By Jon Cassista, Ph.D., NOW Senior Scientist [retired]
The responsibilities of the Technical Department at NOW Foods include keeping current with the newest methods and technologies for testing NOW’s products. Since many of NOW’s products are foods, and this includes dietary supplements, keeping up with the ”state of the art” of the science of food safety is part of this responsibility. A valuable and effective way of doing this is to periodically meet with food safety professionals to discuss and exchange information and best practices.
One such group, known as the Food Industry Microbiology Round Table (FIMRT), has been meeting once every 1-3 years since 1973. FIRMT membership is limited to microbiologists who specialize in food safety testing methods. The focus of this round table is to exchange current information about which methods work best, what the advantages or disadvantages of any new methods are, and what problems have occurred and how the problems were solved. The discussions are candid and practical, with the emphasis on improving the level of food safety for all consumers.
As Senior Scientist and Microbiologist at NOW Foods, I have found the FIMRT meetings to be most useful. The methods we use at NOW to test our raw materials, finished products, and production equipment-material contact surfaces are identical to those in the traditional food industries. This forum allows me to ask questions of, exchange ideas with, and listen to presentations from other food safety microbiologists who are also actively involved with securing the safety of food products and processes.
Examples of topics presented in the meeting I attended in September include:
- An evaluation of different instruments to detect surface contamination on food contact surfaces in a real time, production environment. NOW adopted this testing method several years ago and uses one of the acceptable tested instruments.
- A discussion of the recent Salmonella contamination in peanut butter and what steps to take to prevent a similar contamination in other facilities. The contamination came from the environment, not from the material. NOW’s modern, clean facility greatly lowers any risk of environmental contamination during the manufacture of its products.
- A presentation on the steps implemented when a producer was notified that contaminated spinach had been traced back to that facility (E. coli 0157 outbreak, Fall, 2006). As a GMP certified manufacturer, NOW has the procedures in place necessary to initiate and follow through with an efficient and effective recall should a contaminated product be discovered after leaving the plant.
Although I was pleased to find that NOW was very current in both its technology and procedures with regard to food safety, I also found excellent information to sharpen our methods and benchmark against others. Participation with this network of food safety microbiologists expands NOW’s knowledge of food safety issues and further ensures that NOW’s program provides the best protection possible to its customers. This is one more way that NOW adds value to products though its Quality Program.