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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, October/November 2012

Key Considerations When Selecting a Rapid Detection Partner

by Scott Scdoris

Liquid products and some foods not quickly consumed face unique challenges. They need to taste and smell fresh when they reach consumers, yet traditional testing for contamination typically requires holding products for up to two weeks.

Fortunately, today’s leading beverage and food manufacturers have discovered the benefits of rapid detection of microbial contaminants. A rapid screening can provide reliable, reproducible results in as few as 48 hours, reducing product hold times by up to 12 days and resulting in significant economic benefits.

Testing and releasing in-spec products in only two days—instead of filling micro-hold space with two weeks’ worth of products awaiting test results (plus replacement and safety stock)—frees up valuable space in the warehouse. It releases 10 days’ worth of invested working capital and shortens the cash cycle so your company gets paid more quickly. Rapid screening also reduces the impact of contamination events by detecting potential, out- of-spec batches more quickly.

To fully realize the economic and productivity benefits of a rapid screening system, you must be selective when choosing an RD partner for your company. It is critical to understand exactly what your company needs to perform most efficiently and effectively. When the purchase decision is driven by the business need, you will be able to implement the best system for your company and quickly realize a return on your investment.

Shortening the Production Cycle with Lean Quality

Slow and unreliable methods—post-production teardowns, pH monitoring, and traditional agar plating—tie up millions of dollars each year in working capital and excess inventory requirements. These methods also cause a delayed and more costly response to contaminations when they do occur. Fortunately, over the past two decades, lean manufacturing initiatives have made their way into most industries, stripping waste and non-value-adding steps from the production process and saving companies billions. But why stop there? The same lean quality principles extend to microbial testing.

Rapid microbial methods offer an alternative to traditional monitoring methods for ultraheat-treated, aseptic, or extended-shelf-life dairy, food, and beverage products. During the past decade, adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence technology has become the industry standard for the rapid microbial screening of UHT aseptic and ESL dairy and beverage products. With results in as few as 48 hours, ATP screening enables companies to keep their safety standards high and the cost of quality low.

How Rapid Methods Work

To ensure quality and safety, products susceptible to microbial contamination but expected to be shipped contamination-free are screened before being released into distribution. A well-validated ATP rapid method can deliver reliable results in as few as 48 hours by identifying the ATP compound contained in all living organisms. Product samples are treated with a proprietary reagent that reduces non-microbial sources of “background” ATP to ensure sensitive, accurate, and reproducible results.

The standard ATP bioluminescence assay uses the enzyme luciferase to catalyze the consumption of microbial ATP. The luciferase causes a reaction that generates a photon of yellow-green light—similar to that of a firefly—when microbial ATP is detected. The samples are then screened by a luminometer, an instrument that detects the reaction and indicates to the user that a sample is contaminated. A rapid screening of sample products quickly and accurately identifies batches that may carry bioburden, allowing the majority of your production runs to be released to market rapidly and efficiently.

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Figure 1. By dramatically reducing incubation and assay times, ATP enables much faster product release times.

Selecting the Right Rapid Method

Achieving fast and accurate results is possible only when the right rapid method is implemented. Dairy, food and beverage manufacturers of UHT, aseptic, or ESL products should consider these five criteria when selecting a rapid method for their facilities:

Actionable Information
The more quickly a rapid microbial screening method can help you make an important business decision, the greater the financial value you will realize. A simple, rapid test that provides a positive or negative result is all that’s needed for the vast majority of today’s functionally sterile production runs. Rapid presence/absence primary screening quickly reveals product status.

System Performance
A rapid microbial method should process samples efficiently, with minimal input. The ideal rapid method is easy to use, processes samples in a resource-efficient manner, and allows for “walk-away” automation. Look for a rugged, robust, accurate instrument with high sample throughput that is also small enough to conserve valuable lab space.

Support
To obtain maximum efficiencies from a rapid screening system, a provider must offer comprehensive service as well as scientific and technical support. Critical items to consider when evaluating the support offered by a provider are:

  • Validation expertise and support;
  • Experience with similar product types in the dairy, food, and beverage industries;
  • Application development facilities and capabilities;
  • Global customer support and technical services;
  • Rapid response times;
  • System optimized for minimal system downtime;
  • Regulatory compliance assistance;
  • Data integration for track-and-trace reporting; and
  • Clear basis for estimating return on investment.

Compliance
Rapid microbial screening software should track, trace, and provide controlled access to data. Be sure the system provides a database that is not only customizable to a company’s unique requirements but also capable of tracking samples in a way that meets USDA/FDA or local regulatory requirements. The database must be designed to integrate with existing LIMS and ERP systems and easily export valuable reporting information to common spreadsheet and database programs such as Excel or Access. Secure, remote access to testing data will make it easier for lab management to generate reports and monitor the system from any location on the network.

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Figure 2. As a result of achieving faster microbial testing through ATP methods, manufacturers can significantly implement corrective action and reduce inventory times.

Continuous Improvement
To be successful, companies in the dairy industry and their suppliers must adapt to ever-changing products and market requirements. The rapid method provider must be committed to continuous improvement. Key activities to look for include investments in instrumentation and software, a range of reagent kits, method optimization to reduce downtime, ISO certification, and in-house laboratories that assist in application development.

The Opportunity of Rapid Methods
With a solid understanding of the key considerations in selecting a rapid method, manufacturers of packaged dairy, food, and beverage products can capitalize on the full benefits of rapid microbial screening—faster, more reliable microbial results, improved manufacturing efficiencies, reduced inventory requirements, increased customer responsiveness, and faster time to market.

The benefits add up to ongoing quality assurance with significant bottom-line savings for today’s progressive food and beverage companies.


Scott Scdoris is director of food and beverage at Celsis.

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