Fresh to Market: Innovation Ensuring Faster, Safer Produce to Shelves

Posted by Mandi Kim, Food Safety Specialist on Aug 15, 2016 10:50:52 AM

I_Heart_Produce.pngGetting fresh produce to market while still ensuring quality and safety is often a paradox in the produce industry. The demand for more product with longer shelf life continues to rise as people try to eat healthier foods. However, public health data, recent recalls and outbreaks amidst increasing consumer awareness and changing regulatory requirements create a very challenging landscape for today’s growers, packers, retailers and other links throughout the supply chain. As a result, produce companies are turning to innovative solutions to help them meet the demands of producing and providing safe, quality products in a timely manner.

One of the most critical aspects in ensuring produce safety is pathogen testing. Because most pathogen test methods determine the presence or absence of a particular pathogen in a sample, the most common misconception is that all test methods are the same. However, there are several key differences among pathogen detection methods that producers should be aware of in order to ensure timely delivery of products without compromising their food safety programs. The two most important factors for a produce company are time to result and accuracy.

Time to Result

When it comes to fresh and fresh-cut produce, time is money. Consumers want fresh product with longer shelf-life, but holding product until pathogen test results come in is standard practice for produce companies. Waiting around for test results due to lengthy test methods can put a considerable amount of strain on a processor. Every hour counts.

Accuracy

Fruits and vegetables come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but these unique characteristics also pose several challenges for most testing methods. Produce commodities often contain intrinsic chemical compounds that may be bactericidal or bacteriostatic, have high background microbial counts, or intense pigmentation. In combination with sample prep procedures, number of manual steps to perform the test, and media formulation, these variables have the potential to affect the performance of the method and overall accuracy of the test results. This can potentially lead to false results that can be extremely costly to an operation through delays due to retesting (false positive results) or recalls (false negative results).

Choosing a pathogen test that is accurate and specific will provide a clearer picture, with more confidence in lot release decisions, and improved control of the growing and processing environment.

Pathogen Testing through a Third-party Laboratory

For most produce companies, on-site pathogen testing is not a suitable option due to the risks of potential pathogen exposure to the processing facility, so sourcing their pathogen testing program out to a Third-Party lab is the only option. To ensure the method used to test their products aligns with the quality and food safety goals of their operation, it is important for producers to ask their Third-party lab provider the right questions:

Pathogen testing method and criteria:
What criteria is important to my operation and my clients?
What pathogen testing methods are being used to test my products?
How long do I have to wait for my test results with that method?
What other technologies are available at this lab?
 
Product-specific validations:
What types of approvals does this method have (AOAC, ISO, etc.)?
Has the method been validated specifically for my product type and how was this validated?
How confident am I that the intrinsic properties of my product will not interfere with the performance of that test method?
 
Claims and limitations of the technology being used in the laboratory:
How sensitive is this test method for the target organism (false negative rates)?
How specific is the method for the target organism being tested (false positive rates)?

Innovative Solutions for the Produce Industry

Over the years, innovation has brought significant improvements in pathogen testing technology. At Roka, we are at the forefront of food safety innovation by providing a unique solution to both producers and their Third-party laboratories providers that not only overcome testing challenges typically associated with fresh and fresh-cut produce but help mitigate food safety risks. Through full automation and advanced molecular technology with the Atlas System, producers can have high confidence in a faster, actionable result for lot release and quality control decisions.

The detection of pathogens in produce is critical to public health. Recalls and outbreaks amidst increasing consumer awareness and regulatory requirements are creating an environment that challenges food producers to find innovative solutions to meet the demands for fresh, quality product without compromising safety. Providing the industry with high quality, fresher, and safer product allows produce companies to maintain trusted, premium relationships with their buyers as well as promote brand loyalty from consumers.

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For more details on the role that pathogen testing plays in the produce industry, what you need to know about the different pathogen testing methods, and how your choice in methods can have a profound impact on your operation’s bottom line and time to market, click below to download a copy of our Produce Ebook today! 

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Topics: Produce Pathogen Detection, Salmonella Pathogen Detection, Listeria monocytogenes, Produce, pathogen testing, Listeria Environmental