Relevance of Microbial Finished Product Testing in Food Safety Management

Food Control. 2016;60:31-43

End-product testing is often not very effective for controlling food safety. Food safety management system and preventive approaches are more effective and can reduce end-product testing. This is described and evaluated for three case studies; canned food, chocolate and cooked ham.

Management of microbiological food safety is largely based on good design of processes, products and procedures. End product testing may be considered as a control measure at the end of the production process. However, end-product testing is often too little and too late because testing gives only very limited information on the safety status of a food. In case that a hazardous organism is identified via end-product testing, it is known that the products are contaminated, but absence of a hazardous organism in the limited number of samples that was tested is no guarantee of safety of a whole production batch. Therefore most attention should be focussed on management and control of the hazards in a more pro-active way by implementing an effective food safety management. End-product testing may however be useful for verification activities in a food safety management system.

In this review, the relevance of end-product testing is described and evaluated for three case studies; canned food, chocolate and cooked ham, the relevance of testing both of end-products and the production environment is discussed. The required level of control can be largely different for different processes; therefore it is beneficial to amend the frequency of end-product sampling and production environments to the associated human health risk, which can be assessed on the basis of risk assessment and epidemiological data.

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