Entrusted with the safety of the food they produce, processors are on the front lines everyday. Okay, maybe the reality is not that dramatic, but the food industry is faced with a variety of potential emergencies on a daily basis.
These potential emergencies are made worse by a combination of factors. Efforts by food manufacturers to contain costs have promoted a trend to higher processing speeds. Ever-present potential microbial hazards in foods raise concerns about the true safety of food products. Formulations designed to reduce home preparation times have added to processing variability. These inherent product safety issues are joined by consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms and, recently, threats of bioterrorism.
Fortunately, the food industry already has an excellent logical model for dealing with these threats. That is the control of food processing that can be obtained through application of the principles of Hazard Analysis and the identification of Critical Control Points. Hazard Analysis is the identification of sensitive ingredients, critical control points, and relevant human factors as they affect product safety. Critical Control Points are those processing factors loss of control of which would result in an unacceptable food safety risk.
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code has integrated the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Development of a HACCP plan is based on conducting a hazard analysis; determining the critical control points; establishing critical limits; establishing monitoring procedures; establishing corrective actions; establishing verification procedures; and establishing record-keeping and documentation procedures. Having a well-planned and flexible HACCP system in place allows food companies the ability to deal with a variety of emergencies. It is obvious that a large part of processors’ resources should be placed with dealing with microbiological hazards; however, recent consumer concerns have focused on bioterrorism and genetically modified organisms in foods.
Recently, acts of bioterrorism have gained nationwide attention. However, food producers, processors, distributors, retailers, consumers and researchers have always been faced with the threat of bioterrorism. These acts can have a political motivation, be the result of labor unrest, or be an act of extortion.
FDA recently issued an industry guidance document for controlling and minimizing the risk of tampering or criminal or terrorist action at each segment of the food production cycle. The guidance is divided into seven sections that relate to individual components of a food establishment operation: management of food security; physical security; employees; computer systems; raw materials and packaging; operations; and finished products. It also covers security strategies and evaluation of security systems.
Biotechnology offers the capability to produce foods with processing advantages, nutritional enhancements, and other compositional and functional properties of benefit to consumers. However, consumer concerns have led to the need for tracking the genetically modified foods through production and clear and understandable labeling.
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The genetic modification of foods and food ingredients is an especially contentious issue in Europe. The European regulations, which will come under the European Food Authority, establishes that special labeling is required if any characteristic or food property renders the food/ingredient no longer equivalent to an existing food or ingredient, if material present may have health implications or give rise to ethical concerns or if viable organisms are present. In the U.S., labeling of foods developed using biotechnology is done on a voluntary basis.
Antibody-based methods have been developed, validated, and successfully applied to a number of transgenic plant products. These are also appropriate for testing grain, food ingredients and food. However, the sampling, extraction, reference standards, and interpretation of the data may be quite different for the different applications. The same can be said for the polymerase chain reaction method (PCR) which is used to identify the DNA of the same products. Each new genetically modified food or ingredient entering the market makes the analytical determinations more complex. As a consequence, methods are being developed to simplify the process by employing DNA arrays. DNA arrays are small surfaces onto which many different DNA sequences can be immobilized and analyzed in parallel.
Studies have linked variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), a chronic and fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects humans, to the consumption of beef products contaminated with the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) agent. Neither vCJD nor BSE has been detected in the U.S. and the recently released Harvard Risk Assessment conducted for the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) on BSE claims that, owing to already ongoing programs, the U.S. is highly resistant to the introduction and spread of BSE in the U.S. cattle herd. However, some believe that current U.S. surveillance efforts would not spot a fairly high level of BSE incidence. According to a report in the New Scientist, the number of USDA tests for BSE carried out last year were too few to detect a very low incidence of the disease.
According to the USDA, live animal tests can provide valuable information about the level of BSE infectivity. However, currently there is no sensitive and reliable live animal test for BSE and the available post mortem diagnostic tests can only indicate that cattle have the disease two to three months prior to the onset of clinical disease or after the onset of clinical disease. Thus, given the limitations of the diagnostics available today, certain tissues of cattle infected with BSE may contain the BSE agent before a diagnostic test could indicate that the animal has BSE.
The current policy of the USDA is that, given the diagnostic methods available today, exempting cattle that have tested negative for BSE from restrictions on the use of certain materials known to contain the BSE agent in infected cattle would not provide the same level of protection against potential human exposure to the BSE agent as would removing those materials for use as, or in the production of, human food.
Until a sensitive and reliable live-animal or post-mortem test for BSE becomes available and is approved by the USDA, the agency does not expect to permit cattle to “test-out” of some of the restrictions on the use of certain materials known to contain the BSE agent in BSE infected cattle. Once such a test becomes available, USDA expects that testing cattle for BSE will be a viable option.
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PRODUCTS & LITERATURE
Determination of Coliform bacteria in water, called ColiCheck™, is used by the EPA and state agencies, to determine water quality. Simply collect a sample in the sterile bottle and add the test broth to the bottle. Incubate the bottle in a warm location in the house and if a color change occurs the water sample has the potential for coliforms being present. Having coliforms present means a risk of sickness is possible and that treatment of the water source or pool should be performed. The test broth is a convenient disposable system for the detection of total coliforms in drinking water. The broth is provided in a convenient concentrate that is added to 100 mL of sample and incubated for 24-48 hr at 35 + 0.5ºC. Bromcresol purple is added to the formulation to indicate acid production of a contaminate thus resulting in a color change of purple to yellow. The Colicheck w/mug isolates E. coli with the addition of an indicating agent. The presence absence broth will detect coliforms and fluorescence of the media indicates that E.coli is present. A UV black light is required. For more information, contact Biopath, 2611 Mercer Ave., West Palm Beach, FL 33401 (phone 800-645-2302; fax 888-645-2302).
Spear Tip Electrode, the Sensorex S175CD, may be used for pH measurements in solids such as meats, cheeses, and other solid or semi-solid samples. The spear tip glass serves as the piercing element an pH glass at one time. The sealed gel-filled reference junction requires no maintenance and the epoxy body is said to prevent breakage of the electrode, unlike common glass-body models. This electrode features a double-junction design that is said to protect the reference from degradation due to proteins and other materials. For more information, contact Sensorex Sales Support Dept., 11751 Markon Drive, Garden Grove, CA 92841 (phone 714-895-4344; fax 714-894-4839).
Lab Blenders, the Seward/Brinkmann Stomacher® are designed to blend and homogenize laboratory samples contained within sterile disposable bags. Additional applications include the removal of viruses and bacteria from tissues and organs; sterility testing of creams, ointments or dry powder; the removal of organisms from swabs, filters, tissue biopsies, and fecal samples. Numerous versions are available to meet specific lab requirements, and to accommodate different sample sizes. For more information, contact Brinkmann Instruments, Inc., One Cantiague Road, P.O. Box 1019, Westbury, NY 11590-0207 (phone 516-334-7500; fax 516-334-7506).
Powder Rheometer, the FT3, provides means of assessing the flowability and processability of powders. This rheometer is said to evaluate flow properties in a small sample of material (10–300 mL) by first preconditioning it to produce a consistent bed, then measuring the torque, force and energy in the test chamber as a blade traces a precise helical path through the powder. Standard programs are automated and the resulting data provide flow rate and compaction indices. For more information, contact Freeman Technology, Boulters Farm Centre, Castlemorton Common, Malvern, Worcestershire, UK, WR13 6LE (phone +44 (0) 1684 310860; fax +44 (0) 1684 310236; www.freemantech.co.uk).
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pH Meter, the IQ400, can be used as a handheld or benchtop pH meter. The system is a pH module coupled with a personal digital assistant. The meter accepts both traditional glass electrodes and rugged, non-glass, silicon chip sensor pH probes. Features include touch-screen graphics display, pop-up windows and on-screen troubleshooting guides for each function. Other features include, high/low pH level alerts, recalibration alarms, automatic buffer recognition, save/recall of up to 9,999 records, and automatic temperature compensation. Data can be downloaded to a PC. For more information, contact IQ Scientific Instruments, Inc., 11021 Via Frontera, Suite 200, San Diego, CA 92127 (phone 858-673-1851; fax 858-673-1853 www.phmeters.com).
Portable Calibrator, the Calys 10 multi-function calibrator is designed to verify and calibrate equipment in the laboratory or in industrial locations. The calibrator is fitted with a protective housing and a quick-charge battery. This portable instrument is said to enable measurements and simulations of all types of temperature sensors with accuracy of +/-0.2% at process scale. The calibrator also measures pressure from 1 to 1,000 bars. Features include a nine-language interface, simultaneous or independent measurement and simulation, and dual-display screen. Applications cover DC current measurement and emission, and measurement and simulation of resistance or temperatures using 25 types of RTDs and thermocouples. For more information, contact AOIP, Al de Saint Guenault, 6 rue Maryse Bastie, BP 182, 91080 Courcouronnes, France (phone 0113301 69 36 50 60; fax 01133 1 60 77 82 97; www.aoip.com).
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Food Security Preventive Measures Guidance
Voluntary Labeling For Foods Developed Using Bioengineering Guidance
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Information
by JAMES GIESE