Even with technological advancements, growing scientific knowledge and tighter regulations surrounding food production – foodborne pathogens continue to pose a serious concern.
According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, 2.2 million people die annually from foodborne illnesses. Unsafe food is known to cause more than 200 diseases, with Salmonella, E.Coli and Listeria being some of the most common and dangerous foodborne pathogens.
Food Safety is a concern in Canada
Though Canada’s food economy is described by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as a “resilient system, continuously responding to the challenges and opportunities it faces,” it doesn’t mean that we don’t have persistent difficulties to overcome. One only needs to load up the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website to see that food recalls and warnings are a reality.
Testing our manufacturing environments and food samples remains crucial to managing risk of foodborne pathogen contamination. So how are food manufacturing companies and the Canadian government working towards making food safer?
Important regulatory changes to the Health Canada Compendium of Analytical Methods
The Health Canada Compendium of Analytical Methods sets the standards and guidelines for compliance in the Canadian food industry and acts as a helpful manual for manufacturers to assess the quality of foods. More specifically, it helps manufacturers to assess and investigate microbiological or extraneous (extra) material contained in the food – as well as investigate foodborne diseases.
Recently, one of the sections of the Compendium received an that has lab managers and technicians taking notice: Appendix G, Section D.A, narrows in on ‘Environmental Sampling for the Detection of Microorganisms.’
Under this update, Health Canada specifies the exact pH and colour of the neutralizing broth to be used on Dey-Engley (D/E) swabs for environmental sampling. Products using D/E broth must contain Bromocresol purple on the formulation; be purple at the time of use; and maintain a pH of 7.6 ± 0.2.
Changes to Environmental Sampling for the Detection of Microorganisms aim to address false negatives
If you work in a lab, the changes to the Compendium will read clearly to you, but put in simpler terms, the change aims to make it harder than ever for foodborne pathogens to go undetected.
To explain this in greater depth, it helps to understand the issue of false negatives and how they occur in food safety testing.
When a food manufacturer sets out to test the manufacturing environment and the food itself for foodborne pathogens, a variety of sponges, swabs and other sampling devices are used to collect the sample, and then immersed in a neutralizing ‘broth’. Ideally, the broth should provide the perfect environment for foodborne pathogens to grow – so that their presence is revealed.
However, antiseptics and other acidic agents in the manufacturing environment can sometimes get in the way as they may prevent pathogens in the sample from flourishing in the broth – making it appear as though they are not there.
Except that they are.
False negatives are gravely serious as they could allow potentially contaminated product to get to consumers where it may cause serious sickness or even death. Additionally, if a false negative is found after the fact, then it can prompt a product recall, which may erode customer confidence in the manufacture’s products and brand.
Under the updated Compendium, the guidelines have been narrowed on the specifications surrounding the neutralizing broth, so that lab technicians will have an indicator to help identify if the sample has been contaminated.
3M D/E Neutralizing Broth can help identify contaminated samples
3M D/E Neutralizing Broth is fully compliant with the Health Canada Compendium of Analytical Methods and is designed to be purple at time of use. If there is a possible sample contamination by antiseptics or acidic agents, 3M D/E Neutralizing Broth will change in colour, from purple to yellow, providing a visual alert to lab managers and technicians.
In other words, when the formulation changes colour, it indicates a change to the pH of the D/E neutralizing broth, which could prevent the growth of microorganisms on the sample. As a consequence, microorganisms that were present at the sample would not be detected during the testing phase due to low count of cells.
When this occurs, it’s a clear indication that the sample must be taken – and retaken – until the technician can feel confident that the sample will yield the most accurate results.