Globalization of food standards
Nearly everyone in the Canadian food supply chain is familiar with or at least heard of international audit programs such as the British Retail Consortium Global Standard (BRC), ISO 22000:2005, Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), Dutch HACCP Code and SQF 2000. Witness also the exponential growth in programs, influence and power of the Codex Alimentarius and ISO Commissions around the world over the past decade.
All of these programs have evolved from a need to document and standardize a wide array of activities around food production and safety in order to make our global economy run more smoothly. Although individual countries are still free to set their own domestic standards, through international agreement they cannot require imported goods to meet higher standards than those imposed domestically for equivalent products. One of the implications for the future is that international programs will increasingly influence Canadian regulatory agencies, producers, processors, distributors, foodservice organizations and consumers. In fact, the influence will go well beyond programs and will extend even to the language we will use in our day-to-day business activities.
Globalization of risk assessment
Audit programs such as BRC, ISO, GFSI and SQF all rely on firms having solid prerequisite programs such as good manufacturing practices and HACCP, but supported by higher standards than most Canadian firms have in place. Consequently, some firms struggling to get certified under one of these audit programs are finding that the techniques and data used in the risk assessments and to validate the intervention steps are being questioned and challenged.
Fortunately, there have been many advances in microbial, chemical and physical analytical methods, which should eventually make it easier, cheaper and faster for food processors to validate that the intervention steps in their manufacturing processes are working properly.
Advances in food microbiology
Advances in this field are motivated by public demand for better food safety, the enormous cost of foodborne illness outbreaks, and the need to identify (within hours versus weeks and months) pathogens and the sources of contamination in times of crisis. Added to this is industry’s need to validate sanitation and intervention effectiveness on a real-time basis.
Numerous innovations have been made in the past few years and scientists and engineers will likely continue to work feverishly in developing ever-more-sensitive instruments capable of testing for larger numbers of food spoilage and pathogenic organisms. Cost per analysis will also drop significantly, as will the time for the test versus traditional methods, 25 to 50 per cent in many cases.
Trends to watch in 2012:
• Broadband screening for several pathogens in one test – Given that the cause of the majority of foodborne outbreaks are never identified, it makes abundant sense to screen for an array of spoilage and pathogens and have results within hours. IEH Laboratories claim to have this technology in place in a number of U.S. food processors.
• Mammalian cell-based biosensors and immunoassays – Mammalian cells implanted on fixed plates can be engineered to react to a wide array of pathogens and toxins. Sensitive to as few as 100 cfu’s per gram of bacteria and nanograms of toxins, several products can be screened in minutes to hours.
• Non-mammalian biosensors, immunoassays and molecular biology – There are numerous firms marketing devices today, with more to come. I’ll feature some of the more established, as well as emerging technologies, in 2012.
• Laser-based light scattering of Petri dishes – Advanced Bioimaging Systems, LLC markets a laser-based device capable of reading colonies on conventional Petri dishes within 12 hours versus 24 to 48 hours for such genera as Listeria, Salmonella, Escherichia, Staphyloccus and Vibro with better than 90 per cent accuracy.
Firms that embrace change and rise to the challenges imposed from within and outside of Canada will prosper in 2012. Here’s wishing that your business is among them.
Dr. Ron Wasik, PhD, MBA, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at [email protected]