We’ve hosted a multitude of courses at Chestnut Labs’ Food Safety Training and Education Center. The students in these courses always offer great insight into current challenges faced by those working in food manufacturing facilities.

As we’ve kept a pulse on these important issues in the food industry, we’ve compiled a list of the top five eye-openers and topics that students frequently discuss during our classes.

1) The idea that “retort processing” cleanses microbial sins is indeed FALSE

Many food producers take the stance that product contamination is not an important factor because of retort processing. Retort processing kills vegetative cells and spores, so companies believe that there are no microbial hazards with their products. That idea is incorrect.

This is an eye opener for students with an operations background that do not have experience with toxin-producing bacteria. To educate on this topic we discuss risk assessment, followed by a review of the toxin-producing strains.

2) The idea that, without any defined colonies there is also no microbial growth, is FALSE

This is a topic of concern for Lab Managers and technicians. Quantitative tests that are Too Numerous To Count (TNTC) can be overlooked without proper training.

The students in attendance at our courses need to interpret tests accurately for reporting. Undefined colonies, as well as differentiating matrix effects from true colonies can make accurate reporting very difficult.

3) It’s not necessarily the testing lab’s fault when a “presumptive positive” for pathogen testing cannot be confirmed

This is another important topic for lab personnel, but it equally impacts the Operations and Quality Control for a food production company.  Many factors can affect the occurrence of presumptive positives including the matrix, the presence of non-pathogenic bacteria, and nucleic acid material from non-viable cells.

4) When the microbial specification for aerobic organisms is < 1000 CFU/g, diluting the sample by a factor of 1000 is NOT the right course of action.

Setting this high of a dilution factor will produce erroneous results if the true counts are close to 1000 CFU/g (colony-forming unit/per gram).  Selecting the right dilutions for quantitative testing can be difficult but doable with a little thought and some historical data.

5) Pathogen Environmental Monitoring is on nearly everyone’s mind in food manufacturing

A whole range of issues are concerning to Quality Control Managers regarding pathogen environmental monitoring (PEM).  From facility risks, to designing a PEM program, to reacting to positive results – these topics and more are at the forefront of the industry.

In addition to implementing and maintaining a PEM program, students want answers to help with investigational swabbing, what tools to use in order determine the source of pathogens, and advice on positive rates.

If your organization shares any of these questions, sign up to join us for an upcoming course or contact us to discuss an on-site training proposal at your facility.

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