Rapid analysis methods for food safety

Researchers surveyed European companies in order to gain more knowledge about which tools the companies use when gauging food safety and quality.

MoniQA (Monitoring and Quality Assurance in the Food Supply Chain)

MoniQA is an EU-funded research project with 33 participating organizations from the entire world, including Nofima. The participants in MoniQA collaborate to help food manufacturers, retailers, and authorities deal with challenges related to food safety. MoniQA aims to establish common methods and standards for food analysis. A primary area of focus is rapid analysis methods and their application and reliability in monitoring and routine testing.

The researchers discovered that there is a great need for rapid analysis methods in the food industry – primarily related to microbiological analyses.

About the survey

In 2009 the MoniQA project conducted a survey on the use of and future need for analysis methods, including rapid methods. Companies were also queried about their use of information and communication technology (ICT) to monitor and manage systems for food quality and safety. Questionnaires were sent to food companies of all sizes in 17 countries, including Norway. Of the 661 respondents from 17 countries, 47 were from Norway. 67% of the companies were small or medium-sized, while the remaining 33% were larger companies. The respondents were evenly distributed among all product sectors. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2010 to assess more closely the companies’ needs for rapid methods.

Improved control

The majority of the Norwegian respondents replied that the introduction of ICT systems had improved both quality assurance and their company’s control of the processes. The survey shows that the two most used systems were ISO 22000:2005 (34%) and BRC Global Standard (32%). Of the Norwegian respondents, most were certified according to the BRC Global standard (34%), while significantly fewer were ISO 22000:2005 certified (15%). Furthermore, over 30% of the Norwegian respondents were not certified – compared with 12% of all the companies participating in the survey.

The Norwegian results corresponded with the results from the survey as a whole, except that a higher percentage of Norwegian companies are not certified according to a standard. This means that there is a need to continue developing rapid analysis methods.

What is being analysed?

The survey revealed that analysing for microbiological contaminants is most common (90% of the respondents), followed by metals (49%), pesticides (48%), foreign bodies (46%), and mycotoxins (41%). The result was uncorrelated with the size of the company. The tests that were conducted were evenly distributed among tests of raw materials, processed products, end products, and the environment.

A desire for improved methods

Two-thirds of the respondents use rapid methods in their daily operations. Approximately half of the companies analyse tests both internally and externally (56%), while 9% only conduct tests internally and 35% only externally. The companies stated that the introduction of rapid methods had significantly improved how work on food safety was followed up.

Rapid microbiological analyses are most common, followed by methods for mycotoxins and allergens. The survey also reveals that the companies need new or improved methods to indicate the presence of these parameters.

European companies considered rapid microbiological methods to be the most important in all sectors. The exception is the ingredients sector, where methods for mycotoxins and allergens were most important, and the bakery sector, where methods for mycotoxins were the most important. All the sectors replied that further rapid methods are needed, in particular for microbiological analysis (43%), allergens (26%), and mycotoxins (20%).

Based on the results from the first survey, a follow-up survey was conducted in 2010 in all of the MoniQA project’s participating countries. Companies were asked to provide precise data about what contaminants they currently use rapid methods for, the challenges they faced in regard to such tests, and their hopes for the future.

The main conclusion from this follow-up survey was that the rapid methods most commonly used were for microbiological contaminants. E. coli (33.2%), the total number of bacteria (23.1%), Salmonella (19.7%), and mould and yeast (17.9%) were the microbiological contaminants most frequently tested for, followed by metals (15.2%) and mycotoxins (14.3%). There is a large need for new rapid methods.

Rapid methods in use by European companies – and the need for new ones.

Rapid methods in use in the fish and meat sector.

Rapid methods in use in the bakery and cereal sector.

Food safety systems in European companies.

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