Mike Robach, Cargill
Mike Robach, vice-president of food safety, quality and regulatory affairs for Cargill, told the Dairy Forum audience how the company is using emerging technologies.

PALM DESERT, CALIF. — The rapid pace of advancements in food safety technologies are going to add to the pressures food and beverage manufacturers are currently under, said Mike Robach, vice-president of food safety, quality and regulatory affairs for Cargill, Minneapolis. Mr. Robach spoke Jan. 22 during an education session at the Dairy Forum, which is hosted by the International Dairy Foods Association and taking place this week in Palm Desert.

While such emerging technologies as whole genome sequencing, blockchain and data analytics may present challenges, they also may create opportunities, he said.

“At Cargill we operate 1,500 food production plants in over 70 countries,” Mr. Robach said. “Our supply chain is really a network. And on top of it we have the increased complexity of governments and regulatory oversight, transparency and consumer trust.”

It is within that framework that Cargill is working with the emerging new technologies. Because of the specificity of whole genome sequencing, for example, regulators can link outbreaks to specific products more rapidly.

“Disease detection is becoming much more sophisticated,” Mr. Robach said. “I can tell you from personal experience that two illnesses can be considered a cluster and trigger a recall.

“New pathogens are emerging, and those never associated with certain commodities are now being linked. What about E. coli and dairy? It won’t grow in a freezer, but it will survive. What about wheat flour? Who would have thought?”

Wheat flour
Two flour outbreaks have occurred in recent years in the United States and Canada. 

The opportunity for Cargill is how the company is using whole genome sequencing to its benefit.

“It (whole genome sequencing) allows us to trace the ecology of microorganisms from the farm through processing,” he said. “We do carcass mapping in our meat plants; we are doing mapping of our flour operations. It is extremely valuable information to have to understand your critical control points.”

The challenge is regulators think it is a great technology as well. Mr. Robach said what needs to be understood is identification of a pathogen in a plant does not imply a link to a food safety incidence.

“They still have to have the epidemiology,” he said. “They have to have the link between the patient and the food.

“What we are finding with whole genome sequencing is some of these unique organisms aren’t really unique. Now, when they (regulators) have gotten a look at the longer sequences they are finding organisms they thought were different are actually the same.”