HACCP: Use Stable Isotopes to Dig Deeper Into Your Supply Chain.

HACCP: Use Stable Isotopes to Dig Deeper Into Your Supply Chain.

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During a speech on Food Safety1, Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussed the benefits of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point programs – HACCP.

HACCP is a core part of the prevention processes in the food and pharmaceutical industries. HACCP provides a methodology for identifying, characterizing and managing chemical, biological or physical hazards that may cause sickness or injury. HACCP plans, especially for raw ingredients and chemicals such as flavors, dyes, colors and excipients, often drive a purchasing specification that contains one or chemical tests derived to prove quality.

However, a renewed focus on supply chain integrity is driving many groups to re-examine their HACCP testing. It is becoming clear that the origin of a material is as important as the quality. And, it’s not principally the geographical origin that’s significant; it’s the consistency of the origin. Are your suppliers changing their process or buying from a different source?  At face value it might not appear important. If the quality check remains within your target values, should you worry? The answer is – of course! HACCP is a risk management program and if a chemical that you use is coming from a different source, then the risk profile has changed. Worse, without a specific testing program, you won’t necessarily know.

Stable isotopes, especially those of carbon and hydrogen, are the ideal tool. The carbon value will signify a plant type (including fossil fuel), while the hydrogen signal will be more influenced by geography, or more specifically, growing region weather patterns. Running and reporting both simultaneously gives a profile of all kinds of materials. We’ve run many examples, from paprika to pain killers and beer. In every case, the samples of each type were clearly different from each other. You can tell chemicals produced in North American factories from those produced in Europe. Foods grown in Asia are different from those grown in Africa. And, if you are concerned about products coming from regions that support child labor or non-sustainable farming, you can test those too.

The science is well known, but it took the telecommunications boom of a few years ago to provide the high quality and affordable tunable diode lasers that enabled the commercialization of small, easy to use and inexpensive Cavity Ring-Down instruments. These systems are, in turn, providing the fast and easy analyses that food and pharmaceutical companies are finding useful to protect their supply chains. There’s virtually no sample prep, and each sample only takes a few minutes. Yet, the ability to effectively investigate your supplier’s supplier is incredibly powerful.

1. “Prevention and Food Safety: Two Lenses, Common Vision”, Remarks at the George Washington University School of Public Health, Washington, D.C. May 19, 2011