Environmental testing has become a major focus of regulators in recent years and should be a priority of every food manufacturer. Many contamination issues come from food processing facilities, and environmental testing in such places is more effective at detecting problems than finished product testing is.
Regulators began stepping up their testing of food facilities a few years ago as a result of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). One of the FDA’s favored assessments is referred to in the industry as a “swab-a-thon.” Inspectors arrive unannounced and take several hundred swabs of a facility to test for Listeria monocytogenes and salmonella, the two major contamination culprits in food facilities. The FDA’s Investigations Operations Manuallists how they conduct the testing.
The key thing to do when agents arrive at the door for a swab-a-thon is to match their assessment swab-for-swab — if they swab the drain, you swab the same drain immediately after they do. If they swab the doorjam, you swab the doorjam. The goal is to produce the exact same test kit of your facility so that you can have it tested independently to verify or refute their results. It’s essential to always have a large supply of swabs on hand since you never know when you’re going to need them.
Once you’ve got a set of swabs that match the inspectors’, send them to a laboratory with an ISO/IEC 17025certification, such as Biotrax. A 17025 laboratory is the only type that can get results of sufficient quality to verify or challenge the FDA’s assessments, and they will vouch for their results. They’re also faster than the FDA — Biotrax will have your results back to you in 24 hours, while the FDA’s report may take weeks.
To make sure your swab-a-thon comes out well, have a food safety plan in place that includes an effective cleaning program. Then institute an environmental monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of your cleaning and catch emerging problems before they intensify. It doesn’t have to be expensive – it will mostly involving testing your surfaces for listeria and aerobic plate count after they’re cleaned to see if you need to improve your cleaning regimen. Contact Biotrax if you need help setting up an environmental monitoring program.
FSMA Training Academy, located at BioTrax, offers Environmental Monitoring Training.