DA: One of the fundamental rules of food safety is: if you take a sample, and you're going to test it, and if the results when it comes back would indicate you've got a problem, you don't want to let the product go. We're waiting for the results. So you get into what's called “test and hold.” If you can do it in a shift versus three days, that's fantastic. The three critical elements for success are speed, combined with accuracy, because you've got to have a result you can trust and you can take action on; and then the third component is cost. Get that cocktail right, and you're on a winning streak.
Multiplexed testing, or the ability to test for more than one pathogen such as E. Coli and Salmonella, isn’t a new concept for food safety.
But Dr. David Acheson, the former Associate Commissioner for Foods at the Food and Drug Administration and former Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, says PathogenDx’s new testing technology appears to be ahead of the curve in accuracy.
That tech and the enthusiasm of Milan Patel, PathogenDx’s co-founder and CEO, and the rest of the Arizona-based company’s leadership team was enough to entice Acheson to join as a strategic advisor and chair its new Food Safety Committee.
“I chatted with them, and they're really trying to make a difference and do something,” said Acheson, a regular QA columnist. “They seem to have some technology that I think is going to be helpful. You put all that together, and it's like, OK, let's give it a shot.”
Acheson fills us in on this new move, what he hopes to accomplish and the role of testing in food safety.
Quality Assurance: You’re already on a number of boards and committees. Why did you join PathogenDx?
David Acheson: [There are] multiple levels to it. It helps me to learn about, in this context, the latest technologies. And it helps me stay current on what’s cutting edge in whatever it is you’re doing. This particular company is a technology provider. They're providing tools to help safeguard food safety. They don't make food. They don't sell food. From that perspective, it's a great opportunity to learn about the technology and stay current to share experiences.
QA: You’re actually going to be putting together this committee. How will you manage that?
DA: [PathogenDx] does other things. They just realized their platform has got some opportunities in the food space. They've asked me to put together a committee that's going to help advise them in the food safety industry. They've got a product. They need to understand the food industry. The skill set I have can be complemented by others who've got more in-depth experience in different sectors in the food industry, whether it's manufacturing or produce or retail. That will flesh out as they, with some input from me, figure out what are the obvious targets to go after.
QA: How can you help identify some of those targets?
DA: Really where that gets to is understanding where the pain is in the food industry. The food industry is kind of technology averse, I would say. They don't embrace new technology. You get into food safety discussions, and it's, “We've never hurt anybody. We've never killed anybody.” Well, that's not a reason not to update your programs. Salmonella in whatever it is you're selling isn't really a good thing. … It’s nice to be able to say, “Well, we were doing the best we could,” and make that a true statement. That's where these sorts of technologies fit in.
QA: What’s the role of testing in food safety?
DA: There are some who believe that we should do one heck of a lot more testing. “Shouldn't we just do more testing on food, and then we’ll find the problems?” And if you say it quickly, it makes all sorts of sense. When you look at the statistical probabilities and the frequency with which food is contaminated, and you realize that the amount of testing you'd have to do to make a difference is just enormous, it's like, well, that's not the answer. Part of the philosophy behind the product that PathogenDx is working on is, how do you get more bang for the buck? So, you start to look at these challenges in the food industry and whether PathogenDx can bring multiplexing, i.e., look for lots of things at the same time.
QA: And the touted speed of results within six hours helps too, right?