Author Archives: Bob Ferguson

Food Safety Testing to Continue to Increase in 2021 (Part Two)

In this month’s edition of Food Safety Insights in Food Safety Magazine, we present Part Two of our survey of 200 food processors and their plans for their increasing test volumes. In Part One, we discussed the amount by which processors are projecting their test volumes will increase. In this Part Two, we present details for how this increased level of testing will be analyzed, with perhaps some surprises about methods used and where the testing will be done.

In the article, we detail how the testing will change. Some of the changes were expected, based on the run-rates for testing and the trends that we have seen in the past. The data, however, showed one significant exception – for samples being analyzed for pathogens, we saw a far larger share of the use of PCR than we would have expected.

PCR and Outsourcing

Some of this increased volume can be attributed to the organic, above-market growth of PCR over the past few years. PCR is certainly a reliable, widely used technology in food testing. But this increase may also relate to the accelerating trend in outsourcing testing to commercial labs. As processors outsource their samples, PCR seems to be more frequently selected as the analytical method used than it was when the samples were analyzed in-plant.

This possibility certainly makes sense. PCR requires expensive instrumentation and technical expertise to analyze samples properly. Every commercial lab will have a level of analyst capabilities and infrastructure that allows them to use PCR. Commercial labs will also have a high incentive to recommend the use of PCR to optimize the throughput of their instruments.  So it is likely that what we are seeing here may be a strong indication that the trend in outsourcing to commercial labs is not only driving lab volume, but further driving the conversion to PCR – and faster than we would have expected.

Curious about these changes? The article can be found here:  FOOD SAFETY INSIGHTS

Food Safety Testing to Continue to Increase in 2021

As we recover from the pandemic, food safety testing will resume its strong growth. This was very evident in our recent Food Safety Insights survey of 200 food processors for Food Safety Magazine. In that survey, companies who are saying that they will increase their test volumes outnumber by 6-to-1 those forecasting a decrease. This will also impact the commercial laboratory business as the outsourcing of sample analysis will continue its even stronger growth.  The data we saw in this survey showed record levels of both pathogen and non-pathogen microbiology samples being sent out to commercial labs, likely indicating continued microbiology commercial lab market growth rates of 10 – 12%.

Find out more in our Apr-May edition of Food Safety Insights here


COVID-19 and the Recovery -Looking forward to 2021

As we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel in the recovery from COVID-19, companies are slowly getting back to normal and many activities that were interrupted will start to resume the further we get into 2021. This leaves many people to wonder when restrictions will be fully lifted, and life will get back to the normal that we all remember.

These questions apply to all industries and Food Production and Food Safety are no exception. What have we learned from the pandemic, when will the restrictions and precautions that have been imposed be lifted and which ones have been found to be beneficial in the long-term and will remain a part of normal operating processes.

Working with Food Safety Magazine as part of our Food Safety Insights program, we convened a virtual roundtable discussion with a team of experts from the Food Safety Magazine Editorial Advisory Board to discuss these questions.  We discussed the current state of food safety, including impacts from COVID-19, regulations, supply chain management, and others. We also asked our experts to look into the future and tell us what they think 2021 may have in store for us and some thoughts—and maybe predictions—on what we may or may not see in the next 2–5 years.

We discussed many issues including the likely persistence of additional employee protections and enhanced attention to handwashing and sanitation.  But we also discussed the likely demise of Just-in-Time inventory management and a significant reduction of in-person meetings.

Find out more about these expert’s opinions and predictions in Food Safety Insights in the latest edition of Food Safety Magazine, available here –

Food Supply Chains and COVID-19 – the Impact and Recovery

There has been much written about the impact of COVID on food processors and their supply chains.  In our last post we discussed the impact the pandemic has been having on processors and especially their supply chains.

In this Part 2 of our survey of 240 processors in the United States, Canada, and around the world we take a closer look what they say they have learned, how they have changed and adapted, and, perhaps more importantly, what the changes that processors say are here to stay.

Supply chain disruptions made it to the top of the list of operational issues on their minds.  More than one-third of U.S. and Canadian processors and more than on-half of international companies say they have been compelled to reevaluate their programs.  Many aspects of their programs were mentioned as areas that need to be greatly improved in order to have more resiliency ahead of the next inevitable event.  Most saw as a weakness their inability to react and adjust to shortages.

Processors told us many aspects of their supply chain management would need change to build that resiliency, but one overarching theme emerged – maybe it is time to back off from “just-in-time” strategies. Many found that while Just-in-Time kept them lead and efficient in normal times, it became a significant weakness during the pandemic.  Most told us that they will be looking to keep more stock of raw material and end-products in an effort to add more “slack” in the system, to build flexibility and to buy time to respond in the case of the next emergency.

See what else processors told us in the Dec/Jan issue of Food Safety Magazine – available here.

Food Supply Chains and COVID-19 – The Impact

It will come as no surprise that COVID-19 has had a great impact on food supply chains. The (hopefully) short-term impacts of the pandemic have caused significant disruptions in all aspects of processors’ supply chains. But what do processors see as their most pressing problems?

In our survey of 240 processors and subsequent interviews, four major areas dominated their concerns – availability of raw materials, transportation and delays, operating supplies, and prices.

Access to sufficient raw materials was a clear number one concern. The availability of raw material was a fundamental concern, but, with shortages driving the need to look to alternate suppliers, processors also reported significant concerns with product quality – especially due to the quality of available substitutes. A number of companies reported to us that they were finding more non-compliant material being delivered.

The second most mentioned category of concern involved transportation and delays, either due to infrastructure issues such as the closure of ports, of the availability of trucks and/or the availability of drivers to operate them. These issues were shown to be causing significant bottlenecks in logistics, with this causing a concern for other fundamental food safety practices, such as temperature control.

See what else food processors reported to us in our article in the Oct/Nov issue of Food Safety Magazine – available here.

Whole Genome Sequencing – What is Really Going on in the Market?

Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is a hot topic in food safety. But is it being used by food processors? We have been looking at this question for more than 4 years, and we have learned both “how” and “how much” food processors are using WGS.   (spoiler alert – not very much).

We have asked questions about the use of WGS at least once each year since 2017, including this year’s survey in April 2020. In those 4 years, we have received data from more than 600 processors (an average of more than 150 responses per year). In each of these surveys, no more than 10 percent of respondents reported using WGS — even once — for any of their samples (Figure 1). In our most recent survey, only 5 percent reported that they are using WGS in any capacity.

We also asked about other options that may be available for processors to take advantage of the power of sequencing, but without the complexity of WGS.

Find out more in our latest Food Safety Insights in Food Safety Magazine available here: Food Safety Insights – AugSep 2020

Trends in Food Safety Testing Continue

The June/July issue of Food Safety Insights is now available and follows up what we learned in the April/May issue about the major trends in food safety testing, namely 1) continued growth in testing volume, 2) growth and changes in environmental monitoring, 3) outsourcing and growth in the lab markets, and 4) WGS. In the June/July issue, we wanted to dig further into the numbers behind these trends.

One caution – as we mention in the article, the data for the article was collected and developed during peaks in the COVID-19 epidemic which has disrupted everything about food processing. We have tried to separate any impacts from COVID-19 from the longer term impacts of these trends. The short-term disruptions from COVID – 19 will end eventually and we project that we will get back to the longer-term underlying drivers of testing.  If there are lasting impacts from COVID-19 that significantly change any of these trends, or cause new ones to develop, we will address these in a future article.

The first trend that is clear in our data is the steady pressure toward more testing volume. While most processors report that their test volumes will remain “about the same” the number of processors that report increasing volumes outnumber those with decreasing volume by about 4 to 1. A key factor in these volume increases reported by processors is the main driver is business – that is they are reporting that they are testing more because they are making and selling more product. Processors also report that more of their customers are requesting more testing data. These two factors combine for a sustainable and steady driver for growth.
A high proportion of this increase in test volume is also due to environmental monitoring – and especially with Listeria being the test target. This demand is continuing to drive Listeria test volumes keeping it the fastest growing test target (pathogen or non-pathogen).

It is also clear that processors are relying more on their lab partners for analysis and continuing to do less and less testing in-house. The amount of pathogen testing outsourced has grown for a long time in an effort to get pathogens out of the plant. Increasingly, however – and it shows up in this survey – more and more processors are sending out their indicator or non-pathogen samples too. This will continue to drive growth in the lab markets creating opportunities for growth for commercial labs, and also continue the M&A activity in that market.

You can see more in the Food Safety Insights article in Food Safety Magazine here –

Baltimore County-based Company develops COVID-19 test to be used across Canada

Technology from InstantLabs is now being used to supply more than 500,000 COVID-19 tests per week to the government of Canada.

InstantLabs was founded in 2008 and is currently located in the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s (UMBC) bwtech@UMBC campus. InstantLabs’ original focus was on the development of point-of-care clinical diagnostic testing solutions. InstantLabs later expanded its focus to include the detection of problematic and pathogenic microorganisms in food processing and food packaging as well as in water system corrosion.

InstantLabs sought the help of Strategic Consulting, Inc. to identify strategic opportunities for growth of the company and the technology. As part of this process, SCI introduced InstantLabs to LuminUltra, an international diagnostic testing leader headquartered in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada who subsequently acquired the company in 2018.

This year, using the technology developed by InstantLabs, LuminUltra mobilized quickly to develop a test for COVID-19 to respond to a call from the Government of Canada for urgently needed COVID-19 tests. In April 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that LuminUltra had been selected to supply 500,000 tests per week (See the Prime Minister’s Announcement) – enough tests over the course of the contract to essentially provide a test for every Canadian.

InstantLabs is a fully-integrated part of the LuminUltra family – a group of companies that has operations in 6 countries and customers in more than 80 around the world. InstantLabs remains located at UMBC and their laboratory and operations at UMBC now serves as LuminUltra’s global R&D center and is the site at which the molecular testing capabilities for this COVID-19 response were developed. The solutions developed at their labs in Baltimore are also being used not only in Canada, but throughout the world as part of sanitation test and certification efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as buildings and businesses start to resume operations.

This response to COVID-19 has also expanded LuminUltra’s need for R&D space and additional manufacturing capacity. They have seen the benefits of being located in Maryland with the state’s focus on life science business and are looking at options near Maryland’s life science centers.

Trends in Food Safety Testing

The April / May issue of Food Safety Insights in Food Safety Magazine includes our review of the major trends that have been driving food safety testing over the past 4-5 years.

In the article we identify four major trends that have driven the food safety testing market during this timeframe, including 1) continued growth in overall demand for food testing, 2) growth and changes in the volume and types of environmental monitoring, 3) outsourcing and growth in commercial lab markets, and 4) Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS)

The food safety testing market has been marked by a number of “mega-trends” over the past 25-years, including the dramatic growth in testing volumes in the 1990s, the emergence of rapid test methods and the conversion of test volume to these instrument-based rapid methods – such as PCR and immunoassay – from traditional media-based growth methods to these current trends we are seeing that are changing environmental monitoring, fueling the expansion of outsourcing and the impact and use of WGS – particularly the use by regulatory agencies.

These current factors are working together to change how we look at and view food safety testing. This includes viewing EM as a more strategic process that can be used to identify and eliminate sources of contamination rather than just a check on current conditions. As part of this increased focus on control, the outsourcing of testing to commercial labs works to get pathogens out of the plant, but this outsourcing also allows processors to take advantage of their commercial lab partners expanded analytical capabilities and to also consider laboratories as their strategic partner -to get their help in decision making and not just a testing vendor.  

We also point out the dramatic impact of the use of WGS.  The impact from WGS comes from its use by regulatory agencies – such as FDA and CDC – and its ability to compare the source of food safety illness from patient samples back to the identification of the causative pathogen in food.  This development is one of the key factors driving the increase in testing and especially driving the increase in environmental monitoring volumes.  But as we will publish in the next issue of Food Safety Magazine (Jun/July) the use of WGS by the processors themselves is still at a very low level and not growing.

See more in the article in Food Safety Magazine at




Impact of Coronavirus on Food Processing and Food Safety

There are no more topical issues than the coronavirus pandemic. And while it seems the pandemic has affected everything in some way, our focus is Industrial Microbiology and one of the largest areas in IM is food safety.

So, working with Food Safety Magazine, we conducted an international survey to find out how food processors and service companies have been impacted, and what steps they have taken in response to the virus and mitigation efforts.  We conducted the survey on March 18, 2020 and received responses from more than 330 food processors and service companies from around the world.

Find out what we learned here: