Sussing Out Sampling in the Food Processing Environment

If you are in a position of responsibility for your company’s food safety program, you may be faced with deciding which sampling products to choose from, in a market that has no shortage of available items and product options.

To get to the bottom of what is right for your operation, you will need to ask, “What do I want to accomplish with my sampling and testing program and what media will work best?”

The cleaning and sanitization methods that are implemented in your food production facilities need to be effective in reducing potential pathogens.  There are many different chemicals and sanitizers utilized throughout the food industry, with each company designing their procedures to meet the specific cleaning required.  These sanitization chemicals must be considered when choosing your sample handling media.

The environmental monitoring program you have designed should detect any post sanitizing molecular cell life that may be present after the sanitization step.  The residuals of the sanitizers could affect the recovery of any remaining indicator or pathogen organisms that were injured or stressed by these chemicals.

Therefore a neutralizing buffer should be selected that will effectively deactivate the remaining sanitizer and allow for the recovery of any surviving organisms.

Another factor that influences which buffer to choose is what test methodology is being used, or do specific regulatory compliance methods recommend a specific type of media.  If you utilize a contract laboratory to test your microbiological samples you should contact them to determine which media they recommend for the procedures they will be conducting.

The food industry most commonly uses neutralizing buffer but also utilizes letheen broth and D/E neutralizing buffer.

Labalog cover

After the proper collection media has been selected, there are several options of sample collect tools to choose from.  Swabs are commonly used when sampling small areas approximately 4 inch x 4 inch.  If your sampling will exceed that size a sponge type of application should be selected.

If you are doing pathogen sampling, a 12 inch x 12 inch sampling area is recommended.

Keeping in mind a few of these basic concepts, you can make more informed choices on what sampling products to select.   Check out our Labalog HERE to see our wide line of sampling, testing, and monitoring products to choose from for your facility’s specific needs.   We’re here to help and make sure you get the products that are perfectly geared to your operation and needs.


Considering Allergens: From Raw Materials to Finished Production

A key focus of the Food Safety Modernization Act, as well as a practical, immediate concern for food industry producers on a daily basis, is allergens.  From incoming raw materials to line and cleaning verification considerations, allergen concerns abound in modern processing environments.  In a recent issue of Food Safety Magazine, Michael Cramer took a look into the realities of allergens and what the food industry can do to become “zealots for the prevention of allergen cross-contamination and mislabeling to protect consumers, prevent serious allergen-related hospitalizations and reduce the number of allergen-related recalls. ”  You can check out the full article HERE.

 

Also included in the article was the helpful graph below that details numerous process steps to consider in your management of allergens.   In addition to the training and educational needs that Cramer advocates for in the article, know that Nelson-Jameson continues to assemble a full program of allergen focused products to help you in your processes.  From color-coded products to allergen-specific testing products, we’re here to address your allergen program requirements.

Edible Packaging? Are we ready?

edible burger

Credit: NY Daily News

Back in 1960s, Roald Dahl’s imagination ran away with Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory in Charlie and Chocolate Factory where Willy Wonka, Oompa-Loompas, and the Everlasting Gobstopper were created. In 1971 the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was released into theaters where we watched Willy Wonka drink from a tea cup and then eat it. It has been 45 years since the movie was created, and the age of edible or innovative packaging is becoming a reality.

If we take the time to think about the amount of packaging we use on just one item, we might rethink what we could do differently. For example, as I’m writing this article I am eating a bag of microwave popcorn. The popcorn comes in a bag, the bag is in a cellophane wrapper, and the wrapped popcorn bag was in a box, inside another box that it was shipped in. That’s FOUR layers of packaging to get to the popcorn. According to the EPA based on the 2013 Fact Sheet, Americans alone generated about 254 million TONS of trash and composted over 87 million tons of this material. [See the statistics by clicking here!]   One can easily see that our environment needs a break from the waste that we, as humans create.

Just recently the American Chemical Society introduced a packaging film made of milk protein, casein. According to research leader Peggy Tomasula, D.Sc., “ The protein-based films are powerful oxygen blockers that help prevent food spoilage. When used in packaging, they could prevent food waste during distribution along the food chain.” [Learn more by clicking here.] Currently most food packaging is petroleum-based which puts additional unnecessary stress on our environment, with plastic taking up to 1,000 years to completely decompose. So by the time my kid is a grandparent, the plastic I’m using today still might not be decomposed.

At first the film was hard to handle and would easily dissolve in water too quickly. When citrus pectin was added to the blend the packaging became even stronger. Not only did it become stronger but it was more resistant to humidity and high temperatures. In the future, nutritious additives such as vitamins, probiotics and nutraceuticals could be added. Also, though casein doesn’t have a lot of flavor, flavors could actually be added in the future.  

There are several drawbacks to casein-based packaging along with other edible packaging would require a secondary package to protect the edible packaging from getting wet and dissolving, or getting dirty and contaminated with microbes, becoming unsuitable for consumption. This issue also lies with other edible packaging developments.   Edible packaging also has an uphill battle of overcoming the public’s’ perception of eating the packaging that their food comes in, and trusting what they are consuming is healthy and won’t cause further health concerns like cancer down the road.

Casein is far from being the only player in the edible packaging sphere.   For example, Loliware edible drinking cups; Bob’s Brazilian Hamburger WrapsWikiCells, which are edible bites like yogurt balls by Stonyfield Organic; and Vivos Films are all creations of companies looking to package food with these new delivery methods.    

Just think about it, we already eat apples, peaches, and other fruit and vegetable with the skins on. Those skins are fruits and vegetables own packaging. We eat that so why can’t we eat an environmentally-friendly  cup that is made from sweeteners, filtered water, seaweed, and other natural flavors derived from fruits and vegetables?     Maybe Willy Wonka wasn’t so far off…perhaps we can have our tea, and eat the cup and saucer too…


Back to School: All Year Long!

Cherney

As a new school year starts in many parts of the country, we’re more than likely overdue for those “Back to School” banners to be taken down in the big box stores and be replaced with an onslaught of Halloween products and advertisements.   It was a good two months of active marketing, but now it’s time to move on, right?   Truthfully, “back to school” is a mindset that doesn’t know a season and doesn’t get pushed aside for fun-size candy bars (as wonderful as they may be).

“Back to school” could be seen as a life-long mantra of continuing education and professional development.   In the food industry, if it weren’t for continuing education and training, we would never be able to keep up with consumer, regulatory, food safety and quality demands.  That’s why Nelson-Jameson is continuing to work with Cherney College, part of Cherney Microbiological Services, to offer an array of courses targeted at food industry professionals.   Cherney College offers courses year-round, addressing topics from basic food safety all the way to advanced food microbiology and FSMA Preventive Controls.

Courses are held in Green Bay, WI; however, some courses and training sessions can actually be held right on site, at your facility, to save time and travel expenses for groups.

Thanks to our partnership, Nelson-Jameson customers get an exclusive 5% discount on all course offerings!   Use promo code “Nelson-Jameson” when signing up for any of the courses featured at “cherneymicro.com.”


ATP Meets Luminometer

When I joined the lab team in May I was familiar with lab equipment and testing but I wasn’t familiar with luminometers and ATP. I had heard of ATP in my biochemistry class back in college and how the body uses ATP but I wondered: how does that relate to plant sanitation and luminometers? To better understand the relation, it is easier if we break down the two components, ATP and luminometers and then bring it together.

ATP (Adenosine triphosphate)

Adenosine triphosphate better known as ATP can be found in all types of organic matter: plant, animals, and microbial cells. ATP is the energy source in all living cells. Since there is ATP in bacteria, and yeast and mold, it is key to monitor cleaning processes, but it can’t be the only monitoring of a clean surface. With plant material, like sugars, and starches, also having ATP, ATP testing can only verify the sanitation operating procedures. So, for example, consider walking into a hotel room and everything looks clean. However, we’ve all seen those stomach turning news reports about the true cleanliness of hotel bathrooms and we can’t forget the dreadful black light test on beds and floors.  What looks clean is not always clean.  So here comes in the luminometer to verify our cleanliness.

Luminometer

An ATP luminometer(in conjunction with ATP swabs) is a fast and easy way to help food processors assess and validate the hygienic status of food contact surfaces. Luminometers provide an objective, recordable verification of a sanitation efficacy in a food/beverage operations.   Interestingly enough, “The science behind the luminometer is based on the enzyme luciferase-the same enzyme that makes firefly tails glow. Residual ATP interacts with luciferase to generate light.”  There are several brands of luminometers on the market,with varying protocol, but the steps for testing are relatively the same. A small surface is selected for sampling, typically a 4in x 4in or 10cm x 10cm area. While maintaining a constant pressure during swabbing, apply zigzag strokes over the selected surface, as you see here:
Figure 1

Once the selected surface is swabbed, the swab is put back into the swab tube where it is “exposed to an ATP-releasing agent (lysis buffer) and an ATP-activated light-producing substrate and enzyme (luciferin and luciferase)” . The swab is then put into the luminometer chamber where it reads the enzymatic reaction that occurs between ATP and the luciferin/luciferase, measuring RLUs or relative light units. The higher the RLUs the more ATP present on the swabbed surface. The specification limits must be set by each plant to determine what is pass, warning and fail.

Bringing it All Together

Now that we know what ATP is and what a luminometer is and how they work together we can figure out what a luminometer can and cannot do in regards to plant sanitation. Since ATP is in all living cells (including bacteria, yeast, mold, carbohydrates, protein, and others), a luminometer can only validate that the sanitation process has been thoroughly completed. A luminometer cannot and does not test for microbes.   When used on the production line, luminometer results can determine if the production line will need to be re-cleaned or if production can resume or start up again. In essence, it is an indicator that your cleaning processes are meeting sanitary standards, to help you produce a safe product.   There are many aspects in selecting the best way to validate your sanitation process. If an ATP system is used, it can’t be the only system in place and does not constitute an environmental sample program within itself. Consult regulatory bodies and professional associations to find out what necessary precautions needs to be put in place to prevent cross-contamination and food-borne pathogens.  That being said, a quality ATP system can be a quick and easy preventative control to have in your food safety and QA/QC programs.