There is little doubt the food processing industry has transformed food protection for the better. We have a sustained access to an increasing variety of foods from numerous sources around the world. In developed worlds such as Canada and the United States, we can be sure that a trip to the grocery store will end up in a plentiful supply to appease any appetite.
That doesn’t mean there are no risks to our health. Recalls of processed food occur every day thanks to rigorous inspection criteria. Many of these happen to be due to suspected contamination with pathogens that can make us sick. While in the larger picture, these recalls appear to have little effect on our overall food supply, there have been examples in which massive recalls have led to deaths, damage to brand equity, and a significant economic hit for that industry and/or country of origin.
There’s a potentially worse outcome. Should a pathogen be missed, an outbreak can occur leading to a handful or hundreds of cases of infection, illness, and even deaths. Since the dawn of food processing, outbreaks have occurred leaving both government and industry looking for answers.
At the government level, various regulations and guidelines have been implemented to ensure food safety. One of the most important is the use of sanitation processes to reduce the potential for pathogen survival and spread. It’s an effective way to ensure that the food that comes to us is not going to make us sick.
But there’s one issue that may seem small but can have big consequences. That problem is known as biofilm.
As the name implies, it’s a thin layer of biological material that is made by a variety of different microbial species. As these colonies age, their numbers can increase into the millions and even billions. If given enough time, they can form three-dimensional structures that can shed single cells or clumps into the surrounding space. A biofilm of pathogens in a food processing plant is a recipe for disaster as a continual contamination of food can occur leading to a greater risk for widespread outbreaks in the community.
While this reality alone is troubling, there is an even greater problem with biofilms. They can resist sanitation processes. A cleaning protocol that meets regulatory standards still may not be effective enough to ensure safety. With a biofilm present, there is still the potential for a recall or an outbreak.
Finding these resistant biofilms is not an easy task as they generally are invisible to the naked eye. Our vision requires a combination of size and contrast and biofilms tend to display neither allowing them to go unnoticed.
For example, there are biofilms in this image of a piece of equipment from a food processing line. Can you see them?
But thanks to OptiSolve® we can now find those microbial communities so they appear as clear as day:
Welcome to OptiSolve® and their proprietary PathFinder® technology.
The technology behind PathFinder is an advanced molecular detection system that reveals the presence of biofilms on surfaces. Using a colour-based density gradient calculation system, the image also can tell you how thick the layers happen to be. As you can see in the picture above, three are relatively thin (yellow) but one is quite thick (red) and may shed enough pathogens to cause a recall or outbreak.
The use of PathFinder in a food processing facility offers a simple and effective measure to facilitate precision cleaning and improve sanitation processes in a food processing plant. As the system is entirely portable and does not require any infrastructure additions, testing can be done without requiring any alterations to regular processing timelines. Images can be taken immediately after sanitation as a complementary check of the process effectiveness.
PathFinder can be used as an intermittent auditing tool or it may be used more regularly in cases where raw materials are known to be contaminated – such as raw meats – to provide real-time analysis of the cleaning process. Regardless of the frequency, PathFinder provides an extra assurance that those invisible biofilms can be seen and removed.
In our modern world, we demand a sustained food supply and the food processing industry effectively address that need. Although companies do their best to provide safe foods, there are and will continue to be challenges. OptiSolve’s PathFinder is a valuable addition to every food processing plant as it helps to mitigate these risks and improve the likelihood that the food we buy will not be recalled or make you sick.
To find out more about how OptiSolve can help you make the invisible visible contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1.833.765.8300