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Food safety testing – All you need to know
Food safety testing is a scientific-based method that evaluates the safety of food based on microbiological, physical, ...
- Food safety testing is a scientific-based method that evaluates the safety of food based on microbiological, physical, or chemical composition.
- Food safety testing must be accurate, specific, reproducible, established, and cost-effective.
- Proper food safety testing contributes as a solution to the growing demand for safe food and sustainability of supply all over the world.
Risking food safety can cost lives. Every year, countries all over the world suffer from economic losses due to food safety problems. It has been estimated that low to middle-income countries suffers at least $100 billion in losses per year as a result of foodborne illnesses. The importance of having access to a clean, safe, and sustainable food supply is a necessity for humans. To preserve the safety of the food supply, the food industry has established a set of food safety testing procedures.
The fact that no one can survive without proper nutrition shows how important access to safe food is. For everyday consumers, there is no way of telling if a product is safe other than through sensory or physical analysis. So how would they know if the food they are eating is safe? This point is where the role of food businesses in ensuring food safety comes in. As part of the human right to adequate food, every food industry body is mandated to ensure the safety of the public through food safety.
Learn what types of food safety testing do a food product must go through before reaching households in this article and get to know the best way t manage your food safety testing results.
Why is food safety testing important?
When we talk about any foodborne disease, the first factor that comes to mind is contamination by disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites, bacteria, and molds. In reality, chemical substances, as well as physical articles, can cause foodborne diseases or related injuries.
To detect these hazards respective food safety testing procedures are used. Through these scientific methods, food businesses ensure and verify that their products are free from food hazards that can harm public health. Food safety testing programs are also part of the solution to achieve global harmonization of food safety and security and to address the enormous demand for safe food all over the world. With proper food safety testing and quality assurance, food loss and production of unsafe food are minimized along with the other challenges of foodborne illnesses.
Food safety testing can also be used to evaluate foods that have been altered to withstand drastic conditions. Results from such tests can be used to inform and educate the public about the safety or dangers of such foods.
What is the goal of food safety testing?
The main goal of conducting food safety testing is to analyze food products and determine if they are safe for consumption. Testings support the claim of food businesses regarding their compliance with food safety regulations and laws and that their operations are up to food safety standards. These activities are essential in providing the best and safest consumption experience and ensuring food quality. The requirements for conducting food safety testing highlight the importance of food safety.
Food safety testing procedures are the responsibilities of food handlers and food manufacturers. Every food business is mandated to conduct particular food safety testing and to have a food safety testing lab to achieve the following specific goals:
Safety and prevention of illnesses
As mentioned, food safety testings evaluate food products for their safety. Procedures for detecting whether the correct doneness of the food was achieved can be backed up by further testing. Such testing can be done by acquiring samples or a food ingredient from the processed batch and testing them for the presence of target microorganisms. The results from these evaluations can be used as a basis for whether to release products to market safely. Food safety testings are specific, precise, and reproducible. Therefore, credible food safety testing procedures can be used on an honest basis.
Perhaps the best example for the function of food safety testing as a form of educating everyday consumers is the case of genetically modified foods (GMO). As an answer to the never-ending concerns of consumers regarding GMOs, the FDA has concluded that all genetically modified food products require special safety testing and food safety testing laboratories. Through proper food safety testing, newly developed consumer products can be evaluated before their release in the market to reduce consumer exposure and preserve their safety. Results from such evaluations are commonly peer-reviewed to ensure accuracy.
Scientific food safety testing methods are part of the answer to sustainability and the growing food demand. By ensuring that the produced foods are safe, losses are reduced and the consistent production of food can keep up with the growing food demand. To achieve a sustainable future, the complementing features of food safety and security must be thoroughly emphasized.
In relation to sustainability, the lack of foodborne illnesses also ensures that all members of the community can perform their tasks without interruptions. Foodborne illnesses contribute to the major factors that use up medical services and lower service in any industry. Food safety testing provides an accurate basis to ensure the safety of all members of the community.
All of these goals are only achievable if food safety testing is conducted consistently with precision and accuracy. As such, the importance of regularly updating the results as a response to potential changes must be emphasized for all food industry segments. To ensure that the results of your food safety testing are always organized and updated, use digital solutions offered by FoodDocs. We will explain more later in this article.
What are the main types of food safety testing?
Food safety testings normally deal with the chemical composition of food, the presence of pathogens, the physical properties of food, and the potential presence of unwanted and potentially unsafe ingredients or adulterants. Established and respective testing methods are available for each target concern such as traditional agar methods for detecting the presence of unwanted microbial growth. Proper identification of the presence of potential hazards is part of a comprehensive HACCP plan and food safety management system. The correct execution of accurate testing methods is essential to achieve this goal and requires testing experience.
Here are some of the most common food safety testing conducted in food safety labs:
A wide variety of pathogenic microorganisms or those that can cause foodborne illnesses are the primary sources of food problems. Some pathogens can manifest signs of spoilage in foods, whereas some can be undetectable unless with a food safety test. Some of the common foodborne illness-causing pathogens include:
- Escherichia coli (causes traveler's diarrhea)
- Staphylococcus aureus
This type of food safety testing takes time but is accurate and is often used as a solid basis for food safety. Each foodborne pathogen has its microbiological testing protocol but all methods involve acquiring a sample of food from each batch and testing for the presence of the target foodborne pathogen. The presence of pathogenic microorganisms can be an indication of inadequate or inappropriate processing, problems with raw materials, damaged packaging, or inappropriate storage temperature for storage.
Alternatively, swab testing is also conducted to test for the level of sanitation on food contact materials and surfaces such as tables, conveyor belts, and plastic crates for storage. More advanced food testing laboratories also offer DNA-based tests which yield instant results when compared with traditional agar-based methods.
This type of testing is commonly used to detect problems such as the presence of adulterants, excessive cleaning agents, or even indications of processing abuse in the form of chemical by-products. Chemical tests can also be used to establish standard processing operations by determining if unsafe byproducts are produced within certain ranges of parameters. Examples of chemical tests that are common in various food industry segments include:
- Trace element or contamination detection
- Food safety testing kits for the presence of sanitizing agents on food contact materials and surfaces
- Detection of pesticide residues
- Chemical property tests such as proper acidity levels in canned foods
Although not very obvious, food safety testing can also include nutritional analyses of foods. This type of testing involves an approximation of the nutritional composition of a product which includes fat, protein, carbohydrates, caloric value, and other major compositions. This analysis can be considered chemical testing but is more commonly used for labeling requirements.
The presence of filth, sharp objects, and insect parts are all considered physical contaminants and are potential carriers of foodborne illnesses and related injuries. Food safety testing involved in this type of analysis can include the use of machines such as metal detectors or x-rays. More traditional testing methods such as using a sifter with different mesh sizes to detect pieces of any physical hazard during raw material receiving. Additionally, sensory evaluations, mostly aroma and visual observation, are also part of physical food safety testing. This, perhaps, is the most convenient way of food safety testing. Some food contaminants such as microbial growth can produce unwanted odor and can serve as signs of spoilage. Although, consumption of finished products for analysis of safety is not very advisable especially for past due food items.
Depending on the analyzed food safety hazards of a food product and food process operations, food safety testing can significantly vary. Testing procedures are established after the identification of the potential hazards and their significance in processing.
Characteristics of a good food safety testing
There is a lot at stake when conducting an actual test method. A poorly designed food safety testing procedure can result in false-negative results which can release finished products that are potentially contaminated. As such, food safety tests must be standardized and have particular characteristics for application to be considered effective.
Below are some characteristics every test procedure should have to solve food safety challenges:
- Specific. A food safety testing must be able to identify its target contaminant. A broad-range food safety test can sometimes confuse and may lead to incorrect diagnoses. If you are keen on using multi-target food safety testing methods, make sure that your test procedures have specific markers to measure your desired target. Specificity also indicates that the food safety test must not cross-react with other food substances which can indicate a false-positive result.
- Accurate. The results of an analysis for food safety must be able to read beyond the acceptable food safety standards of a parameter for clarity but offer accurate readings. Your testing procedure must be able to give results that are not vague and can be easily distinguished for ease of use. If a testing procedure gives a very wide range of results, then the purpose of the testing is defeated.
- Reproducible. Food safety tests are routine tasks. This means that they have to be repeated to ensure the consistency of food quality and safety of food production. As such, the test must be precise in producing results.
- Established. Regulatory bodies and concerned organizations have also established guidelines for food safety tests and their acceptable results. Any deviation from these established steps must be justified in your food safety management system manual.
- Cost-effective. Some food tests, cost quite a bit, especially the ones with the technology to give instant or rapid results. This fact is because faster results mean the faster release of finished products. Make sure that the benefits agree with your means to sustain continuous use of this test. Although, opting to buy affordable food safety sensing supplies must not mean sacrificing effectiveness.
Food testing procedures are usually established through a series of tests conducted by food industry experts and are commonly designed to be used by food processing plants. As the food industry moves toward globalization and away from traditional methods, more advanced technology and efficient food safety tests become available. The results of these tests can become too much to handle given the frequency of testing for some procedures. Additionally, it may become hard to keep up with them if you have a lot of tests for your food manufacturing practices. Allow our food safety management feature with a built-in HACCP plan builder to help you organize and consistently monitor these tests.
Digital solution to help in food safety testing
A single food establishment can have a variety of food safety testings for its food manufacturing practices. Not to mention, if you are dealing with GMOs, you would have to submit to a stricter approach to food safety as the FDA has concluded that all genetically modified food products require special safety testing. It would be crucial if you miss a scheduled food safety test as this can mean a higher risk of causing an outbreak of foodborne disease. As such, it must be part of your food safety management system and HACCP plan to establish the necessary food safety testing.
At FoodDocs, our food safety experts have developed a digital Food Safety Management System (FSMS) which can help you organize and monitor your food safety testings and make sure that not a single test is missed. Our digital FSMS allows food manufacturers and any food establishment to switch from your traditional manual FSMS to a completely digital system in just 15 minutes. Our digital FSMS provides you with complete monitoring forms, checklists, and food safety testing procedures based on your food business operations.
Let us help you achieve continuous compliance and solve your challenges with food safety regulations and achieve sustainability with our systems. When you join us at FoodDocs, you can also gain the following benefits:
- Our machine-learned system suggests the most important food safety testing and laboratory evaluations related to your food business.
- We automatically set up the standard frequency required for specific tests and the corresponding monitoring form for these food tests that are automatically prefilled for your convenience. Your only remaining task is to verify the logged entries.
- Ensure the quality and safety of your foods by never missing any of your food safety tasks as our system automatically notifies through our mobile app.
- Under our built-in HACCP plan builder, all automatically generated testing procedures and appropriate frequencies are mentioned in your analysis plan section. The general tests that we include depend on your food business but will include water quality, air, and other environmental analyses.
- Monitor your food processes and testings using our real-time dashboard that reflects your everyday progress. This report can be downloaded for documentation.
- As a complementary feature of food safety testing, our FSMS also has a food production traceability feature that will allow you to track down any non-compliant batches based on your tests.
- Keep all information and documents in your cloud storage for easier accessibility and more efficient organization.
Remaining compliant with food safety laws and regulations while fulfilling the goals of food safety testing has never been this easy. Our objective at FoodDocs is to create a safe food supply chain by making digital FSMS more accessible and efficient for all food businesses.
Signing up with us at FoodDocs also means you get 20% more free time on managing food safety tasks. You can use this time to focus on managing your business with very minimal involvement in food safety tasks. Our user-friendly system was built to accommodate every food business owner's needs. You can easily set up your digital FSMS after you sign up for our free 14-day trial.