The new FSMA rules for pet food have some operations and quality personnel rethinking their food safety program, including their preventive controls measures and pathogen testing methods. While some pet food manufacturers may not have to make extensive changes in order to comply with FSMA, all companies can benefit from a look at their food testing program to see if it is fitting their current needs. There are several unique challenges associated with pathogen testing of pet food, and these challenges can negatively impact companies through extended product hold times, costs associated with false results, and other negative effects on operations. After speaking with several pet food companies, we’ve found three key considerations when evaluating pathogen testing methods, regardless of whether they test in-house or send out to a 3rd party lab. Here’s what those factors are and why.
For a majority of pet food manufacturers, time is money. Limited warehouse space and client needs drive many manufacturers to get product out the door as soon as possible. But holding product until pathogen test results are generated is the norm for most processors, so waiting around for lengthy methods or sample retesting can put considerable strain on an operations manager in the form of extended product hold times or delayed response to a positive result. Even just a couple hours can make all the difference when fulfilling customer orders on time, in maximizing production capacity, or when taking corrective actions more quickly to prevent an even bigger problem.
When testing finished product and product-contact surfaces, accuracy is critical. Pet food pathogen testing can be challenging due to the presence of non-pathogenic “background” bacteria that can interfere with the accuracy of a pathogen test. A false positive result due to cross-reactivity with background bacteria can be costly and time-consuming for manufacturers, potentially resulting in extended hold times, delayed product release, delayed production, or even wasted cleaning chemicals and efforts. In addition to false positives, pet food companies need to feel confident that their method is not susceptible to false negatives. A false negative due to inhibition or a push to shorten enrichment times can put a company’s brand, and more importantly, our pets, at risk. Unfortunately for pet food manufacturers, sometimes the most accurate method is not the fastest method, forcing some companies to choose between disruptive false positives, risk of false negatives, or longer turnaround times.
Standardized Testing Across Diverse Product Portfolios
Many pet food companies manufacture a wide variety of products to meet ever growing (and diversifying) customer needs. A diverse product portfolio requires companies to manage the safety of different types of products, each with their own potential challenges which stem from the ingredients they contain. Dog food, on average, contains 38 ingredients with some food types containing as many as 91 ingredients! Some of these ingredients interfere with the performance of certain test methods, causing costly and time-consuming retesting. This forces some companies to either use more than one testing method or modify procedures of an already validated testing method to overcome those challenges. However, most companies prefer to use a single validated testing method and procedure that is robust enough to handle all of their product SKUs.
Pet food manufacturers come in all shapes and sizes and may be impacted differently by the new FSMA rules. But many in the pet food industry have the same basic need: an accurate and reliable pathogen test that provides the fastest turnaround time possible. Pathogen testing methods that are best suited to the pet food industry are those that have demonstrated accurate, timely results in even the most challenging matrices.
Roka has recently validated composite-sized dry kibble testing for Salmonella with a shortened enrichment time of only 18 hours, allowing a much faster turnaround time than any other testing method. Combined with the Roka Atlas AOAC validations for dry kibble and environmental surfaces, Roka Atlas provides a comprehensive testing solution that ensures unparalleled accuracy without compromising turnaround time. Click on the link below to request the Validation of Dry Kibble Composite summary.