made by suppliers with continuous improvement programs reflect well on the processors that use their ingredients. v


For more information:

Warren Gilbert, FSS Corp., 262-745-7881, warreng175@idcnet.com
Alan Traylor, MOCON Inc., 763-493-6370, atraylor@mocon.com
Sharon Palmer, PerkinElmer, 44 (0) 1494 679020, sharon.palmer@perkinelmer.com
Jeff Capell, ASI Food Safety Consultants, 905-451-1278, jcapell@asifood.com
Joe Scioscia, VAI (Vormittag Associates), 800-824-7776
Chris Prather, EtQ, 410-885-4114, cprather@etq.com
John Surak, Surak and Associates, 864-654-8743, jgsurak@yahoo.com