Can DNA Sequencing and Big Data Eliminate Food Recalls?

  • 1 July 2016
  • Disruptor Daily

As of late, heavy hitters in the food industry have been touched by the grim and tainted finger of food recalls. The most highly publicized incidents involved Kraft, Blue Bell, and Nestle – all brands that you’ll find in your office vending machine. As a matter of fact, there were 626 food recalls in the U.S. in 2015. Yikes.

Insufficient Food Testing

So, what’s the deal? With all of the precautions (we hope), the food industry takes, how can it still not be enough to keep the food in our grocery stores from making us sick? The fact of the matter is that food testing is spotty. Many products are not diligently examined. Meat and dairy, as they’re most likely to exhibit bacteria contamination issues, are more readily monitored. The rest of the food industry has issues diligently testing every batch that leaves their factories simply because it’s cost prohibitive. Not every lot of consumables is tested so there could be hundreds of products hitting the market without a second look.

Recognizing the need for change, the food industry has begun to look toward technology for the answers. By implementing technology, food companies would be able to cut down on costly recalls and ensure that they’re taking every precaution to deliver food safely to the public.

Food Test Sequencing

Enter next-generation sequencing or DNA Sequencing. Having the capabilities to look at our food down to the molecular level, NGS can search the genome for multiple contaminating elements at once. This is a big change from testing of today which is purely prescriptive, only able to look for specific contaminants. Basically, if a factory wants to perform spot checks on their product they can only test for specific contaminants that must be determined before testing begins (salmonella, campylobacter enteritis, E.coli, etc). NGS can actually ‘scan’ food items and pickup irregularities of any kind without being told what to look for.

One huge plus of this new technology is that it eliminates the high cost of traditional food testing. Without the burden of having to pony up for expensive preemptive testing, the food industry would be able to more diligently and broadly monitor the food we’re consuming on a daily basis. With the additional cost containment measures, companies would have the choice to reinvest those funds into other areas of their business making NGS not only healthy for humans but also healthy for business.

Efficiency Improved

Implementing DNA Sequencing technology would make a good deal of difference to the food industry itself. Being able to test every food sample that made its way down their conveyor belt, rather than the craps shooting methods of the past, organizations would be able to stop food recalls in their tracks, not only saving you a few days of insufferable illness, but also keeping the companies out of hot water financially and publicly.

While the technology is not yet fully baked (pun intended) they’re incredibly close to being ready for mass deployment. And, with the ever-growing pool of technological advancements, NGA could only be the beginning of the food industry’s quality control measure.

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