Jumping Out of Airplanes: A Food Safety Testing Analogy

May 17, 2024

By: David Hatch
Vice President of Digital Solutions Marketing
Neogen Corporation

My 27-year-old son jumps out of airplanes, but not as a requirement of any military service—he does it for fun.

I asked him, as any parent would, “Why do you insist on doing this?” His eyes gleamed a bit brighter as he formulated his answer. Finally, just one word came out: “Freedom.”

He explained a bit more: “There is nothing more freeing, or liberating, than jumping into the sky at 15,000+ feet and free-falling to earth.”

He could sense my alarm and dread, so he went on at great length to explain the extreme preparation and training that must take place in advance of such an experience. A lot of his words centered on the importance of the parachute—packing it, the specific means by which this is done, and the importance of having a back-up chute, along with a plan in case things go wrong.

This got me thinking about my professional world (food safety testing) in a different way, specifically related to pathogen testing.

Recently, I was involved in a group meeting where we discussed a challenge encountered by many of our colleagues involved in food safety testing programs, something I call the “don’t test for pathogens before you have a plan” rule. This refers to the fact that a lot of pathogen testing is conducted, and there is not always a corresponding comprehensive plan in place for knowing exactly what to do when pathogen contamination is discovered.

The same can be said for skydiving, I suppose: “Don’t jump without a parachute… and a plan for what happens if something goes wrong.” In other words: “Don’t test for pathogens unless you know what you will do if you find one.”

With the advancement of digitization and automation of testing programs, the capability to define and execute on “what if” scenarios with pathogens is advancing. My son’s skydiving analogy enabled me to see that, in a direct way, the ability to leverage data and a digital process for managing and responding to testing scenarios can make a major difference in alleviating risks associated with pathogen findings. It’s just like having a parachute, a back-up chute, and a plan.

Recently, a food safety leader at a processing facility described an experience where regulatory investigators arrived hot on the trail of a pathogen outbreak. The food safety leader shared that, due to their digital mastery of their testing program, they were able to quickly isolate the issue, automate the triggering of their corrective actions, and demonstrate to the investigators the mitigation measures and control of the situation they had already established, as specified in their policies.

In essence, the processing facility had jumped out of the airplane (as we all do when we test for pathogens) and, in this case, although the primary chute did not open properly, the back-up chute did. The plan in place for “when things go wrong” was executed, and a safe landing resulted.

To learn more about new, innovative means of digitizing your testing program, and how to jump out of the pathogen testing airplane safely, visit the Neogen Analytics site.

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Category: Food Safety, Consumer Goods, Dietary Supplements, Food & Beverage, Pet Food, Allergens, Microbiology, Pathogens, Environmental Monitoring