09 May 2023 / The experts of the Vitagora ecosystem / Vitagora publication / Science and technologies

Food safety: solutions for more autonomous environmental testing

To ensure the safety of food products for the final consumer, the food industry, and in particular meat and dairy plants, are subject to regular microbiological testing, both of the products and of the production environment.


Today's solutions allow manufacturers to gain greater autonomy in carrying out tests or monitoring environmental controls. Explore solutions in this article.



Why this should interest you?

  • Contamination of the environment by pathogenic flora represents a source of risk for consumers and can lead to a total halt in production for the company.
  • Environmental analysis, especially of surfaces, can ensure that a production line is free of contamination - or that corrective measures are taken if necessary.
  • The majority of companies carry out these tests in laboratories, an undertaking which is both expensive and long.
  • Regulations, certifications and agri-food industry customers are creating a growing demand for these tests, but the resources to perform them in companies are often limited.


The WHO estimates that nearly one in ten people from around the world suffer from food-borne illness each year... causing an estimated 420,000 deaths per year (source). Although the lethal risk of toxic infections is lower in Europe, it is still the cause of nearly 5,000 deaths per year according to the WHO, despite the progress made by professionals in terms of quality control and hygiene. In total, the WHO also estimates that contamination results in an annual loss of $110 billion in medical and production costs.


To ensure the safety of food products for the final consumer, the food industry, and in particular meat and dairy plants, is subject to regular microbiological testing, both of the products themselves and of the production environment. This makes it possible to check for the absence (or presence) of micro-organisms, allowing us, in particular, to avoid contamination by pathogenic flora such as Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, staphylococci, etc.


Although recourse to external laboratories remains essential in certain cases, solutions now allow manufacturers to gain greater autonomy in carrying out tests or monitoring environmental controls. Test kits to be deployed on site for fast and reliable responses, control monitoring software to ensure real-time monitoring, model germs which provide a preventive method... Explore solutions in this article.


NEMIS Technologies

NEMIS Technologies, a young Swiss company founded in 2018 by Biosynth Carbosynth Ltd and Arnaud Muller, is on a mission to revolutionise microbiological detection in the fields of food safety, clinical diagnostics, water safety and animal health. NEMIS Technologies is developing detection kits for pathogenic bacteria for surface control: the first kits were launched in 2021 in Switzerland and Europe.



Founded in 2012 by Karim-Franck Khinouche in the Côte d'Or, Novolyze supports the agri-food industry in its efforts to modernise food quality and safety. The company seeks to implement an innovative approach to creating value, with impacts on risk reduction, compliance, industrial performance and sustainability of production systems. Novolyze combines expertise in food safety, digital transformation and other technological solutions, serving an enthusiastic community of agri-food professionals across 5 continents.


Detection kits to be used on site

A method to increase autonomy

NEMIS Technologies' innovation allows users to significantly minimise their risk with a detection method that does not require specific expertise or any laboratory infrastructure.


'Existing conventional methods have not been adapted to the complexity and rapid evolution of food processing operations. They are still inadequate in terms of speed, ease of use and cost,' explains representatives of NEMIS Technologies. To enable early detection and provide meaningful data for early action, NEMIS Technologies has developed a screening tool to be used directly on the industrial site, which is both fast (results within 24 hours) and easy to use (readings take 10 seconds).


Patented technology to detect pathogenic bacteria

The kits proposed by NEMIS Technologies allow environmental controls to be carried out in-house and in a very simple way. These controls are carried out in several stages: swabbing, transfer into a sealed test tube, incubation in a very small machine, activation and then measurement.


'Our innovation lies in the patented AquaSpark™ technology, which allows light to be emitted at the time of measurement: highly sensitive chemiluminescent molecules trigger a light reaction specifically in the presence of live Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The robustness of this test is further reinforced by the NEMIS enrichment broth containing phages, i.e. viruses that kill bacteria but are harmless or even beneficial to humans. Our unique phage mixture reduces the noise when looking at food bacteria and ensures the detection of Listeria monocytogenes in all environments, even complex ones,' explains the company.


In December 2020, this diagnostic test for Listeria monocytogenes officially received the AOAC Performance Tested Method certification from the AOAC Research Institute in the United States, a recognised certification organisation in food safety.


Assessment of cleaning effectiveness: surrogate microorganisms and other indicators at your disposal

Assessing the effectiveness of cleaning is an essential step in preventing the risk of environmental contamination. This process involves proving that the cleaning protocol is capable of consistently and reproducibly eliminating the risks of contamination, including pathogens, allergens or even flora that could alter the quality of food products. The company Novolyze, based in Côte d'Or, in north-eastern France, offers two innovative solutions to improve risk control by assessing cleaning and disinfection in real conditions.

Pathogen risk prevention: quantifying risk control using surrogate microorganisms

Surrogate microorganisms are harmless bacteria that mimic the behaviour of food pathogens such as Salmonella or Listeria. Since the use of pathogens in an industrial environment is prohibited, these microorganisms make it possible to simulate contamination in real conditions and validate the performance of cleaning and disinfection protocols. The use of surrogate microorganisms is recognised by the Codex Alimentarius as a 'method of validation of control measures'. Their use is increasingly common because it provides extremely solid evidence of the effectiveness of protocols and processes, directly under real-life conditions.


The approach is compatible with many types of cleaning, including open cleaning, clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-breaks. The surrogate microorganism is first applied to the surfaces prior to cleaning, usually at high concentrations to quantify the bacterial removal capacity. Localised inoculations are then performed, or the food product itself is occasionally used as a 'carrier' to simulate a more general contamination of the environment. Taking bacterial samples (surface, water, etc.) during the cleaning process allows us to quantify its effectiveness as a whole and the effectiveness of each step of the protocol.


Novolyze has developed significant expertise in the characterisation of surrogate microorganisms, as well as in their production and their use in industrial settings. In particular, the company markets ready-to-use surrogate microorganism solutions that have won numerous awards, including those from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP, 2017). Learn more about this example in this article.

Environmental risk mapping: fluorescence as a visualisation tool

Novolyze also offers solutions using fluorescence markers. The use of fluorescence markers in industrial environments allows for a better understanding of the distribution of risks in the environment, such as:

  • In identifying areas of accumulation that may result in the appearance of bacterial niches
  • In highlighting physical phenomena such as runoff during cleaning, which can lead to recontamination of the line
  • In viewing/mapping the risks of cross-contamination in an industrial environment
  • In optimizing cleaning steps or parameters with a view to applying the 'right dose' necessary to guarantee safety

Novolyze explains: 'Unlike surrogate microorganisms, fluorescence markers do not allow us to quantify the effectiveness of cleaning. They are nevertheless a valuable tool and are becoming increasingly used, not only as a preventive measure, but also in the identification of root causes in case of problems or prevalence'.

Keeping control of trend analyses through digital technology

Trend analyses: essential, but complicated in practice

In terms of quality monitoring and environmental control, it is essential for agri-food manufacturers to have an environmental monitoring plan and keep records of the various results obtained. When results are unsatisfactory, corrective actions must be taken quickly. Performing a periodic trend analysis of all these results then allows for a preventive rather than a corrective approach.


However, performing this trend analysis depends on several criteria: standardization of swabs, computerized data management (especially when the volume of tests increases), aggregation of data from several tools, etc. According to a survey conducted by Novolyze in 2020 amongst quality managers in the agri-food industry, more than 70% stated that they used Excel to monitor and trace environmental control plans.


'Environmental monitoring plans are often composed of very repetitive tasks, mostly performed manually, and are sometimes prone to errors,' adds Novolyze. 'For companies, we often see a bottleneck in which regulations and customer requirements result in an increasing volume of testing... but with resources that remain limited.' »


A solution through digitalisation

In 2021, Novolyze launched its new solution for the digitalisation of environmental monitoring. 'Thanks to digital technology, this solution automates all of the company's environmental monitoring plans, from the definition of sampling plans to the trend analysis stages. Digitalisation also allows us to automate a large part of the reporting tasks and to limit the duplication of information, so that quality managers can concentrate on higher value-added tasks, such as identifying the origin of problems, corrective and preventive actions, continuous improvement, etc.,' explains Novolyze.


They go on to explain: 'This is a cloud-based platform: the plant layout is digitised, because the objective is to be able to dynamically visualise how contamination evolves in an industrial environment, thanks to the samples associated with the sampling points at different locations in the plant. It also coordinates the organisation of control plans and their implementation. The system then allows for the direct management of any results and the creation of performance indicators, enabling this data to be formatted in dashboards to simplify reporting and trend analyses.

Significant gains for companies

Novolyze wanted to evaluate the time and cost savings of using this digital platform. In terms of staff efficiency, the Novolyze team estimates that reducing repetitive tasks can save up to 8 hours per week per plant. However, the greatest gains are likely to be made in terms of efficiency and productivity, particularly through the reduction of unplanned production downtime due to environmental problems. This approach also results in a reduction of the risks of destruction of potentially non-conforming products, and thus of associated waste. To learn more about the benefits of digitizing environmental monitoring plans, a white paper is available free of charge on the Novolyze website here.

Go further

While these solutions offer ways to increase autonomy, it is also necessary at times to call upon microbiological analysis laboratories, such as Nexidia for example, which offer customised studies at the molecular level. To learn more about our members' expertise in microbiological analysis and environmental monitoring, or to be put in touch with them, contact me by e-mail: tom.vaudoux@vitagora.com.  

Other reading:

Microbiological expertise: preventing and controlling spoilage bacteria


Pathogens, Food safety, Environment, Microrganisms, Microbiology, Analyses, Testing


Find out more

Tom VaudouxIf you would like to know more from experts in microbiological analyses and environment testing among our members, or to be connected with these experts, contact me: tom.vaudoux@vitagora.com.  


With a Masters degree in food technology, Tom quickly became interested in food safety and quality. Having worked in research and development then food safety for a food manufacturing group, Tom's double expertise allows him a wide-ranging view of practical food safety issues and innovation. Tom uses his knpwedge and experience to advise and guide Vitagora's members in various matters relating to his area of expertise.



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