Silent assassins

J'can firm in partnership with French company to test for spoilage organisms roaming undetected in juices, beverages and wines

By Durrant Pate
Observer writer

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

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Jamaica's juice, beverage and wine industry is being threatened by what are regarded as two silent assassins, which while not harmful to health, cause severe damage to brands.

The so-called assassins Alicyclobacillus, also called ACB, and Dekkera are spoilage organisms that contaminate products and production lines. They have gone mostly undetected in Jamaica because the island doesn't have the technology to test for them.

They have also found themselves in exports but are not picked up by overseas regulators, like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which do not test for them because they are not seen as health hazards. ACB is a spore-forming bacteria that is able to grow in acidic conditions, while the spores are able to survive typical pasteurisation procedures.

Dekkera, on the other hand, is a non-spore-forming genus known for two important characteristics. First, it is considered to be one of the main spoilage organisms in the wine and bioethanol industry and, second, it is 'indispensable' as a contributor to the flavour profile of Belgium lambic and gueuze beers.

The danger to the juice, beverage and wine industry by ACB and Dekkera were articulated by food scientist and co-founder of Invisible Sentinel Benjamin Pascal, who held a forum last Friday, titled 'Threats to Your Beverage Products, Profits and Your Brands from the Silent Assassin'.

Pascal who was flown to Jamaica by Technology Solutions Limited (TSL), Jamaica's premier food science and testing facility, in partnership with Jampro, to speak with local manufacturers of juices, beverages and wine products cautioned that Jamaican brands are susceptible to these two spoilage organisms and urged that manufacturing companies test for these contaminants to protect their brands.

“These are silent killers of your brands, they destroy the ability to grow your brand… they are not a food safety concern but pose serious brand and economic risks to companies,” Pascal said, arguing that it is mostly small manufacturing businesses that are affected.

He explained that small entities do not have a robust and comprehensive testing programme to detect these contaminants. Pointing out that the danger for companies from these two silent assassins includes spoilage, higher production costs and brand damage, Pascal encouraged them to get their products tested early, particularly raw materials, where the contaminants are generally birthed.

Managing director of TSL Dr Andre Gordon, who spoke with the Jamaica Observer, noted that ACB and Dekkera have wreaked havoc on several international branded products. He pointed out that there was at least one recorded case of ACB contamination in Jamaica involving a popular juice produced by one of Jamaica's top companies.

Dr Gordon explained that following complaints in the overseas market about a shipment of the product, the company in question called in TSL, which sent samples overseas for testing and the results came back positive for ACB contamination. In that case, Dr Gordon emphasised that the company acted quickly to protect its brand.

He announced that TSL has partnered with BioMérieux out of France, which last year acquired Invisible Sentinel for US$75 million, to bring Invisible Sentinel's cutting-edge technology to test for ACB, Dekkera and other food contaminants. The Veriflow technology is a patented DNA signature capturing technology that draws from core competencies in molecular diagnostics, antibody design and immunoassays.

“This technology has helped firms in the food industry to detect potential problems by providing rapid detection of pathogens and spoilage organisms in food and beverages,” Dr Gordon explained.

He said that with this technology, test results that would take up to five days can now be had within a day.

When questioned about cost for utilising this new technology, Dr Gordon said it would be the same as that for the traditional testing method.

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