Testing techniques

by Bernard Shire
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Food Safety
New methods for pathogen detection provide results significantly faster than previous tests.
 
As the world moves faster and faster, thanks to the instantaneous transmission of information, increasing use of social media and skyrocketing consumer demand for healthier and safer food, meat and poultry processors find themselves under the gun to conform to ever-increasing demands. The processing companies have these top priorities in mind – producing safer food, creating products that address consumer demand and protecting their brands.

A major means to accomplish these goals – especially food safety and ensuring the growth and protection of their brands – is to take advantage of the advancing science that’s resulted in new trends in rapid-testing technology, including advances and applications that will achieve these goals.

“Rapid testing for food safety features new methods of testing for pathogens in samples that turn around the results much faster than the traditional methods that have been used – even though some of these longtime technologies are still being used,” says William Hogan, chairman, president and CEO of FoodChek Systems Inc., Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “There are many reasons processors are moving to increased use of rapid-testing technology, but the main ones are the great emphasis on food safety, the tremendous competition in the marketplace for companies to move their products as quickly as possible, and preserving and growing their brands,” he says. His company is a developer and provider of proprietary rapid and accurate food safety tests for detecting pathogens and allergens throughout human and pet food production chains.

Hogan says there are three issues rapid testing technology helps address for meat and poultry processors and manufacturers:

1. Traceability

2) What’s in the product?

3) Are there any pathogens or allergens?

“For example, enrichment media makes the sample enrichment timeline 30 to 70 percent faster to achieve results, and can be used by any processor for food safety pathogen testing no matter what testing system they use,” he says.

The other advantage to enrichment media, Hogan says, is that it can detect multiple pathogens, while a culture method – a longtime technology with much slower results than rapid technology -- can only identify one pathogen at a time. “We’re moving from culture methods to real-time DNA testing,” Hogan says. “This is a rapid pathogen detection method involving the detection of molecules of DNA or RNA from a sample source. We can detect what pathogens might be present in food based on targeted DNA sequences in real time. That gives fast, reliable results in under two hours.”

Food Safety
Scientists at 3M believe molecular testing will replace cultures as the new "gold standard."
 

John David, global scientific marketing manager at 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Raj Rajaglopal, senior global technical services specialist for the company, which is a maker of food testing kits and products, say that cultures and immuno-assay methods are still being used for food sample testing, but that there’s a movement in the industry away from these testing means. “The government has always considered culture methods the ‘gold standard’ of product testing,” David notes. “Cultures are what other methods are always compared to.” Rajaglopal and David believe molecular testing, a state-of-the-art rapid testing technology being used more and more in meat, poultry and other food sample testing, will overtake culture methods as the “gold standard.”

Rajaglopal says the development of innovative technologies is also spurred by government regulations in the food industry. A good example is the zero tolerance of the Listeria pathogen in ready-to-eat (RTE) products. “You have to be able to detect as little as one cell in a sample,” he notes, which now is possible.

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