Food Safety: A QC manager and an operations manager (don’t) walk into a bar…

This blog post was written by a Neogen sales and marketing expert.

Microbial organisms present an interesting paradigm in food production — how can you accelerate the testing process and still maintain food safety?

The issue with bacteria is that whether it’s in the food, the environment or in your gut, time is needed to allow the organisms to grow to a dangerous or spoilage-inducing level, or in the case of micro testing, grow to a detectable level. If you can accelerate the growth of an organism, you can more quickly determine if there is a potential for harm. Accelerating growth provides faster results, and faster results mean that holding times in the food production facility can be reduced and products can be released faster. For plant operations, this means higher throughput and reduced storage costs — efficiency with a significant tangible payback. For quality assurance and quality control (QC), this can mean higher testing costs.

Several years ago, I was on a sales call to demonstrate a system that can accelerate the growth of spoilage organisms found in finished product. Both the operations manager and the QC manager were participating in the demo, and although the QC manager liked the ease-of-use of the new test, he did not like the cost when compared to his standard test method.

The operations manager, on the other hand, liked the fact that hold times would be reduced from two weeks to two days. Written on the back of an envelope, her return on investment calculations included time delays in getting the product to market, storage costs and incremental transport and handling costs. At one point in the discussion, the operations manager turned to the QC manager and said, “So this new test is an added cost for you, but I get the benefit — sounds good to me!” As you might guess, they did not go into a bar together after the meeting.

Without knowing what goes on behind closed doors, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that there’s a certain amount of tension between QC and operations when the costs and benefits of new test methods or technology are discussed. As new, advanced, enrichment-free molecular methods are introduced, can QC justify the added cost of testing to support production needs, or is it the duty of operations to justify a cost that ultimately improves the bottom line?

While advanced rapid testing for pathogenic organisms is an interesting advancement in laboratory technology, the benefits in terms of cost and time savings are really in operations. As the functional area that benefits from the technology, operations can become the catalyst for investigating alternate testing methods. Irrespective of whomever takes the lead to promote evaluations of these new methods, the net result is the same: safe food, faster. The challenge is to frame the benefits in the mind of the person paying for the test as well as the beneficiary.

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