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Best Practice for Lab Testing Schedule and Budget


Best Answer , 23 September 2021 - 06:29 AM

That is a tough question.   

 

To food safety professionals the idea of developing a schedule based revenue is not realistic.    We develop plans, programs and procedures based on risk, regulatory requirements, and customer requests.  

 

since your question seems to me to be more micro orientate - one thing to remember is that pathogens are notoriously  elusive to find in products.  Thus you may sleep better testing one sandwich per 2000 produced.  However, unless there is a major issue your likely hood of finding anything are somewhat small

 

I don't know what you make so these are some general ideas / suggestions. 

 

Raw materials \ ingredients - I would create a risk analysis for each raw material / supplier combination.   the analysis could be for both quality and food safety attributes.    Then decide which ingredients have critical aspects that need to be tested.    It may be that you don't have to do any testing on raw materials.  or it could be as simple as a color, odor, appearance, taste (organoleptic) test done in house.    There may be some that your chose to send out for micro or other testing.  While I have always said that relying on your suppliers for your incoming ingredient quality is bad idea, it may be what you have to do until you grow and have the resources.  

 

Finished product. - the same really applies to finished product as it does to raw materials.  What is critical to you and what is the risk?   However, you may have customer requirements that also figure determining  what testing might need to be done.  

 

environmental - as a RTE plant this one is pretty important. there are a lot of resources out there to guide you in how to set this up.   My theory for environmental swabbing it to make a list of every single equipment and area that could be tested.  Then do your risk assement to determine the organisms and frequency of testing needed.   For food contact surfaces (zone 1)  ATP could be your friend.    its pretty cheap and easy and will either give you confidence in your sanitation program or indicate issues quickly..  You may feel better about a lower frequency of swabbing these areas.   Chose your organisms wisely in some cases it may be prudeint to use a indicator test such as coliform or Enterobacter instead of a pathogen test.   

 

 

Whatever you do, remember where you are to day and set goals to improve over time.  ie improved incoming ingredient monitoring, increased swabbing, inhouse testing, etc

 

this is all pretty general.   I hope it helps.   If you tell everyone what you are producing / process it  may help others chime in with suggestions and areas of concern.  


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SeattleSeaHawk

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Posted 22 September 2021 - 08:47 PM

We are a small food manufacturer with 6 employees, based in Seattle, WA where we produce RTE foods.

 

We are struggling with understanding how to build effective test plans (environmental, ingredient, product), all while containing laboratory fees. Ideally, we would love to be able to test all the time, but of course this is prohibitive. We would really like to develop a plan that aside from identifying spikes in indicator species helps us understand what our baselines should be.

 

Does anyone have any advice about the % of income we should be dedicated to our testing budget, or an optimal testing schedule. Thanks in advance.

 



kingstudruler1

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Posted 23 September 2021 - 06:29 AM   Best Answer

That is a tough question.   

 

To food safety professionals the idea of developing a schedule based revenue is not realistic.    We develop plans, programs and procedures based on risk, regulatory requirements, and customer requests.  

 

since your question seems to me to be more micro orientate - one thing to remember is that pathogens are notoriously  elusive to find in products.  Thus you may sleep better testing one sandwich per 2000 produced.  However, unless there is a major issue your likely hood of finding anything are somewhat small

 

I don't know what you make so these are some general ideas / suggestions. 

 

Raw materials \ ingredients - I would create a risk analysis for each raw material / supplier combination.   the analysis could be for both quality and food safety attributes.    Then decide which ingredients have critical aspects that need to be tested.    It may be that you don't have to do any testing on raw materials.  or it could be as simple as a color, odor, appearance, taste (organoleptic) test done in house.    There may be some that your chose to send out for micro or other testing.  While I have always said that relying on your suppliers for your incoming ingredient quality is bad idea, it may be what you have to do until you grow and have the resources.  

 

Finished product. - the same really applies to finished product as it does to raw materials.  What is critical to you and what is the risk?   However, you may have customer requirements that also figure determining  what testing might need to be done.  

 

environmental - as a RTE plant this one is pretty important. there are a lot of resources out there to guide you in how to set this up.   My theory for environmental swabbing it to make a list of every single equipment and area that could be tested.  Then do your risk assement to determine the organisms and frequency of testing needed.   For food contact surfaces (zone 1)  ATP could be your friend.    its pretty cheap and easy and will either give you confidence in your sanitation program or indicate issues quickly..  You may feel better about a lower frequency of swabbing these areas.   Chose your organisms wisely in some cases it may be prudeint to use a indicator test such as coliform or Enterobacter instead of a pathogen test.   

 

 

Whatever you do, remember where you are to day and set goals to improve over time.  ie improved incoming ingredient monitoring, increased swabbing, inhouse testing, etc

 

this is all pretty general.   I hope it helps.   If you tell everyone what you are producing / process it  may help others chime in with suggestions and areas of concern.  


Edited by kingstudruler1, 23 September 2021 - 06:30 AM.


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kfromNE

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Posted 23 September 2021 - 12:40 PM

We are a small food manufacturer with 6 employees, based in Seattle, WA where we produce RTE foods.

 

We are struggling with understanding how to build effective test plans (environmental, ingredient, product), all while containing laboratory fees. Ideally, we would love to be able to test all the time, but of course this is prohibitive. We would really like to develop a plan that aside from identifying spikes in indicator species helps us understand what our baselines should be.

 

Does anyone have any advice about the % of income we should be dedicated to our testing budget, or an optimal testing schedule. Thanks in advance.

What kind of RTE foods do you make.



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SeattleSeaHawk

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Posted 23 September 2021 - 05:39 PM

We are a hummus and dip manufacturer. Currently, we cook the chickpeas and garlic from scratch, cool them, strain them cold and then process all the ingredients cold.

 

All ingredients are tested randomly once a quarter, while each delivery is subjected to a careful organoleptic inspection. We send each batch received of our most susceptible ingredient, Tahini, out for testing as this has proven to be a source of heterofermentative LAB, not to mention being our highest-risk ingredient in terms of pathogens.

 

As you mention, there is a great deal of information about designing environmental testing programs, which typically suggest conducting risk-based analyses, designing a program around their findings, accumulating data over time to set and adjust baselines for pathogens and indicator species. We have designed a randomized ATP program testing several times a week, focusing on Zones 1&2; based on a randomized program, we send lab swabs for analysis every other week also focusing mostly on Zones 1&2; we send air-plates in quarterly. For the most part, results seem to be within acceptable norms, and in the face of aberrations our lab advises us to drill down on sanitation, which we do.

 

We save samples from each batch produced to conduct our own shelf-life observations. Our shelf-life is set at 2 weeks (which we achieve handily except for occasional run-ins with fermentation) and typically, spoilage occurs in the region of 3-4 weeks. However we go through phases of quick spoilage due to Y&M, and in a recent Laboratory shelf-life study, our product was found to be contaminated with coliform (this was a first)...

 

We are working on improving our shelf-life by lowering the pH from a current 5.0 to 4.6 or below and by targeting our small EMP budget to get some really useful data about sources of contamination. At the moment we feel that we are being surprised at every turn by our testing outcomes and have had difficulty in identifying where the contamination comes from (though hands remain the most obvious cause, we include hands and gloves in our ATP program). Thanks both of you for taking an interest and offering suggestions.






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