Recent foodborne illnesses, such as the E. coli outbreak of 2018, have put pressure on food manufacturing plants to improve the processes they use to ensure food safety. In response, three innovative initiatives have become part of the food industry to provide a means to protect consumers from potential threats to food safety.
In this article, we will look deeper into each of these innovations: infrared heating, DNA sequencing, and data loggers.
The food industry has suffered serious blows following the 2018 E. coli outbreak, primarily involving many different types of lettuce. The total number of people adversely affected by this was less than 100 (60+ in the United States, 20+ in Canada), although it could have been much worse. When the source was identified, steps were immediately taken to control the situation.
However, these kinds of outbreaks are far more common than you might think. The US Centers for Disease Control claims that 48-million Americans become sick each year from foodborne pathogens. From that total, roughly 128,000 end up in the hospital, and around 3,000 die. Recalls of food products take place often. The food industry responds to these challenges with continued improvements to food safety issues.
Steps in the Right Direction
The food industry constantly seeks more effective solutions to prevent outbreaks and mitigate damage in the event of one. Thanks to new innovative technologies, food-related companies are reaching a higher level of safety and management. Here is a look at three of these new technologies and how they are implemented.
1 – Infrared Heating
Infrared heating preservation methods are a response to the increasing popularity of meals produced in a ready-to-eat fashion. These meals are targeted specifically at those who either have little time to prepare meals, only dine for one, have little time to enjoy a meal, or have no interest in cooking or food preparation. Infrared heating is considered a good preservation and pasteurization method for these meals.
The process of infrared heating utilizes infrared lamps that radiate a low-temperature heat. The temperature of this heat kills all surface contaminants and bacteria in a manner in a manner similar to a decontamination process. The food is then packaged so that foods sanitized in this way will retain their freshness for longer and protect consumers.
2 – DNA Sequencing
Known as Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS), this process is a high-throughput DNA sequencing procedure. This recent addition to the food industry is not only more effective, it is also quicker to complete-giving results in a fraction of the time of other such methods. DNA sequencing is an affordable process making it more accessible to all participants in the food industry supply chain.
NGS can handle a much greater volume of work compared to traditional means. It can assess and sequence up to hundreds of different samples simultaneously. With a rate of up to 25-million reads per experiment, sequencing is a highly productive and thorough tool in the fight against foodborne illnesses. NGS provides fast, accurate results that can greatly improve food safety.
3 – Data Loggers
Data loggers, such as those available from companies like Dickson, are another technology used exclusively in food safety. Some models are specifically designed to record and track temperature and humidity. With a data logger silently keeping track of the changes in conditions while food is being processed or stored, it provides a method for constant measurement of these elements.
With food processing includes a need for temperature and humidity to remain in a range that does not promote bacterial growth of any kind. A data logger ensures that the processing plant is compliant and can alert someone when a slight variation is detected. With such an early warning system in place, action can be taken to prevent spoilage or any loss of the food being processed.
Five Keys To Food Safety
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a program that outlines five keys to food safety. They include:
Washing hands before and after handling food as well as washing and sanitizing surfaces and equipment used in food preparation, keeps food protected from insects, pests and other animals while eliminating any germs you might be carrying on your hands.
Separate Raw and Cooked
Use different utensils and equipment when preparing raw and cooked foods. Keep raw and cooked foods separate from each other. Store each in different containers. In this way you drastically reduce odds of contamination. Raw foods can contain dangerous microorganisms that can be transferred to other foods if they are not kept separate.
By ensuring that food is prepared so that it reaches an internal temperature of at least 70℃ (158℉) and that liquid foods reach full boiling temperature, you are killing the dangerous microorganisms that may be present. This is of particular importance when cooking meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood.
Keep Food at Safe Temperatures
Avoid leaving cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate all cooked and perishable foods as soon as possible. Keep cooked foods hot before serving. Following these procedures prevents microorganisms in food from multiplying. Be careful to avoid storing food in the refrigerator for too long and never thaw frozen meats, vegetables or prepared foods at room temperature.
Use Safe Water and Raw Materials
Wash foods meant to be eaten raw (fruit and vegetables) with safe water and know your supplier. When purchasing foods that have been properly processed you prevent the possibility of contamination. Do not use foods that have gone past their expiry date.
It is vitally important to protect the safety of food for all users. The easiest and most effective way to do this is through a series of processes that kill bacteria. Constant monitoring and measuring of conditions ensures that foodborne illnesses can be reduced. New technology, including infrared heating, DNA sequencing and data loggers, has introduced the means to keep food safe in more effective and innovative ways. Proper food handling procedures support these methods, further decreasing the chances of contamination.