Producing meat products that are free from pathogens requires commitment and expertise. In turn, there are many standards that govern the types and frequency of sampling and testing that companies are required to perform within their facilities and on their products. On the one hand, if a company produces raw trim intended for further processing, it must be sampled and tested for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 or Non-O157 STECs. If, on the other hand, a company produces ready-to-eat meat products, it may be required (under certain circumstances) to periodically test the food processing environment or finished products for the presence of listeria.

In most cases, if the company is closely following its (hopefully robust) food safety procedures, the tests which are performed on the company’s products or in its environment will fail to detect the presence of any pathogens. But, what if the company is doing everything right from a food safety standpoint, but the sampling itself is somehow flawed and the results compromised?

A simple misstep in sampling could have catastrophic effects.

Indeed, one single mistake in the sampling process by an employee who isn’t properly trained, or who might be in a hurry, could cause a finished product or food contact surface to falsely test positive for a pathogen, such as listeria. If any product processed on the affected equipment was not held pending the receipt of the final testing results, the company could quickly find itself in a recall situation.

So, don’t let senseless sampling mistakes sabotage your product, your company and your brand.

Take some time today to make certain that the employees within your company who are conducting your microbiological sampling are distinctly aware of the importance of their jobs. Make certain that they are properly trained. Make sure that they understand the importance of ascetic sampling techniques, that they take their time, that they wear gloves, that they prepare their test kits appropriately, and that they are not cross contaminating and thus compromising their swabs or sampling surfaces with dirty gloves or clothing.

In addition, make sure your employees are always swabbing zone one surfaces before (and not after) other zones. Finally, make certain that if you are testing product, you always hold the product pending receipt of the final test results. The same is true for food processing equipment. If you process food products on equipment that has been sampled without any subsequent preoperational sanitation, make sure you are holding those products pending the receipt of final test results as well.

In the end, one simple mistake by a single employee could cause a false positive that triggers regulatory action. Make sure that your employees understand the consequences of any mistake. If you take the time to properly train your sampler, he or she will more likely serve as your savior … and not your saboteur.