Numbers are Knowledge

Posted by Lisa Leier-McHugh on Jul 12, 2016 1:31:51 PM

We live every aspect of our lives by numbers. Numbers and calculations rate, rank, grade, Number_soup.jpgcondemn and save us every day. This hit home recently when a member of my immediate family was battling multiple myeloma. It was amazing and simultaneously terrifying, the new world of diagnostic numbers he and those close to him were immediately thrown into. New results and benchmark numbers were constantly being compared as my family member tried to understand the meaning of a particular protein value and its relationship to this indicator or that. White count levels and the appropriate number of stem cells that would be needed for a successful transplant became part of everyone’s new daily vernacular. On the day he learned remission was achieved, the group text from the oncologist visit said, “Beta 2-MG = 4 YEAH!” We all knew that the number “4” was a great value, and
he was there.

Thinking about that challenge and how absolutely critical those numbers were, I began to ponder the challenges faced in our own “War on Pathogens”, specifically with Salmonella. A recent mandatory reduction of Salmonella prevalence in raw poultry products has prompted a massive effort by producers of comminuted parts to meet the new compliance requirements and maintain a satisfactory category standing. After the completion of a 52-week sampling period, FSIS will publish the performance category of each establishment online. If there is sufficient evidence of poor process control at a particular plant, the agency may post this information much sooner.

Salmonella is not considered nor regulated by the FSIS as an adulterant in non-ready to eat poultry, so there is an acceptable amount of Salmonella in raw product that can be released into commerce with the assumption that any remaining low levels will be killed during the cooking process. Traditionally, poultry processes utilize qualitative testing (presence/absence) to determine Salmonella prevalence at each of their facilities. To think that process control is judged on such a relatively slight number of samples with only qualitative results to boot had the allegorist in me attempting to come up with a couple to put this into perspective:

Mother: “What score did you get on your math test today?”
Child: “Positive! I got 1 out of 50 correct.”
Mother: “Great job! Let’s get ice cream to celebrate!”
Doctor: “The results of your bloodwork are back from the lab.Everything
was negative except your glucose test.”
Patient: “What does that mean?”
Doctor: “We are going to have to put you on insulin.”

Seems a bit of an overreaction, but without a numerical value to better understand their Salmonella tests results, processors have to assume the extreme case for each situation. This happens in processing environments every day. Utilizing only qualitative-based methods essentially forces processors to deal in absolutes and react accordingly with no additional insight or information on the positives.

The Roka team has been working very closely with the poultry industry for the past 18 months to design and validate what has become known as a “limits-based”, semi-quantitative approach to Salmonella detection. The applications for this advanced development are widespread and deeply impactful. With a limits approach clients would set their LOD to catch potentially high outlier levels of Salmonella and make a process or product decision based on the results.  Some processors have chosen to validate their rinses and others pushed even further back into the supply chain into the live side. Not only can they quickly and reliably determine levels of Salmonella anywhere in their processes, but they can actually monitor the effects of specific interventions quickly and cost effectively. In all cases it will do this within an 8-hour time frame.

Perhaps as detection capability has evolved prevalence can as well.  It may very well be that the key to realizing the goal of Salmonellosis reduction lies in the ability to assign a value to prevalence in the form of a stated LOD by creating minimum and maximum allowable levels based on target concentration, product type, and chemicals applied at the point of sampling.  Flexibility of diagnostic tools will lead to better application of remediation solutions. This approach brings extremely valuable diagnostic ammunition to our battle against Salmonella in poultry. Numbers are knowledge, and knowledge is power. 

If you would like more information on these developments and the continuous improvements Roka brings to Salmonella detection and control, please feel free to contact me

You can also watch a presentation that discusses how our technology is driving this new approach in live production & parts rinses as a new paradigm to manage Salmonella in the operational supply chain. 

Presented By: W. Evan Chaney, Ph.D., Roka Bioscience, Inc. 

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Topics: Salmonella Pathogen Detection, poultry threshold testing, Limits Testing, Salmonella Process Controls, Semi-quantitative Testing