Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Day in the Life of a Food Scientist Quality Professional – Risk Assessments

As I rounded the corner, I saw it overflowing. The Sample Outbox on my desk was practically bursting with several Ziploc baggies of different colored powder. My heart did a tiny leap of joy as I thought to myself, Look at all these samples I need to send to the lab!

In a previous post, I discussed how ingredient testing is a large part of my job ["Raw Material Specialist (Extraordinaire)"]. I also discussed how I consider samples that appear on my desk "presents", because every new sample requires a preliminary Risk Assessment. But what is a Risk Assessment, exactly, and why are they so fun?
Without realizing it, the average person does a risk assessment almost every day.
At the grocery store: If I park in the back, I'm less likely to get a door ding by a self-absorbed teenager or a runaway grocery cart.

At work: If I don't erase this last sentence in my email, I could be in big trouble.

At home: If it was only on the ground for 5 seconds, it's still okay to eat.

For me, a Risk Assessment is an extensive background check on a particular ingredient. The Risk Assessment considers the results of ingredient testing and a literature search (among other factors). 

Ingredient testing is one way to make sure the ingredient is safe, but you have to know what to test for.

You only get results for the tests you request, so better make sure you're looking for the right thing!

You only get the results for the tests you request, so how do you know what to ask for?

Sometimes the supplier will only test for Yeast and Mold and Aerobic Plate Count (APC). APC is like a census – you may learn how many bugs you have living there, but you can't tell how many of them are criminals. This is why our standard ingredient testing regimen usually goes above and beyond the tests an ingredient supplier will do on their own material. The literature search also dictates what tests we request.

During my literature search, if I find any recalls for high or unapproved pesticides, I need to make sure I request pesticide testing. If I find reports of economically motivated adulteration (like putting vegetable oil in something labeled 100% EVOO), I might test for identity or potential adulterants.
Sometimes these searches turn up nothing significant…and SOMETIMES, I hit the JACKPOT!

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