How Food and Beverage Companies Can Leverage Lab Informatics in Testing for Contaminants

Food and Beverage, Lab Informatics

lab informatics
The food and beverage industry plays an essential role in ensuring our food is safe. Is there a way they can do more?
Image source: Flickr user urbanfoodie33

As food products are processed, packaged and distributed, they undergo many tests for safety. Given the importance of quality and safety, the food and beverage industry could always benefit from more sensitive tests to detect food contaminants and subsequently protect consumers. Indeed, those companies with few negative incidents are also likely to see an increase in business opportunities as their food ingredients are rated “safer” than similar companies. A 2015 study by Robert Scharff, a professor at Ohio State University, estimated that the costs of “medical treatment, lost productivity, and illness-related mortality” is approximately $55.5 billion or what author Beth Kowitt called “The food industry’s $55.5 billion safety problem.”1 It behooves food and beverage industry specialists to improve the safety of their foods given that the chances of products discovered with biological or chemical contaminants is greater than it has ever been. If a company is accused of such oversight, it could mark their end.

Improving the Safety and Quality of Food Products with Lab Informatics

The food and beverage industry should always seek to leverage available technology to detect contaminants. A way to do this is to devise new tests to identify food contaminants using instrumentation that is common to analytical chemistry labs.2 However, there are always new contaminants that the food and beverage industry becomes aware of, and more popularly, new attempts made to discover ways in which to assay for contaminants more effectively and efficiently.

Biological contaminants: Biological contamination in the form of microbes or viruses is a significant threat to food and beverage production lines. Previously, biological contamination was thought to only be an issue for food handlers. However, the mixing of dry and wet manufacturing environments has increased the likelihood that microorganisms and viruses are transferred to food items at the manufacturing level.3 Food and beverage firms should determine how to quickly, effectively and cheaply assay for pathogens at specific stages of the manufacturing process. Along the same lines, organizations should have specialized equipment and systems to monitor the general environmental hygiene of a processing facility (i.e. centrifuge or machine cleanliness) at various points in order to reduce the chances that biological pathogens survive the manufacturing process. Basic hygiene tests are standard in many facilities. However, these are often not efficient enough to allow for the quick remedy of a potential issue to get production up and running once more. In 2011, an Israeli company called TA Count was able to test for certain biological contaminants with results becoming available in minutes as opposed to the traditional wait time of days.4 Developing such innovative tests for different microbial or pathogenic organisms would be an excellent method for food and beverage companies to more quickly and effectively determine the health status of various food items.

Chemical contaminants: Tracking samples and procedures is extremely important in maintaining standards, especially in determining where a chemical contaminant may have been introduced. Common contaminants include compounds such as sulfonamides, antibiotics, arsenic, benzene, dioxins and toxic elements from machinery or foodware.5 Monitoring for chemical contaminants is especially important as companies increasingly become international. Products manufactured in one country with a different set of standards can compromise the integrity and reputation of a global brand if those standards are found to be less stringent.

At times it can be overwhelming to consider the many different biological and chemical contaminants companies should keep track of. Software such as BIOVIA Experiment Knowledge Base (EKB) can help with this. This software can prove to be essential in developing new tests and assays for contaminants. For example, devising a new test for a specific type of bacteria and running the appropriate tests using BIOVIA EKB enables your lab to determine if the assay successfully identified the pathogen. Furthermore, determining if a similar assay can detect other contaminants is important in terms of quickly measuring contaminants in samples produced by the food and beverage industry. To determine how BIOVIA EKB can assist your efforts in food research and production, please contact us today.

  1. “The food industry’s 55.5 billion safty problem,” September 25, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/09/25/food-industry-contamination/
  2. “The Use of Drugs in Food Animals: Benefits and Risks, 1999, http://www.nap.edu/read/5137/chapter/7#111
  3. “Microbiological Sampling in the Dry Foods Processing Environment,” February/March 2006, http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/februarymarch-2006/microbiological-sampling-in-the-dry-foods-processing-environment/
  4. “New Test To Detect Food Contamination Within Minutes,” November 17, 2011, http://nocamels.com/2011/11/new-test-to-detect-food-contamination-within-minutes/
  5. Chemical Contaminants, October 31, 2015, http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/ChemicalContaminants/

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