Let us first understand what a sampling plan is. Often, this is an approach used by an auditor or researcher to study a batch of products or a segment of the materials. The plan will contain a detailed outline of measurements taken of the samples at what times, on which material, in what manner, and by whom.
The resulting data will represent a sample of the parameters of interest and reach conclusions with a pre-defined level of certainty. In this article, we will take a closer look at how representative sampling improves regulatory compliance and food safety, especially during this demanding COVID-19 period.
It is common for food and beverage manufacturers to rely on manual sampling techniques like hand scoop and spigot sampling. These methods are easy to do, convenient, and low-cost with accepted reliability. However, the direct hand sampling and final product sampling methods are increasingly being scrutinized by food regulators for sampling bias. If samples are improperly collected or mishandled, the laboratory results will be unusable.
As such, manufacturers are turning to representative sampling technology to improve sampling. This approach provides the following benefits:
Without a doubt, the pandemic has greatly affected global food supply chain networks and processes. It was reported that the global production capacity of pork meat producers alone decreased by approximately 25 percent in April this year.
Food processing plants, which are often labor-intensive, either had to cease or suspend operations due to movement controls, strict operating hours, logistics regulations, or staff shortages. However, labor constraints had long been a challenge for the meat industry, even before the pandemic struck. Manufacturers struggled to recruit and retain skilled workers to meet the increasing demand for food producers to increase productivity, lower operational costs, and at the same time, grow revenue.
Another major challenge for businesses in the food industry is the financial pressure resulting from the economic shrinkage in most markets. These businesses are reallocating their resources to focus on financial incentives and social assistance programs to deal with the pandemic.
In Thailand, companies have embarked on the Bubble and Seal program that requires a substantial amount of the company’s budget to implement. The program involves strict travel restrictions and requires workers to stay in-house at the company’s facilities. There are a high number of workers who are not able to participate in the program and, as such, decided to leave and find employment elsewhere.
This is where having a strong quality assurance program is becoming essential for businesses in the food industry, and using a more effective and practical sampling plan, will help the organization to manage its limited budget.
At present, the conventional methods for detecting foodborne bacterial pathogens in food products are based on culturing the microorganisms on agar plates and followed by standard biochemical identifications. These conventional methods are preferred because they are usually inexpensive and simple to apply.
However, they are labor-intensive, and they can take a long time depending on the ability of the microorganisms to grow in different culture media like pre-enrichment media, selective enrichment media, and selective plating media. It is common to expect two to three days for preliminary identification and more than a week for confirmation of the species of the pathogens.
These methods are also limited by their low sensitivity and false-negative results may occur due to viable but non-culturable pathogens. Failure to detect foodborne pathogens increases the transmission risk of pathogens.
To overcome these limitations, different rapid methods with higher sensitivity and increased specificity have been developed for improved detection and identification of foodborne pathogens. Here is where rapid detection methods have emerged as a leading approach to overcome these limitations.
Rapid detection methods are categorized into nucleic acid-based, biosensor-based, and immunological-based methods. When used in the food industry, can help to detect the presence of pathogens in raw and processed foods immediately. They are sensitive enough to detect pathogens that are present in low quantity in the food sample and hence, reduce the risk of infection. They are also less labor-intensive, more time-efficient, and help to reduce human errors.
Adding to this, researchers are still developing other novel methods to improve rapidity, sensitivity, specificity, and suitability for in-situ analysis and distinction of the viable cell.
Food safety is constantly being elevated with new and innovative technologies including better sampling methods and equipment. At DKSH, we provide practical and effective solutions for food safety and sampling methods for businesses in the food industry. These solutions include:
Find out more from us about how these solutions can help your businesses discover better ways to keep your food products safe and consumers healthy.
Potchara Sungtong is the Director, Food and Beverage for DKSH Thailand overseeing the Asia Pacific region. With a background in food science and microbiology, he has over 20 years of experience in research and development, sales and marketing, channel management, and business development in food and beverages. Potchara has extensive knowledge in food safety, customer requirements, laboratory workflows, and lab efficiencies.