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SGS Informs on Food Safety Testing – The Most Effective Way to Prevent Food Contamination

It seems that every year scientists find surprising new forms of food product contamination, new organisms or chemical contaminants. Food safety testing is the most effective way to identify contaminants.

Fairfield, NJ, May 06, 2015 --( Surprising Cases of Listeria Contamination

Surprises often come in the most unusual forms, in the US and Canada, for example the source of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in November and December of 2014 was found to be pre-packed caramel apples. In January 2015, apples from the supplier were recalled because of Listeria monocytogenes contamination. This was a surprise, as investigators were looking at the current list of usually suspect items such as leafy greens, meat, dairy and other proteins as being the source of the outbreak.

E-Coli and Listeria Outbreaks

In the 1980s and 1990s there was the unexpected discovery of E. coli in ground beef and apple juice, as well as the identification of Listeria Monocytogenes in ice cream. BSE in cattle was another issue which has now spanned decades. In the 2000s, the surprises were melamine and derivatives in place of food proteins, and E. coli O157:H7 in leafy greens. In recent years, E. coli has been detected in sprouts, ground beef and other raw products. Other surprising events were avian flu, lead in candy made with pepper ingredients, acrylamide on fried and baked products, and salmonella in peanut butter made by large and reputable corporations.

These outbreaks, whether caused by micro-organisms, chemicals or food fraud, and the resulting recalls were considered unusual at that time, but the industry has learnt of additional substances, organisms or products that must be reviewed. Post process contamination is always a risk, even at home. It is just a matter of reducing the risks to an acceptable level.

Food Safety Testing to Help Reduce Contamination Risks

Throughout human experience, the population has processed foods to reduce risk, a practice that still applies. Global food sourcing and consumer demand for more minimally processed products increases the levels of risk. While public knows that minimally processed animal proteins have high risk, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Biological Hazards have provided their opinion on the health risks that may contaminate food of non-animal origin. Their view is that pathogens such as Salmonella are “likely to survive on the surfaces of these vegetables for days to several weeks at both ambient and refrigerated temperatures.”

Systems controls such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) should be the primary methods of control. To reduce the risk of Salmonella and Yersina, public needs to prevent direct contact between food contact surfaces and food handlers and animal and human faeces, as well as preventing indirect contact between them and contaminated manure, soil or water. This requires some degree of testing of the manure, soil, water and food contact surfaces.

Testing for Food Contaminants

Sometimes, the most effective way to reduce risk is to test for the contaminants. The simplest method to determine if a raw material is acceptable and in compliance with the regulations is to test samples for mycotoxins. Process controls may help prevent the growth of the mycotoxins but will not remove them.

In certain instances only, testing the raw material of finished goods will determine if the product is what it is supposed to be, or whether it is contaminated with some chemical. It is not possible to supervise a supplier’s production facility 24/7, or assure that raw materials are not diverted en route. Although chemical contamination such as pesticides and veterinary drugs should be controlled by process controls, finished product testing is still required to verify compliance to regulations.

Food Pathogens and Chemical Contaminants

With each new pathogen, chemical contaminant or food fraud scandal, the industry learns how to control the risk. While validation of process controls is still an essential part of a food safety operation, testing is also essential to reduce the risk. Food testing in the form of water, environmental, raw material, in process and finished product testing must be done to assure that the product being produced is compliant with regulations or standards, and is safe for consumption.

For more information, please contact an SGS expert.

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 80,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,650 offices and laboratories around the world.
Contact Information
SGS Consumer Testing Services
Jim Cook
+1 973 461 1493

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