CALIBRATION IN THE FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY

INTRODUCTION

Calibration of instruments for a process manufacturer should be commonplace. The instruments used daily are relied upon to give up-to-date and accurate information. Calibrating instruments – typically every six months – ensures that the data stays exact. Especially in the food and beverage industry where safety to the consumer is crucial, having a regular calibration schedule guarantees that instruments such as thermometers, pH meters and scales are working properly.

Calibrating instruments allows the user to know whether their instrument is accurately working or not, and then fix the problem when it arises. Some instruments can be self-calibrated rather quickly or remain accurate for a long time, but governmental regulatory bodies often require knowing when the last calibration was and where the inaccuracies lies. Calibrating the instrument with an accredited lab will ensure that the instrument is holding up to the regulatory standards.

Food and beverage manufacturing is a highly regulated industry, and for good reason. The World Health Organization reports 420,000 people die each year due to contaminated food. Another 600 million people fall ill every year due to contamination. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration created the 1999 Food Code to ensure manufacturers and distributers are meeting industry standards.

A portion of the 1999 Food Code is dedicated to properly calibrating food safety instruments. This code covers everything from the standard calibration ranges for each instrument, as well as proper recording measures that should be taken with each instrument.

The Food and Drug Administration requires food safety instruments to be recorded for every calibration cycle. Each piece should be separately identified in calibration records with serial numbers or agency equipment numbers. They expect that each item be calibrated up to the manufacturer’s recommendation, which is at least every six months but usually more often.

The standards of food safety instruments defined by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as other regulatory bodies are typically stricter than those defined by the manufacturer. Although some of these instruments allow for “self-calibration”, this leaves a greater margin of error. Sending away the instruments to an accredited lab with knowledge of regulated fields ensures that you’re not even making the smallest mistake that could lead to a food borne illness disaster.Although the above regulations are considered mandatory by the Food and Drug Administration, there are some regulations that are considered voluntary, but will keep your instruments performing at the top of the line.

An ISO accreditation audits a calibration lab to ensure that they are following industry standards. IS0/IEC 17025 specifies the general requirements for carrying out tests and calibration. This accreditation covers testing and calibration performed using standard methods, non-standard methods and laboratory developed methods for all organizations including first-, second-, and third- party laboratories.

Using a third-party calibration lab with this ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation further ensures proper calibration of instruments and protection from an illness forming in the food and beverage manufacturing process.Certain instruments in food safety are crucial to calibrate. Without the proper calibration of these instruments, consumers can be put in serious danger. These common food safety instruments highlight which instruments should be calibrated and to what range, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration.Using a magnet or metal detector in the food and beverage industry is of the utmost importance. As horrifying as it sounds, consumers have found metal shards or objects in their food, or else the Food and Drug Administration wouldn’t have a dedicated regulation for it.  If a consumer unknowingly comes across a metal shard while eating they face the danger of dental damage, laceration of the mouth or throat or laceration or perforation of the intestine.

Food can become contaminated with metal shards during several phases of the manufacturing process. Metal-to-metal contact, including mechanical cutting or blending operations are common processes where metal shards may end up in food and beverages. Furthermore, equipment may break or come loose, such as moving wire mesh belts, injection needles, screens and portion control equipment or metal ties, contaminating the food.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates that no metal fragments less than .3 inches or up to 1 inch in length can be found in a food product. If a metal detector is not properly calibrated, they can miss these small fragments of metal in a finished food product. For example, if a metal detector is calibrated to detect a fragment that is .08 inches in diameter, it may fail to detect a wire that is smaller in diameter but up to .9 inches in length.Temperature control may seem like common sense, but there are danger zones reported by the Food Safety and Inspection Service and when not met can lead to serious consequences.

In the food and beverage manufacturing industry, worrying about the temperature a food is cooked at or stored at once it is in the consumer’s hands is beyond your control. However, when it is stored at your facility or undergoing the distribution process, it is crucial to ensure the food is not stored in this danger zone. Food should never be kept within the range of 40 degree Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Calibrating a temperature measuring device ensures that you are not allowing bacteria to grow in your food or beverage product. Bacteria can cause Staphylococcus Aureus, Salmonella, E. Coli or Campylobacter when consumed in a food item that has been stored at unsafe temperatures. Some of these bacteria are more harmful than others, but they can lead to death if untreated.Water activity in food is almost as important as its temperature, however it is not as easily controlled. Bacteria loves moisture and grows best where it can find a source of water. Not only is water activity levels harmful to consumers, but they can be harmful to the food manufacturer as well. The more water activity levels occur in a food product, the more likely mold and yeast will form rendering the food item useless. This will take a toll on production prices.

A typical water activity level for food comes in around .85. If food comes in higher than this, it could be contaminated with fatal disease. Specifically, the Food and Drug Administration highlights Botulism. Botulism is a disease found in canned foods that can cause paralysis and death, if not treated. Botulism growth usually occurs around .93 water activity levels. The Food and Drug Administration has a regulatory water activity level for every different food product.

Since regulatory water activity levels are so highly specified, a slight change in number could be devastating to a food product. Having a calibrated water activity measure ensures that the food item is not contaminated with a deadly disease before sent off for consumption.Just as temperature and water activity levels play a vital role in bacteria growth, so does pH levels. pH levels refer to the acidity or basic level of a food. The more acidic a food is, the less likely a bacteria will survive in the food item. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, zero being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic. Neutrality stands at a pH level of 7.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates that for a food to be safe for consumption, the acidity levels must remain at a pH of 4.6. Depending on the food, these pH levels could be regulated even lower. For example, canned peaches should be at a pH level of 3.9 and ketchup should be at a pH level of 3.6.

If these levels are not maintained, a few diseases can arise. Some foodborne pathogens can exist at levels even lower than 4.6, including Listeria, Salmonella, Staphylococcus and E. Coli. Maintaining your pH measures to ensure that your food items are not at a pH level which could leave an open door to dangerous pathogens is crucial to food safety.One important part of ensuring that your instruments are properly calibrated is keeping a record of when the last time they were serviced. This can easily show when time is up, especially when many items can be thrown off calibration in a short six months.

In the food and beverage manufacturing industry, however, there are often many instruments that need to be calibrated at the same time. Trying to calibrate all of these instruments to the Food and Drug Administration standards leaves a lot of room for error. This is why sending away your instruments to an accredited calibration lab is the best bet to ensuring the safety of food items.Calibrating food safety instruments in the food and beverage manufacturing industry is of the utmost importance when producing items for consumption. Without calibrated instruments, food is bound to be invaded by deathly pathogens, including Salmonella, Norovirus or E. Coli. No one wants that kind of disaster on their hands.

It is a simple fix to ensure that food items being sold will not contain any metal foreign object or bacteria. Following the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations and having your instruments calibrated by an accredited lab can leave a food manufacturer with peace of mind.