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Identifying source of mold, sauces hot packed in plastic bottles

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Posted 17 September 2018 - 04:44 PM

I need some guidance and help to make sure I'm not missing something.


Product: Sauces hot packed in plastic bottles. (cooked to above 200 for >5 minutes)


Problem: Three sauces ran back to back. (cleaning done in between each one).

Product one: pH 3.92 - lab results fine

Product 2: pH 3.76 - lab results fine

Product 3: pH 4.15 - yeast and lactic acid bacteria count fine, mold - very high



Air testing for Y/M testing 2 days before the product made - mold at 3.


Previous results have never shown an issue in either product nor air testing. Highest mold shown in the last year on all hot packed products was 10. Product 3 produced 8 times in the last year - all prior had shown no issues in all we test for.  


What I've done: Retested product: Both lab samples bad (the one we send and the one we keep). Opened up a bottled product and tested. No mold seen in bottle and tested negative as well. 


Currently doing: Sending empty lab bottles we use for testing (maybe they're contaminated) and replaced them with new lab bottles. Taking Y/M air samples. Increasing testing from monthly to bimonthly for six months.


Only one ingredient different in product 3 - CoA came back for mold at <10.


Is there anything else I need to do. Thanks in advance for any help.


Brendan Triplett

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Posted 17 September 2018 - 05:17 PM



Are you doing random interval raw product and ingredient testing on your inbound shipments?  Do you have a letter of guarantee for those different ingredients in sample 3?  How about tests on - storage tanks, transfer tubes, titration equipment, air or water used to clean or sanitize bottles, etc.


I have experience with some companies using a "starburst" technique.  They find a source of contamination and then hit several points surrounding it.  If they get a positive hit then they "burst" and hit several points around that new target.  Essentially following it home to its source.  I wonder if something like that would work for your scenario.  You know that it is testing positive from the finishing line.  Follow your process backwards until you either hit a dead end or the source of the problem.  Best of luck!

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Posted 18 September 2018 - 04:24 AM

Hi KfromIA,


As Brendan has said follow your process backwards with sampling but also investigating further.


I would expect you to have looked at the filling temperatures, normally hot fill > 70 C?


Have you checked caps/seals for mold contamination?


Your pH is higher in product 3 is this normal? and would there be mold growth in the other products if their pH was the same?


Where is the level of contamination highest in Product 3 ? Start of the run? End of the run? Constant throughout?


If you need to investigate the level of contamination further you can do so by incubating whole packages from the run at elevated temperatures, 21 & 30 C and opening to look for old growth after 5 days (AKQ Test - Accelerated Keeping Quality).


Kind regards,







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Posted 18 September 2018 - 04:34 PM

I would think it's either the caps that you used OR your vacuum wasn't strong enough to create anaerobic conditions OR your hot fill temp wasn't high enough OR a combination of all of these things


the pH of 4.1 should be low enough in combination with hot fill if the capping occurs IMMEDIATELY after filling


Need to know a little more about your actual process, you told us what your cook temp is but not fill temp


Anything less than 174F is not hot enough OR you may have a lag between hot fill and capping where the internal temp is allowed to drop 

Edited by Scampi, 18 September 2018 - 04:35 PM.

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