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No such thing as a free lunch: The real cost of manual food and beverage sampling methods

Posted by AJ Naber on 6/28/16 7:00 AM
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Hand scoop sampling long has been commonplace with bulk material producers and processors within the food and beverage industry.  This convenient and low-cost manual method is widely accepted as a standard operating procedure. Final product sampling also is regarded as being easy and reliable – the product is a random representation of the lot and is already contained and ready for the lab. However, scoop sampling and final product sampling, which seem to be a “free lunch” in not adding costs, can be problematic and certainly not free.

A few real-world examples of that free lunch spoiled by unforeseen costs:

Hands off the product

A bio-based ingredient manufacturer decided to save costs on an in-line automated sampling solution by having plant operators, who already were overseeing the bulk bag filling stations, simply take manual hand samples. The plant’s staff was well-trained on food safety, and knew to take every precaution when reaching their hands into the unsealed bags of final product.

Even well-trained operators can end up contaminate samples and the final product.

That is, until it was discovered that those well-trained operators unknowingly were contaminating both the samples and the final product. Beyond the obvious cost of running a less-than-efficient operation – only to have to deal with product loss and hours of rework – the plant also now had to shoulder the unknown cost of no longer being able to satisfy the requirements of their customer’s Certificate of Analysis.

Automating sampling to decrease risk

The plant decided to put its sampling program in safer hands by strategically partnering with a sampling supplier, and since has installed four Sentry® ISOLOK® SAE automatic point samplers, each complete with a Sentry SBC sampler controller to remotely automate sampling. Plant management has reduced the manufacturer’s risk with a safe sampling program that captures representative samples for analysis, preventing the possibility of a recall. This renewed diligence for food safety protocol will avoid significant costs in the long run.   

Almond butter sampling

Essentially, every peanut and tree nut butter producer has manual product sampling practices in place as part of the verification procedures within their HACCP plan. And for many of them, that sampling program reads something like, “Finished product is sampled and tested for quality characteristics as well as for salmonella.” 

A prominent co-packer of almond butter was following suit by sampling and testing final product at the end of the line – until a food safety breach slipped through quality assurance, and the plant’s 24/7 operation came to a grinding halt as a result of a major product recall.  As it turned out, random final product sampling did not represent the entire process lot.

As part of the company’s massive and costly plant and consumer reputation rebuilding programs, that producer purchased multiple Sentry ISOLOK MSE automatic point sampler for high viscosity products to ensure its samples were representative. With renewed FDA focus on and scrutiny of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), the company can assure all stakeholders of one of the steps in a systematic preventive approach to food safety through implementation of safe and reliable automated sampling techniques.

Representative sampling of dips

Nut butter producers certainly are not the only companies utilizing the so-called “free lunch” method of non-representative final product sampling. Virtually any and all subsectors packaging final product into ready-to-eat containers can take this easy road. 

For instance, dip producers commonly rely on random product sampling and testing. Unfortunately for one of those major dip producers, that method, and the resulting listeria scare, cost it dearly when a major product recall of tens of thousands of cases caused the company to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in product and consumer trust. 

When the company purchased several Sentry ISOLOK MSE automatic point samplers for high viscosity products, it enjoyed return on investment immediately. One immediate and explicit cost savings came from diminished product and packaging throw-away, as automatic sampling solutions allow processors to take only as much product from the process as is absolutely necessary for representative sample analysis, without the costly end-process waste of containers and labeling. Additionally, an implicit benefit to in-line automated sampling is the ability to verify samples from various zones of the production and packaging lines to ensure existing issues can be precisely identified exactly where and when they occur, and thus expedite any remediation efforts to that exact part of the process.

If you are a food or beverage producer or processor, it is not a matter of if, but when, your free lunch will turn into significant business risks and operational waste. Whether those costs are explicit or implicit, they are costs you can avoid by investing in secure and proven automated sampling solutions.

Automatic Sampling: Why It's Essential for Food & Beverages

Topics: Food & Beverage

Written by AJ Naber

AJ likes all kinds of foods and beverages. Not only interested in consuming them, he also offers expertise in engineering and installation of process systems for the dairy, food, beverage and brewing industries.

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