September 15, 2014

Testing System for Sanitation and Biological Contaminants: Food Transporter Packing Tables, Floors, Distribution Processes & Truck Trailers

  • Food Safety

By InstantLabs

By Dr. John M. Ryan, Hawaii State Department of Agriculture, Quality Assurance Division Administrator (Retired)

Surface contaminants can be found just about everywhere.  But when a harvest bin, truck bed, packing house table top or floor or food contact surfaces are cleaned and sanitized, the question of whether or not the cleaning process effectively removes harmful contaminants needs to be addressed.  In order to confirm that sanitation procedures are properly designed and maintained, sanitation testing is used to confirm that the producer or processor is focused on reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Testing for biological contaminants has in the past been a risky business for a couple of reasons.  First, if positive results are found, your data would be considered evidence by enforcement agencies such as the FDA, USDA or the CDC.  Second, in many cases, there may not have been a known solution for eliminating and preventing the contaminant that was found.  This was especially true with biofilms and complex equipment.

Not that long ago, taking samples for bacteria testing meant that a food transporter had to wait 3 days or more while the sample was cultured and analyzed.  The long wait period between testing and results reduced the value of the test results because fresh food begins to lose shelf life as bacteria continues to grow while waiting for test results.

With food safety challenges impacting the food supply chain in terms of new pressures from buyers and government agencies, many technology companies have begun the development of testing systems designed to provide quicker, more accurate and less costly results.  Many producers and processors have avoided such testing because of misguided perception of liability, costs and the fact that they really didn’t have a solution if the results were positive.  Now under the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), companies are required to do such testing for monitoring both processes and products, as well as have a response plan ready to guide food safety process improvement and address issues as they arise.

Protecting the Brand in a New FSMA World

Sanitary Cold Chain has worked to find the best bacterial testing solutions in order to protect our clients and their brands.  If you need to verify whether or not your product is impacted by bacteria, you need to step up your testing program with the most reliable and time saving method available.  Today, that means using what is called real-time PCR (RT-PCR).

Real-time PCR has come a long way to being more consumer friendly in the past few years.  Many table top testing systems are now available for on-site or nearby facility testing to perform more specific analysis,.  When choosing a testing system, you want to determine a few things:

1)      Does the system carry testing kits for the bacteria I am concerned about?  Most systems available have testing kits for at least Salmonella species, E. coli O157, E. coli STEC/Big 6, Listeria species, Listeria monocytogenes, and Vibrio C/P/V.

2)      What kind of training is required?

3)      What is the initial investment?   

What to Do

In short, do the testing with a reliable device.  Cheap methods get you unreliable answers, cost you time and money, and put you at risk in the end.  Regardless of your fear of FDA, USDA or other enforcement visits, testing on a regular basis shows that you are working on reducing risk through your efforts to find and prevent contaminants.  More importantly, measuring and finding problems gives you the management opportunity to improve your water supply, irrigation or other processes that might be causing a problem for someone’s health and for your company’s financial security.

If you’d like more information about Sanitary Cold Chain or how we can help you in your transporting needs, please contact me at:
Phone:  808 469-0046
Contact:  The Sanitary Cold Chain
29905 Santa Maria Drive, Canyon Lake, CA 92587

Want to learn more about how to meet FSMA requirements for handling and shipping perishables and get a look at the InstantLabs Hunter Real-Time PCR System?  Stay tuned for the TransCert meeting designed for processors, producers and shippers in Salinas Valley end of October.  Dates and places to be announced soon.

Our guest blogger is John Ryan, a partner in The Sanitary Cold Chain, .  His company offers assessments, training, audits and the TransCert Certification for carriers, shippers and receivers of food who need to safely and successfully establish FSMA compliant sanitary and temperature controlled transportation food safety systems