We recently had the opportunity to discuss food safety and insights on the industry with Keith Klemm, Operations Manager at Element Materials Technology. Keith offers a unique perspective on current industry trends, solutions, and the importance of new technology in the growth of his organization.
First Keith, thank you for your time and valuble input. Can you tell us a bit about Element Materials Technology currently and what the future holds?
Element consists of a global network of laboratories with an expert team of 1,000 scientists, engineers, and technicians working in laboratories located throughout the United States and Europe. Element works throughout the Aerospace, Defense, Oil & Gas, Transportation, Medical Device, and Food industries. Element continues in our growth to be the world-leading experts in product qualification testing with a commitment to quality that is second to none. The company is consistently looking to expand the service offerings we provide as well as our global geographical footprint.
What is your role at Element? What do you enjoy most about your job?
I am the Operations Manager for Element, at Warsaw, Indiana. Element’s brand new recently completed state of the art facility in Warsaw is currently the location for all food testing, both microbiological and chemical. Element, in Warsaw is also the primary location for the biological testing of medical devices. What I enjoy most about my job is assisting clients troubleshooting issues at their plants, and providing high quality, customer-centric services to our clients. I have performed microbiological testing on food products for the past 25 years, and have been the facility Operations Manager for the past eight years. Outside of work my hobbies include golf, fishing, surfing, and playing the blues on guitar.
Can you tell us more about your liquid egg and shelled egg testing program?
The poultry industry has been and continues to be a significant customer segment for Element. Our facility has been USDA/FSIS certified for the detection and isolation of Salmonella from Liquid Egg products for more than 20 years. In recent years due to a relatively new FDA ruling; the laboratory has performed Salmonella enteritidis testing for our Shell Egg producers inclusive of screening bird houses, chick papers, and performing 1000-egg composite testing.
What are the key challenges you see in food testing market both today and in the future?
Key challenges today include ensuring test methodologies utilized by the laboratory provide the highest level of quality and dependability for the type of food matrix they are used to test. Clients are highly Turn Time sensitive; appropriate test methodologies must be chosen that provide the value added service of speed to result without compromise to result quality.
What are your views in adopting new technologies and automation in food pathogen testing?
We work within a highly competitive market. Staying abreast of new technologies that offer cost savings and efficiencies is a necessity. Being able to bring a new technology quickly to service allows us to provide a value add to our clients and maintain the laboratories competitive position in the market place.
What criteria would you consider in selecting a technology for food pathogen testing?
Quality is always first, we must be able to produce high quality results the first time, every time. Speed and efficiency is also a critical factor in business. Technologies must be user friendly and promoting efficiency in training. The customer service from our vendors must provide exceptional training and technical support.
What made you initially adopt the Atlas System and what benefits have you seen after adopting?
Instrument capacity and throughput is what initially led us to look at Atlas; the laboratory had to make adjustments in our technology that would allow us to maintain growing test volumes while delivering the quality results our clients expect. The Listeria and Salmonella assays had AOAC recognition which is also critical for us in determining which methodologies to employ. The benefits to us have been the ability to effectively manage increase test sample volumes without the need to add staffing. Use of the Atlas platform in our facility has allowed us to minimize overtime with our employees; and reduce workloads on weekend staffing.
How do your technicians like working with the Atlas system? Was there any hesitation on their part?
The technical staff has embraced the Atlas platform. Training provided by Roka has made use of the system very easy. Once samples are loaded onto the Atlas system; the analysts have time to address other testing needs within the lab as this is a walk-away, automated system.
How has testing on Atlas changed the workflow of your Lab operation?
We immediately saw a decrease in overtime hours with the technical staff. The system has allowed us to accommodate higher test loads without the addition of technical staff. However, the economics of running the Atlas System is a bit different than some of the other methods and for very low testing volumes and these economics need to be balanced.
Anything else you would like to share? Feedback from your customers? Pulse of industry? Etc?
As with any new technology, Customer feedback has been mixed. Some customers choose to maintain testing via alternative methodologies because they are hesitant about change. However, we have some customers are very enthusiastic regarding the reduced Turn Time; getting results sooner allows them to release product quickly.
Thanks again Keith.
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