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informatics in the food and drink industry

Regulations now demand full traceability from farm through to manufacture and distribution

Food safety first W

Facing mounting pressures to ensure full traceability, quality and regulatory compliance, food and drink companies turn to informatics. Beth Sharp investigates

henever my fiancé and I cook for our friends, we ensure that the vast majority of dishes don’t include any beef products. Te

reason for this is that our one friend, Michelle, doesn’t eat beef – and hasn’t done so since the 1990s when the UK was hit by the BSE crisis. In 2008, as a precautionary measure following news that a California-based abattoir failed to prevent sick animals from entering the food chain, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the largest recall of meat in US history – 143 million pounds of beef. Tat same year, Chinese authorities were faced with the discovery that milk and infant formula had been contaminated with melamine. As in the case of my friend, instances like these can have a profound effect on consumer confidence. Media attention does little to quell fears

and the food and drink industry is coming under increasing scrutiny as individuals and organisations look for reassurance through the tightening of safety standards. As a result, companies are becoming subject to regulations similar to those applied to pharmaceuticals. One example, and representing the first major revision to the US’ food safety system in more than 70 years, is the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Signed into law on 4 January 2011 by US President Obama, this essentially shiſted the focus to the prevention of contamination and safety issues, rather than reaction to problems aſter they have occurred. Te need to comply with these stringent regulations – which now require demonstration of full traceability from farm through to

manufacture and distribution – and with those in Europe as well as other parts of the world, is driving the demand for informatics solutions. Jay Ross, senior product manager at Starlims,

agrees that from a laboratory perspective, the increase in compliance needs, coupled with health scares such as those highlighted earlier have led agencies around the world to look far closer at how food and drink is tested. Te obligation for companies to demonstrate traceability throughout the entire production process is, of course, critical given that should a contaminant be detected, the manufacturer involved needs to be able to quickly and effectively isolate the particular batch, where it originated from and what materials were involved in order to issue a recall. According to Ross, the increase in regulations

has also led to laboratories carrying out much more sophisticated testing and tracking the samples in more of a GLP (good laboratory practice) sense to that level. Tis has resulted in the amount of microbiology work being done increasing significantly. ‘Tat type of work used to be very basic, where labs were simply testing

JUNE/JULY 2012 7

Tyler Olson/

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