I recently attended the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) Science Forum in Washington, DC. This was my fourth time attending and find it to be one of the most educational meetings. What makes this meeting unique is the commitment and open mindedness to new concepts, technologies, and strategies that will keep driving the industry forward through the next decades.
Right from the start, Pam Bailey the GMA’s President and CEO opened the meeting with a discussion about how science and innovation are changing the world. In 1960, 7.2 hours a day were spent cooking and cleaning-up from the cooking and 14% of household income on food. In 2015, it was down to 1.2 hours cooking and cleaning-up from the cooking and 6% of income on food. This is due in part to multi-level innovation in all areas of food manufacturing from packaging to water use to ingredient quality improvement. Food manufacturing is the largest manufacturing sector in the US. Ms. Bailey ended by saying “together we have accomplished much …but there is still more to be done!”
Progress forward requires the right Food Safety culture. This was highlighted in a session entitled Shifting All Foods to Ready to Eat: Testing Implications. There was an eclectic panel of speaker’s including legal, manufacturing, and governmental representatives which enables a rousing session discussing Listeria and environmental testing. Phrases like seek and destroy, deep cleaning, if you aren’t finding Listeria, you aren’t looking hard enough were talked about. It is clear there is more attention being given to environmental testing and it is an important part of a food safety program from both the manufacturers and purchasers of product.
One key topic not discussed and often overlooked was what happens after you send the test results to the lab. The discussion was the samples and the subsequent reaction but No one talks about what happens at the lab and the technology being used to test those samples. There are key differences in methods and you need to be sure that your method is up to the same if not higher rigor than your preventative control plan.. Is the test sensitive enough? Is it specific enough? Does the enrichment scheme adequately resuscitate the Listeria to a detectable level for the method being used?
Innovation drives better solutions for food safety industry.
This has been happening in laboratory methods just like the other areas of the food industry. Adopting new technology on the manufacturing side but not the testing side creates a risk gap and essentially negates some of the added value of the investment. Tests like lateral flow, enzyme immunoassay and even first generation PCR tests are now “old school” and are not equipped to meet the changing and challenging hurdles this industry faces. By embracing more advanced methods and improved system automation you can get a clearer view of what is happening in your processing plants.
Another theme that particularly stood out was the new emphasis on the legal ramifications of an improper food safety culture. The stakes have become higher than ever, with the onus being directed to the C-suites, with incarceration as an outcome. Shawn Stevens, a global food safety lawyer and founding member of Food Industry Counsel, LLC. had the best quote of the day…"When referring to environmental testing for Listeria he said, “Not going to prison is good ROI.”