I am a scientist, and sometimes my workspace is more like a kitchen. For over 30 years, I’ve led custom research studies for companies needing scientific evidence that their food products are safe. Often that means meticulously recreating food manufacturing processes in the lab.
The importance of this work is obvious—ensuring food safety is critical for companies to protect consumers and their brand reputations. Although some situations require in-plant studies, with which Covance can also assist, there are reasons for conducting these studies in the lab rather than on-site. Laboratory studies minimizeisruptions to manufacturing operations. More importantly, they also avoid potentially introducing pathogens, spoilage organisms or surrogates into the plant during testing. Critically, they definitively yield scientifically valid results.
So how do microbiologic researchers accurately mimic food manufacturing processes? It starts with a heavy measure of conversation and innovation.
Take for example, a food manufacturer that recently learned one of its berry supplier’s growing and harvesting practices might have introduced E. coli 0157:H7 into their product. The company needed to ensure that its current heat-kill method (cooking the berries at a high temperature) was effectively reducing bacteria levels and eliminating health risk.
After detailed discussions with operational and quality leaders and in-house food scientists, Covance developed a custom study to re-create the entire heat-kill process in our lab—from the arrival of frozen berries and gelatin to the cooking of syrup and heating to an exact temperature profile.
As always, we followed National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) guidelines. This helps the data stand up to scrutiny, as does our practice of reviewing the entire manufacturing process, so we can advise clients of potential issues of which they may not even be aware.
In this case, we confirmed the efficacy of the manufacturer’s heat-kill process and provided the data needed to assure auditors and regulators of the product’s safety. Our client could confidently continue their operations knowing consumers were not at risk— a true (validated) recipe for success.