Most individuals take it for granted that their food is safe, whether they shop at a grocery store or enjoy a restaurant meal. The demand for a safe food supply keeps increasing as food safety standards are continually raised. Public health and safety depend significantly on food producers carrying out rigorous and accurate tests of the food they harvest or manufacture.
All growers and producers must ensure that their food is free from chemical and natural contaminants. Laboratory testing involves scientific analyses to detect and identify food problems while adhering to the appropriate regulatory standards. The following are some crucial tests that foods undergo before they reach your table.
Food allergies cause the immune system to react to an otherwise harmless type of food as a dangerous virus or infection. Allergic reactions include mild rashes, stomach pain, or anaphylactic shock depending on the person and the allergen. Each year, about 200,000 Americans suffer allergic reactions that need emergency care. More children than adults suffer from food allergies, and most children grow out of them by adulthood.
Eggs, fish, shellfish, milk, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, and wheat are responsible for about 90 percent of all food allergies. Processing facilities can use commercial testing tests to swab products and some physical surroundings. Some allergen testing requires accreditation, which means that an external laboratory needs to conduct the tests or accredit those the manufacturer does.
Microbiological organisms, such as Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, prions, protozoa, and algae can get into food and beverages. They can survive in extreme conditions and temperatures, often in places where no other organisms can. Also, they tend to be resistant to antibiotics and can be harmful if they enter the body.
Microbiological analyses include a variety of methods to identify and quantify microorganisms that cause disease and food spoilage. Methods include food hygiene, food sample swabbing, and foodborne pathogen analysis.
Pesticide Residue Testing
A growing world population requires increased food production, which brings about more pesticide use. Many growers use herbicides, insecticides, fumigants, fungicides, and other chemicals to protect from weeds, fungi, insects, and other pests. Pesticide residues can contain chemicals and contaminants like heavy metals and mycotoxins, which are produced by fungi and mold. Swab tests on products can indicate acceptable or unacceptable levels of residue.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies use safety standards to limit acceptable amounts of residues remaining in food before it goes to market. Food producers are responsible for knowing these standards and following them.
Shelf life refers to how long a food product is acceptable for sale and consumption. Because foods deteriorate over time, manufacturers need to test shelf life before sale. Shelf-life testing methods include accelerated aging, distribution or transportation testing, temperature and humidity conditioning, seal strength assessments, and tests of sterile barriers.
Processors can show compliance with shelf life standards by displaying “best before” or “use by” dates on their products. Also, foods should undergo testing at the end of their shelf life to see if they are still within safe limits.
Viruses found in food or seeds should be treated as pathogens that can cause disease and infection. One common foodborne virus is Norovirus, which causes gastroenteritis. Another common virus is Hepatitis A. Many foodborne viruses can spread anally or orally. Contaminated foods include frozen berries and fruits, raw vegetables, herbs and spices, mollusks, shellfish, and many pre-packaged foods. Work surfaces and process water also can carry dangerous viruses.
Food producers of all types—bakers, farmers, or manufacturers—can and should take steps to ensure their products comply with regulatory standards. Some forms of testing are required in specific regions or countries. Producers also should follow non-regulatory recommendations to ensure their food is safe for public consumption.