Creating an effective environmental monitoring program: spoilage organisms and allergen testing.
Focusing on the importance of food safety testing and creating a comprehensive environmental monitoring program can help your facility ensure that the products it produces are safe for consumers.
In this series, we explore best practices for implementing an effective environmental monitoring program using our Environmental Monitoring Handbook. This resource has been developed with Cornell University and other industry experts. It provides guidance on how those in the food and beverage industry can build and implement a holistic program based on industry best practices. This article will explore Chapter 5: Environmental Monitoring for Spoilage Organisms and Chapter 6: Environmental Monitoring for Allergens.
Monitoring spoilage organisms.
Spoilage organisms are often adapted to the food processing environment they colonise.
They can utilise the manufactured food product for growth and withstand the facility processing and formulation controls. Some bacteria and fungi can survive high levels of heat, while certain types of yeast can resist preservatives and sanitizers.
Specific foods and production methods are associated with specific spoilage organisms, so it is equally important that these facilities create a targeted environmental monitoring strategy to fit their needs.
For example, high-water activity and high-sugar foods such as juices, syrups, and cut fruit are prone to yeast spoilage. Molds can be extremely heat resistant and are often associated with the spoilage of extended shelf life products.
Risks of cross-contact contamination from spoilage organisms can be minimised with proper environmental monitoring. Facilities should determine their likely risks and develop a pertinent sampling program to reduce, track, and control specific spoilage organisms. Facilities with product at-risk to mold spoilage should consider the use of air sampling methods to monitor spore load in addition to surface sampling.
Looking out for allergens.
Life threatening anaphylaxis in children is on the rise.1 As more people get diagnosed with food allergies, and more hospital visits occur because of them, food manufacturers are emphasizing the importance of testing for allergens to avoid cross-contact contamination.
Facilities often use the same equipment and spaces for multiple food and beverage products, so they need robust programs to clean and monitor manufacturing equipment between production runs to prevent inadvertent food contamination with allergens.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the US requires all manufacturers that export their foods include allergen controls in their food safety testing plan whilst the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requires all allergen controls to be identified and monitored.
In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires all food manufacturers and food importers to ensure that all their food products are labelled properly so that the consumer can make informed decisions.
Allergen testing can be approached through specific or non-specific allergen tests. Specific allergen tests refer to the selective detection of targeted proteins. For example, a facility that makes both peanut butter ice cream and peanut-free ice cream would need to ensure that their processes are effective to completely remove peanut proteins, specifically from the equipment. This can be done using anti-body based tests such as Lateral Flow Device (LFD) or Enzyme Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay (ELISA) to detect these peanut proteins.
If a facility wants to assess the removal of multiple allergens at once, using a non-specific test would be an alternative. For example, if a facility that makes salad-dressing using egg, milk, soy and gluten in one product wants to run another batch containing none of these allergens, high-sensitive protein swabs that look for total proteins (allergenic and non-allergenic) may be a useful indicator to help ensure that the equipment and surfaces are clean.
Like other environmental monitoring programs, allergen testing should use a variety of sampling sites identified through a risk-based approach. The testing areas should focus on the direct contact zones and indirect contact zones, but there is also value in periodically sampling all environmental areas for residue build-up that has the potential for cross-contact.
Learn more about environmental monitoring.
To learn more about the importance of environmental monitoring, download our Environmental Monitoring Handbook by visiting this page. For more information on 3M Food Safety testing solutions, contact a representative by filling out the form below.
- McGill University Health Centre. 2016. “Increasing cases of anaphylaxis among children.” Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421133825.htm