Being in the industry for more than 35 years – I’ve experienced significant changes in technology and testing; we are getting as close to instantaneous analysis as the bacteria will allow it. But I have always felt very strongly that a test can only be as good as the quality and integrity of the sample being analyzed. The devices we use to collect environmental samples have also evolved and changed.
Environmental sampling devices are critical instruments and are likely more important to the recovery and detection of target pathogens than the various method choices available. Think about it, if all the bacteria collected environmentally die because the device you used had inhibitory substances within it, a contaminant from the manufacturing process, a test cannot/will not detect them. Similarly, if bacteria are killed because the sanitizer neutralization solution on your environmental device IS NOT THE CORRECT ONE for the sanitizer or the concentration your facility uses, how do you expect that to work? There’s more to consider today to ensure you utilize the correct swab or sponge.
An important development in this arena has been the intuitive products manufactured by World Bioproducts, LLC. These environmental sampling devices are made of polyurethane, a man-made material, the same stuff used in surgical sponges. If you haven’t tried these sponges and swabs yet, YOU SHOULD! The material has a number of advantages over cellulose sponges made from wood pulp. The polyurethane sponges are not treated with bleach in the manufacturing process. As you know, bleach and bacteria do not get along. When the objective is to keep bacteria alive, not kill them, this would be important. Polyurethane sponges are quite resilient, they do not fray and come apart when put in contact with rough surfaces like concrete and sharp metal. The World Bioproducts sponges have a number of different neutralizing solution choices to be more compatible with your specific sanitizers. See their website at http://www.worldbioproducts.net/ or ask me for the research we’ve done with them.
World Bioproducts most recent product offering is a good one for those companies that want to collect two samples at the same time (for some reason). It might be to collect samples for different pathogens or maybe one for a pathogen and one for indicator organisms. How about if there was a reason to send the same test to two different facilities, such as a verification study or a method or laboratory competency check? Until now, you had to either collect two samples individually, or divide the single sample in half by cutting (A BAD PRACTICE). Of course, this technique works OK when you are confident that your target organisms are equally distributed and the practice of cutting that sponge, or God forbid a tiny swab in half, does not diminish the integrity of the sample (sarcasm). Splitting a sample into two is never a good practice. World Bioproducts has manufactured an "Easy-Reach Split-Sampler", a device where two sponges are connected with two handles for the easy collection of TWO samples. The sponges then come apart easily, but not TOO easily, which allows the sampler to then place each into a sample bag and analyze as necessary.
With FSMA requirements here for some and coming for others, the landscape of food safety will continue to change for many companies. Environmental sampling is an important component of FSMA but more importantly, food safety. Collection devices are very important as they are a critical component in environmental testing. Make sure you are using the best, most appropriate device available.