Originally published by Food Online, January 6, 2016
Higher resolution can bring dramatic change in the discovery and understanding of the world around us. One great example is the recent pictures sent back from the New Horizons spacecraft. As Recently as five years ago. Pluto was a pixelated gray dot with definition. In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons Spaceship knowing that the investment would not pay off for another decade. The recent pictures of Pluto have provided resolution of the atmosphere and landscape never thought possible.
This same paradigm can be applied to food safety. With recent advances in sequencing, macro-biome profiling, food identification, and, of course, pathogen technology, the industry has a tremendous resource of tools at its fingertips. A critical tool often ignored for a number of reasons are the advanced options for pathogen detection.
Pathogen detection plays a pivotal role in any food safety process. While significant investments can be made in easier-to-sanitize manufacturing equipment, development of preventative control programs, and training/re-training personnel, the effectiveness of these, and other preventative measures, is only as good as the performance of the pathogen test method used to verify. Therefore, the pathogen testing program is the lens by which these programs are monitored. This lens needs to offer a rapid, sensitive, and accurate picture of the environment, process, and product to allow for effective mitigation and an overall improvement in preventative control.
There are a number of reasons why the food industry needs to improve its resolution. First, a global supply chain, coupled with higher demand, has added complexity to the management and control of the food manufacturing process. Second, despite more stringent government regulations, public awareness, and an emphasis in the development of better “Cultures of Food Safety” within food making companies, the bacterial infection rate for Listeria and Salmonella has remained unchanged for the past eight years.
Furthermore, more than 48 million Americans — one in every six — are affected by foodborne illness each year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations, 3,000 deaths. Additionally, foodborne illnesses account for $77 billion each year in aggregated economic cost. Status quo is not going to move the needle, but technology paired with the appropriate food safety culture can.
Fortunately for the industry, and unlike the 10-year delay for New Horizons, technology exists today that can improve resolution and process control faster than ever before. By simply updating the pathogen test to a more sensitive method, the industry can immediately see the true environment and potentially high risk of pathogen contamination currently going undetected.
These practical, better tools are available for the industry today. However, they do require adoption. Any new technology can be intimidating when first applied, but shortly thereafter they become the norm. Without adoption of new technology, food processing environments — from a food safety perspective — will never move beyond the dark, grey, pixelated image like that of Pluto not long ago.
to today’s food manufacturers.