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Environmental monitoring focus for Merck Millipore

Merck Millipore's Readybag product

Merck Millipore has said environmental monitoring in the food and beverage industry is a current key focus, especially in North America.

Environmental monitoring avoids risks to consumers and producers, saves time and reduces costs, said the firm.

It involves particle counting, active air monitoring systems, passive air monitoring and surface and personnel monitoring.

Role of environmental monitoring

Stephen Kuchenberg, technology manager - food market at Merck Millipore, said environmental monitoring goes beyond swabbing for pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria.

“There is a trend in North America to control where the contamination comes from and once you find it, to see how it got there,” he told FoodQualityNews.

“Companies are also looking for spoilage organisms to protect their brand and product quality as that relates to the consumer happiness, if you are scrapping product often it costs money.

“It is a universal procedure, those that aren’t doing a lot of this testing include canning facilities, otherwise it has applications in dairy, meat, ready to eat foods.”

Kuchenberg said North America customers tend to test larger volumes of samples sizes so consumption of media goes up.

“We have a product, Readybag, which comes pre-measured and irradiated so it eliminates the need for a media kitchen, alleviating the pain regarding sample preparation,” he said.

“Sample preparation has changed with automation in sample handling, liquid handling robots, there is less human interference so a mistake is less likely or contamination of media.

“It has driven an improvement in process increase efficiency by spending more for consumables you are reducing overall operating cost.

“If you look back five or six years there was hesitation to make investment in consumables or equipment but regulation and testing demand and the need to do more work every day has seen labs starting to get savvy in finding ways to increase volume but not having to build a whole new lab.

“We still have to do the enrichment of the bacteria, there is no way around that yet.”

Sample preparation challenges

Readybag pre-weighed pouches with dehydrated culture media help with pathogen testing.

Merck Millipore’s expanding Readybag pouches series is for different sample sizes and includes Salmonella (Buffered Peptone Water) for 25g and 375g food samples and Listeria (Half Fraser Broth) for 25g and 125g food samples.

Using the dehydrated culture media (DCM) route, preparing media in the lab or using plates for confirmation of something in a mixture depends on a number of things, said Kuchenberg. 

“It varies between business needs, smaller producers are not as sophisticated but it depends on the lab and perspective, large corporations prefer culture media as it is rapid but it depends on product type and how quick you need results,” he said.

“For enriching bacteria we have rapid methods but we can only go as quick as the bacteria can double but we are trying to develop and technology keeps moving so time will tell. 

“It is a risk when you talk to customers about this [technology such as biosensors] food manufacturers are conservative and it is a big risk to make changes.” 

Kuchenberg added the pharmaceutical industry is more regulated and some comparisons can be drawn with the food industry and food safety is going in that direction, especially with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

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