The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) continues to challenge food processors to seek new ways to address food safety. One of its rules -- Preventive Controls for Human Food --- is making the reduction of pathogen risk via preventative controls a top priority.
A prevention-based approach can improve food safety and reduce recalls, which often have a high monetary cost. In 2015, there were 437 recalls, withdrawals, and alerts. Of those 437 recalls, 78 were for Salmonella spp, 52 for Listeria monocytogenes, 23 for Clostridium botulism, and 3 for E. Coli. Recalls have the potential to bankrupt small and medium-sized food manufacturers. While a manufacturer may be able to weather the cost issues, they’re often not immune to the damaged reputation.
As a result, food manufacturers are looking to use the conveyor dryer as a control point for addressing the new regulations. The drying process utilizes the transfer of heat and mass between a product and air to reduce moisture. Drying can extend the shelf life of a food product, enabling it to reach consumers before degradation occurs. If certain procedures are followed, drying can reduce the risk of pathogens. But if a product has a history of recalls due to a specific pathogen, a validation step may be needed.
Validation confirms that a process is reaching the process parameter requirements needed to reduce a particular pathogen. In doing so, validation provides a peace of mind that manufactures are making safe food for consumption. Should an audit be needed, validation can protect a manufacturer from unnecessary scrutiny if the proper records can be provided.
Bühler Aeroglide has been researching validation in thermal processing for many years. In fact, it was the first equipment manufacturer to implement industrial scale validation parameters for the nut industry. This research showed that with certain roasting parameters, a 5-log reduction can be achieved in a salmonella surrogate known as Enterococcus faecium. The work was published in the journal Peanut Science.
Meanwhile, ongoing research that combines drying theory and pathogen log reduction--conducted and used within the research and development department of Bühler Aeroglide--is offering valuable data for industrial scale validation. Already, it is leading to the development of a new tool known as the Smart Validation Service (SVS). This solution can provide real-time log reduction monitoring using Bühler Aeroglide processing equipment.
SVS uses parameter sensors that send information to a program that has been modeled to a particular process. These sensors provide real-time log reduction that can be accurately relayed to factory personnel. If changes in the process occur, log reduction monitoring will alert an operator so that a process can be stopped or diverted to ensure food safety. Monitoring real-time log reduction is a vast change from traditional validation methods that typically involve a process authority, a person who runs tests to validate a piece of equipment at a particular moment in the process. Therefore, if there is a change in processing parameters, all of the product batch can become questionable and require another validation. In the end, this can lead to extensive production losses because a cautious manufacturer has to dispose of uncertain product.
Dvijal Patel is a food technologist in the Field Engineering group at Bühler Aeroglide and a regular contributor to food industry conferences. Patel introduces a valuable food science perspective to food manufacturing, working with customers to research and develop new food products, design the most efficient thermal processes, and maximize existing processes through system evaluations and training. He holds a Master’s degree in Food Science Microbiology and a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from The University of Georgia.
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