Quality Control in Food and Beverage Production

In this interview, News-Medical Life Sciences talks to Angela Visgandis, Product Specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific about how quality control in the food and beverage industry has changed over the years.insights from industryAngela VisgandisProduct Specialist Thermo Fisher Scienitific 

Discover how the Thermo Scientific Heratherm Microbiological Incubators can help aid manufacturers with the common challenges faced in the industry.

Can you explain how quality control in food and beverage production has changed over recent years?

In recent years, Quality Control teams operating within food and beverage production have seen improvements in data accuracy, reliability, speed and efficiency of analysis in order to keep pace with changing production demands and market conditions. This has driven improvements to the equipment and workflows used for many ISO standard methods and has led to digitalisation of data management.

Why is the need for quality control at an all-time high?

In recent years, the food and beverage industry has seen an explosion in the diversity of products, ingredients, processing techniques and packaging formats. In addition, the regulatory landscape has become more stringent with ever-increasing operational standards expected by both consumers and retailers.

Why is quality control so important for producers?

Quality Control teams are in place to ensure that the products leaving the facility are within specification both in terms of safety and quality, which help ensure that they are safe and will deliver consumer satisfaction. Without quality control – the food producer will run the risk of making people ill (or worse) or through loss of revenue as consumers transition to competing brands in.

What are the key elements of quality control?

Successful quality control often relies upon the ability to obtain the right information to enable the correct process decisions to uphold product quality, including whether to release finished batches for retail. As key production decisions are based on the information, it is imperative that the data obtained is accurate, reliable and delivered in a timely fashion so as not to disrupt production schedules. Typically this would involve assessing key quality parameters of ingredients and product samples taken at the critical stages of production linked to the HACCP plan, and also of finished packaged goods. 

The key quality parameters are determined by the nature of the product, the surrounding legislation, and the expectations of the consumer. The analytical methods and necessary products required to measure the quality parameters will be carefully chosen to help ensure that the data is trustworthy, reliable and can be efficiently used by the QC team.

In most cases with food and beverage products, some degree of microbiological analysis will be helpful in order to ensure that the products are safe and will achieve the desired shelf-life once packaged. 

Can you explain what some of your products are and how they help address these key elements?

At Thermo Fisher Scientific, we help Quality Control teams to protect against customer complaints and operate more efficiently, by providing a range of laboratory products for fast, accurate and reliable data collection across chemical and microbiological analysis workflows.

Microbiological analysis is perhaps the most important element of quality control as the risks associated with contamination are so great both in terms of the potential and of the impact of a contamination. As such, most food and beverage products have stringent microbiological specifications to safeguard against the threat of spoilage, or of pathogenic organisms. 

At the heart of the microbiological analysis workflow is the incubator – an important piece of equipment for any microbiology laboratory. 

Incubators have been designed to provide a safe and controlled environment for microbes to grow quickly and efficiently. Of particular significance is the requirement for incubators to have reliable temperature control and to ensure temperature uniformity which in-turn will promote consistent microbial growth. 

The Thermo Scientific Heratherm range of Microbiological and Refrigerated Incubators have key features to accurately hold the correct temperatures for specific microbial growth. For example, both ranges are equipped with alarm systems to warn of temperature variations and a sample protection feature that safeguards the samples against destruction through overheating in case of contoller failure. 

What is microbiological contamination? 

This is where the levels of micro-organisms, or the presence of certain species are found to be outside the specified limits for the sample. Typically, producers will be concerned with two types of micro-organisms, those which can spoil the product, or those which are capable of causing illness. 

Microbial contamination can also affect the sample analysis if poor technique or the incorrect equipment is used, which can invalidate the data and may lead to incorrect decisions being made. 

So when culturing various organisms (bacteria, yeast, or fungi), it is vital that potentially contaminating microorganisms are removed from the incubation environment. 

Why is it so important to control this, and for what manufacturers is this a priority? 

It is important to control microbiological contamination in both the product and the sample being analysed due to the risks associated with inaccurate data. Inaccurate results will likely lead to incorrect processing decisions and repeat analysis, which will impact manufacturing efficiency. 

Sample contamination is important to those food and beverage manufacturers which are producing products which are sensitive to microbiological contamination – so products which do not contain high levels of preservatives or which are not fully pasteurised when packaged. Typical food groups include dairy products, meat and poultry, and some beverages such as soft-drinks, wine and beer. 

How do your microbiological incubators help tackle this issue? 

When conducting microbial analysis as part of a food and beverage quality control sampling programme, it is vital that the samples do not become cross-contaminated as this will invalidate the results, and potentially lead to poor processing decisions. 

Decontamination is an important part of any microbial analysis protocol to eliminate contamination from various micro-organisms. By incorporating an effective decontamination cycle into a microbiological incubator, such as the 140 ºC decontamination cycle of Thermo Scientific Heratherm Incubators, users can be confident that potentially contaminating micro organisms are effectively inactivated. 

Certified by an accredited microbiological institute (IBFE Institut fϋr Biotechnische Forschung und Entwicklung, Germany), this routine eliminates the need for separate autoclaving of interior fittings, freeing up valuable time for other experimental protocols. Users can therefore be confident in the knowledge that their resulting data is reliable and reproducible. 

What other industries could benefit from this technology? 

Any microbiology laboratory can benefit from the advanced featured of Thermo Scientific Heratherm Incubators. For example, microbial analysis is also frequently carried out in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries to help ensure that the products are safe and within specification. 

What are the temperature ranges of these products, and why is this important for manufacturers? 

The Thermo Scientific Heratherm Microbiological Incubators range from ambient plus 5 °C to 105 °C and the Thermo Scientific Heratherm Refrigerated Incubators are from plus 5 °C to 70 °C. The temperature ranges of most microorganisms sit comfortably in the middle of these temperature ranges. 

Why is attaining a precise temperature so important? 

Temperature that is lower or higher will slow the growth or potentially kill the microbes and will result in inconsistencies and inaccurate data being obtained. Heratherm incubators have outstanding temperature uniformity and stability to protect against this, and help keep the samples in a safe environment. 

Can you explain what the technology is behind your refrigerated incubators? 

Thermo Scientific Heratherm Refrigerated Incubators use a Peltier system which, in addition to saving energy, also allows precise temperature set points—all without harmful chlorofluorocarbon or hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants. 

The Peltier module cools and heats thermoelectrically via an automatic control, which facilitates optimal adaptations based on set temperatures. 

How does this differ from other devices on the market? 

Most other incubators on the market are based on compressor systems. Unlike in compressor based incubators, the Peltier module always stays above 0 °C in cooling mode, preventing ice accumulation and the necessity to defrost regularly. 

Finally, the reduction of significant vibrations in the units, compared to previous models, helps to maintain sample integrity. With these efficient features, the Heratherm refrigerated incubators use up to 84% less energy than traditional compressor-based models. 

Why is doing away with refrigerants an important step for this technology?

Most refrigerants in compressor systems are hazardous and bad for the environment. Repairs and disposal of equipment often require regulated actions and documentation. Even shipment of incubators with refrigerant can create challenges and additional measures. For the user the Peltier technology eliminates all the additional work related to this. Production and disposal of these refrigerants is energy consuming and often linked to pollution. The Peltier technology is providing a great and energy-effective alternative. In the end the use of this technology is helping to save the environment and reduce CO2 footprint. 

What benefits do these products have in terms of energy consumption? 

Heratherm refrigerated incubators use 70–84% less energy to operate (at 20 °C and 37 °C). Choosing a Heratherm incubator over a traditional compressor model could save over 2,800 kWh of energy over the course of a year, and an annual reduction of 2 tons of CO2 equivalents of energy. 

What are the key steps of microbial analysis? 

Samples are taken from a food product or equipment involved in food production, the sample is then plated out onto a Petri dish with agar and then incubated in the incubator at defined temperatures per each protocol specification. 

The results are then realised 1 to 3 days later and then the product batches are released for consumption or held back for further testing and possibly even destroyed. 

How do you see this industry changing over the coming years?

The requirements of the industry will remain the same – with the demand for accurate, reliable data delivered with maximum efficiency. 

In terms of maximising workflow efficiency, energy consumption will become a more widely scrutinised factor – especially for equipment such as incubators which are on 24/7. 

As food quality standards increase, we can also expect to see greater demand for connectivity and data security across key pieces of laboratory equipment. This will help with audit purposes, where users can access electronically backed up records to ensure and demonstrate control over incubator time and temperature settings. Currently, Thermo Scientific offer the Smart Vue Pro which is a wireless monitoring system to connect several pieces of equipment to a secure data cloud server. 

How does the company intend to stay ahead of these changes, and what major developments are planned for the near future? 

Thermo Fisher Scientific has a pipeline of innovations to support each product category – with further enhancements in energy efficiency and sustainability and developments in a more user-friendly interface to look forward to.

About Angela Visgandis

Angela is a Product Specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific responsible for supporting customers with Microbiological Incubators across Northern Europe for over 3 years. Previously Angela worked in laboratories and in various scientific sales roles involving a varied range of customers. 


About Thermo Fisher Scientific – Laboratory Products Division – Food & Beverage Quality Control

As the world leader in serving science, here at Thermo Fisher Scientific we understand that you need complete confidence in the data you obtain to protect your consumer's health and ensure loyalty with your brand. That’s why we support Quality Control teams to provide the highest quality output, protect against customer complaints and operate more efficiently by providing a range of laboratory products for fast, accurate and reliable data collection. This includes:

  • A comprehensive portfolio for sample collection and preparation
  • Chemical analysis and microbiological analysis
  • Expertise in product applications
  • Sales, delivery, service and support across many geographies. 

To find out more, please visit: thermofisher.com/foodandbeverageqc 

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. is the world leader in serving science, with annual revenue of approximately $40 billion. Our mission is to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. Whether our customers are accelerating life sciences research, solving complex analytical challenges, increasing productivity in their laboratories, improving patient health through diagnostics or the development and manufacture of life-changing therapies, we are here to support them. Our global team delivers an unrivalled combination of innovative technologies, purchasing convenience and pharmaceutical services through our industry-leading brands, including Thermo Scientific, Applied Biosystems, Invitrogen, Fisher Scientific, Unity Lab Services, Patheon and PPD. For more information, please visit: wwwthermofisher.com.


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