In today’s food processing industry, safety regulations and good manufacturing practices are almost taken for granted. But each year in the US, an estimated 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness. Many of these illnesses can be traced to pathogens located in packaged foods.

That is where food sampling comes in. At its core, food sampling protects the consumer. It allows manufacturers to ensure that consumers are protected from potentially serious consequences of food contamination; additionally, it provides consumers with information about what exactly is in the food that they are purchasing. It confirms the information listed on the nutritional labels, including macronutrients like fat and protein, as well as any allergen declarations.

In a nutshell, food sampling creates solid data that can help both the manufacturer and the consumer to make educated decisions about a given packaged food.

How Food Sampling Works

So how exactly does food sampling work? In order to accurately analyze the components of a packaged food, the manufacturer needs to ensure that they obtain an accurate analysis. During the sampling process, the manufacturer runs tests to analyze several aspects of the packaged food:

  • Analytical chemistry. The product undergoes tests that focus on the chemical components of the materials in the food being analyzed, including its acidity, preservatives, minerals and trace elements, and additives. These tests also show any trace chemical contaminants, such as pesticides, veterinary medications, or environmental toxins.
  • Food microbiology. These tests identify any microorganisms that exist in the food being analyzed, specifically those that indicate food spoilage or pathogenic contamination, both of which could lead to food poisoning outbreaks, such as e. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
  • Food nutrition. Manufacturers also analyze the nutritional content in the packaged food in question, confirming the nutrition labels for each country in which the product will be sold.
  • Food allergens. Special tests are run to ensure that packaging labels include any allergens that are found in the packaged food, including gluten, peanuts and tree nuts, eggs, milk, and soy.
  • Representative Sampling

    The actual tests run on the food samples are only the first step. Just as importantly, manufacturers need to determine which method they will use to obtain a food sample. Low-cost methods, such as hand scoop, spigot sampling, or final product sampling, can introduce bias. After all, pathogens can easily pass through one lot of the product without contaminating another. If you only sample the non-contaminated batch, using a low-cost method, those pathogens may be left undetected.

    That’s where representative sampling comes in. In this newer method, technology is used in order to create the ideal sample for testing. It obtains tiny samples from across an entire batch or stream of products, accurately reflecting the range of material being tested. This improves the manufacturer’s ability to assess the components that entered the line with minimal bias. While representative sampling is more costly than its low-tech alternatives, it is a more reliable and accurate way to verify the ingredients – both intentional and non-intentional – that make up a given product.

    In the food processing industry, finding out about contamination or mislabeling as early as possible is key in retaining your company’s reputation and avoiding costly recalls and stalled product lines. Choosing accurate sampling methods and thorough analyses may take additional effort and investment up front, but it can go a long way towards protecting your company in the future.

    Written by Rob Brown