None of us likes to be surprised by opening a container of butter and discovering it’s rancid. Nor do we enjoy reaching into a bag of apples to find a soft and squishy one. Food spoilage is inevitable for most products, but certain microorganisms can accelerate the decaying process. Improper storage and handling can expose food to damaging moisture, light, microorganisms, and enzymes. Monitoring for spoilage organisms can help with this.
Monitoring the big three spoilage organisms: bacteria, fungi and yeast
Microorganisms are very adaptable and can make themselves at home in a variety of food processing environments. Some bacteria and fungi can survive high levels of heat, some types of yeast are impervious to preservatives and some microorganisms have become resistant to sanitizers.
Food production facilities can take a proactive approach with environmental monitoring to prevent costly spoilage and recalls of food. Particular foods and production methods are associated with specific spoilage organisms, so each facility should create a targeted environmental monitoring strategy that fits their needs.
For example, high-water activity and high-sugar foods such as juices, syrups, and cut fruit are prone to yeast spoilage. Filamentous fungi can be extremely heat resistant and can spoil products that typically have an extended shelf life.
Risks from spoilage organisms can be minimized with proper environmental monitoring. Facilities should determine their likely risks and set up a sampling plan; e.g., and facilities with product at-risk to mold spoilage should consider the use of air sampling methods to monitor spore load in addition to surface sampling.
Additional resources to help you control food spoilage and manage shelf life are available to you at any time.
Looking out for allergens
The United States (U.S.) Centers for Disease Control reports that the prevalence of reported food allergies in children increased by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. As more people get diagnosed with food allergies, and as more hospital visits occur due to food allergies, food manufacturers have become increasingly aware of the need to test for allergens to avoid cross-contact.
Undeclared allergens on food labels are a leading cause of food recalls in the U.S. Since facilities often use the same equipment and spaces for multiple food and beverage products, they need robust programs to clean and monitor manufacturing equipment between production runs to ensure no allergens reach foods not intended to contain that ingredient.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires manufacturers in the U.S. and those that export food to the U.S. to include allergen controls in their food safety plan. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) also require allergen controls to be identified and monitored.
A few approaches can be taken with allergen testing – usually either specific or non-specific allergen tests. Specific allergen tests detect proteins from the allergenic food. They can be used to identify and quantify the amount of allergenic food present in the sample. For example, if a facility makes peanut butter ice cream, and wants to follow it with a run of peanut-free ice cream, they need to ensure the peanut proteins are completely removed from the equipment. To do this, they can use antibody-based tests such as Lateral Flow Device (LFD) or Enzyme Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay (ELISA) to detect peanut proteins.
Most facilities use specific allergen tests, but in some cases, non-specific tests are more useful in lines where multiple allergens are in a product. For example, makers of salad dressing might run egg, milk, soy, and gluten in one product and then run another batch which should contain none of those allergens. In that case, a non-specific allergen test that looks for proteins on surfaces may be a more useful indicator that equipment is clean.
As with other environmental monitoring programs, allergen testing should use a variety of sampling sites identified through a risk-based approach. The testing areas should be most focused on the direct contact zones and indirect contact zones, but there is also value in periodically sampling all environmental areas for residue build-up that has the potential for cross-contact.
What’s in the handbook?
Learn more about the importance of environmental monitoring and the steps you can take to be more proactive about food safety in your facility. Download the full handbook by visiting 3M Environmental Monitoring.
Each chapter includes in-depth guidance on important topics for food processing and handling facilities.
Chapter 1: Learn about the importance of environmental sampling in food safety and quality programs.
Chapter 2: Get a closer look at the purpose of ATP- and protein-based hygiene monitoring. These quick and simple tests can provide a measurable and objective assessment of the cleanliness of equipment and surfaces prior to food processing.
Chapter 3: Read about environmental monitoring for indicator organisms. Indicator organisms reflect the general microbiological condition of a food or the environment. They can be used to understand the microbial ecology of the processing environment and validate cleaning and sanitation.
Chapter 4: Learn about environmental monitoring for pathogens. Companies perform monitoring for foodborne pathogens in food handling or processing facilities to identify and eliminate pathogen sources to reduce the risk of food contamination, which can lead to recalls and foodborne illness.
Chapter 5: Review environmental monitoring for spoilage organisms. Microorganisms that increase the risk of spoilage are often well-adapted to survive in food manufacturing plants. Microbial spoilage can decrease quality, lead to decreased shelf-life and possibly recalls. See how environmental monitoring can reduce spoilage and threats to quality.
Chapter 6: Take a closer look at environmental monitoring for allergens. In recent years, food and beverage manufacturers have focused more on allergens as more people are diagnosed with food allergies. Programs for allergen testing, monitoring and cleaning are helping prevent cross-contact during food processing.
Chapter 7: Read about driving impactful change in your organization through environmental monitoring programs.
Additional information: Review environmental sampling guidance and a glossary.