Safety and quality are top-of-mind concerns for any food professionals; however, the guys in the white coats tend to be the unsung heroes of the food industry. Their full contribution often isn’t appreciated until a contamination crisis hits—then, their analytical talents are invaluable.
Pittcon 2014, the recent annual conference and exhibition dedicated to analytical technology and techniques, gave laboratory professionals like food technicians the spotlight, if only for a few days. There, Chicago’s McCormick Place became a veritable scientific playground, with mass spectrometers and pipettes and laboratory integration software as far as the eye can see.
Granted, a show dedicated to lab equipment probably isn’t what anyone would consider sexy. There’s no gleaming muscle cars or high-powered sports vehicles to attract the eye, like the Chicago Auto Show that preceded Pittcon by just a few days.
However, while much of the technology on the show floor is geared toward pharmaceuticals, life sciences, and other non-food industries, many the wares on display at Pittcon are important to the food industry. The 2014 exhibitors showcased the latest technology to help food laboratories test for quality, check texture and, most importantly, ensure the safety of their product.
The Food Labs Conference, a set of sessions adjacent to the main Pittcon event, brought the technology lessons home. Food safety researchers, forensics experts, educators, and suppliers shared advice on how to make the most out of current and emerging analytical equipment.
Rick Biros, president of Food Safety Tech, said organizers of the Food Labs Conference made sure to provide food safety professionals with sessions covering hard-hitting issues impacting the industry.
“We looked at a variety of issues that encompass food safety,” he said. “Sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curveball and we encounter a variety of bacteria that’s highly threatening; there’s also manmade threats to worry about, such as food fraud.”
Companies like Cargill Meat Solutions, Shimadzu, Microbiology International, and others led Food Labs Conference sessions. Topics included texture analysis, food forensics, ready-to-use testing media, and more.
Food Labs speaker Skip Palenik, founder of forensics firm Microtrace, said effective, talented food analysis staff can arrest problems such as pathogen outbreaks or debris contamination, preventing minor incidents from becoming major headaches.
“Food contamination complaints can quickly escalate,” he said. “A fast, competent response can address consumer concerns, while reducing media and financial exposure.”
Palenik added true professionals in the food lab handle every sample with a high degree of care.
“The best food forensic labs treat food samples the way they would if it were evidence for a murder case,” he said. “Any sample could potentially end up in litigation.”
The bottom line
Pittcon isn't the right show for everyone on a food operation's payroll. Consumer packaged goods executives care about food safety, but drilling that down specifically into the science stuff could make their eyes glaze over.
However, any food or beverage-focused operation would be wise to send at least a few food safety staffers to Pittcon. If a company wants to arm its quality and safety personnel with advanced, effective, integrated laboratories, Pittcon is a great place to find the equipment to make it happen.