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Review of Microbiological Methods in the Food Industry

Institutions
Campden BRI
Start date
1998
End date
2001
Objective
Currently, there is no true objective understanding of the microbiological methods used routinely for the microbiological examination of foods.

In addition, there is little understanding of the reasons for the choice of methods by particular laboratories or the current or future requirements for new methods.

Whilst many methods are based upon traditional cultural techniques there are now a number of rapid methods available for the detection and the enumeration of micro-organisms.

Between 1980 and 1981 a Delphi survey was conducted by Jarvis to predict future developments in rapid and automated methods.

The survey of a small panel of experts in the field of food microbiology predicted that traditional enumeration methods would be superseded by automated colony counts and that by 1996 rapid methods for foodborne viruses and toxins would be commonplace.

However, despite advances in technology and the introduction over the past decade of a plethora of commercial assays and kits for the detection and enumeration of a wide range of micro-organisms, traditional culture based methods are still the most popular and widely used in food microbiology.

The findings of the Delphi Forecast were discussed together with results from several preliminary information gathering surveys.

These were conducted by the author at workshops and seminars relating to rapid and automated methods for the microbiological testing of foods and by a mail-in questionnaire.

These surveys indicated that the majority of companies used or were requested to use standard methods, including ISO or other national and international organisation methods. Only a minority of companies had replaced conventional methods with rapid methods.

There were some common reasons why food industry laboratories were reluctant to adopt new technology. These included methods not being approved or having official status and because certain tests, particularly those used for regulatory requirements, often stipulated the use of conventional methods.

Furthermore, the high capital investment and cost of consumables associated with some new technologies, together with the need for well-trained technicians, made some new methods too expensive for many industry laboratories.

In the UK, there have been few or no comprehensive surveys of the Food Industry or laboratories carrying out microbiological testing of foods conducted to establish the type of testing, methods being used, or the reasons why laboratories choose certain methods over others.

This survey was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF), later transferring to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), in order to answer these and other questions relating to the microbiological testing of foods.

This study surveyed, by means of a questionnaire, a comprehensive sample of over 300 companies involved, directly or indirectly with performing microbiological food analysis.

A diverse range of laboratory types and sizes was chosen, including those from the food industry and private contract testing laboratories, as well as regional laboratories belonging to the Public Health Laboratory Service.

This study will help to enable future research into method development to be focused in areas that will result in usable systems and highlight areas where knowledge and technical expertise is lacking.

In addition, the findings of this study may stimulate interest by commercial companies to develop products for existing and alternative areas of microbiological testing in the future.

More information
The first part of the survey involved the production of a single general questionnaire that was designed to gather general information on the status of testing in this country, the type and choice of methods being used and future method requirements and likely adoption of new technologies.

This questionnaire was sent to companies with their own facilities to carry out testing in-house, as well as to those that sent samples to another company or laboratory for testing.

The second survey involved the production of eight separate questionnaires for specific bacteria, including the main pathogens associated with foods.

These were designed to provide more detailed information on the types of methods, media and techniques used for their isolation, enumeration and identification.

These questionnaires were sent only to those laboratories directly involved with testing foods for the particular bacteria in question.

Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the Food Standards Agency Research webpage.

Funding Source
Food Standards Agency
Project number
B09005
Categories
Chemical Contaminants
Bacterial Pathogens
Microbiological Standards and Guidelines