Food Pathogen Testing Moving to Outside Testing Labs

An emerging trend in food safety testing: Pathogen analysis moving to contract labs or corporate testing centers

We’re seeing an emerging trend in food safety testing that we believe has big implications for diagnostic equipment manufacturers: Pathogen analysis is increasingly being conducted outside of food plants in contract labs or corporate testing centers.

Food Micro-5, Strategic Consulting’s latest market research report on food safety microbiology testing, shows sizable growth in both routine and pathogen testing in the U.S. food industry. With pathogen testing growing at twice the rate of routine testing, it all adds up to increased opportunity for diagnostic test manufacturers.

Even more important, however, is where that analysis is taking place. Increasingly, SCI is seeing food plants deciding to send their samples outside for analysis, either to contract testing labs or corporate testing centers. In fact, the volume of samples sent outside for analysis is growing at an even faster rate than the pathogen testing market is growing.

Thirty years ago most food pathogen testing was done at food plants and used traditional methods. Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen the following trends:

  • More pathogen analysis switching to rapid microbiology methods (RMMs).
  • More pathogen testing being done outside of the food plant.

Food quality and safety managers are sending test samples outside for several reasons:

  • Persistent concerns about sample enrichment at the plant.
  • HACCP plans now require extensive documentation whenever there is a sample transfer stage. An extra level of documentation for analyzing at the plant involves too much work.
  • Pathogen analysis systems can be costly. With all the changes in systems in the past few years, the risk of buying the “wrong” system or being stuck with an outmoded one is big.
  • It takes 24-48 hours to get pathogen test results no matter where they are done, so the additional time involved in transporting the sample to an outside lab is not seen as significant.
  • There is perceived value and more credibility in providing customers with testing results conducted by a 3rd party.

Strategic Consulting believes that this concentration of food pathogen analysis in fewer locations has dramatic implications for diagnostic companies, including:

  • Very different diagnostic system requirements, as throughput and automation take on a much higher priority.
  • The possibility that decision on which pathogen detection analytic method to use could shift to the contract lab or corporate center rather than the food plant or QC manager.

In an upcoming blog, we’ll examine the market numbers a bit more in detail and discuss what this shift in testing might mean for diagnostic companies.

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