Gary Acuff on process validation

Gary Acuff is the antithesis of Hunter S. Thompson.

acuff2007Champan and I call him the nicest guy in food safety, but who knows — everyone in those U.S. college towns acts like they came from an audition for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, or Blue Velvet.

My friend Gary, a Texas A&M professor of food microbiology, got a nice write-up in MeatingPlace about the importance of validation.

His research has focused on improving the microbiological quality and safety of red meat in all areas of production and utilization. Most recent activities have centered on the effective use of surrogate bacteria for validating process controls in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems.

Meatingplace sat down with Acuff after he addressed this year’s Food Safety Summit in Rosemont, Ill.

Meatingplace: What are some of the biggest challenges these processors face in validating their food safety processes?

ACUFF: Maybe the biggest challenge is getting their arms around it because they are convinced that their process works or they wouldn’t be doing it. A typical response is to show negative product samples, but that doesn’t prove your process is working; it just proves that you had a lot of negative samples. Validation is taking a deeper step to actually find the data or generate the data to prove that their process does exactly what they say it is doing. And that’s been difficult for people to start thinking about how to do that.

The next hardest concept becomes not having enough pathogen on their product to show a three-log kill. The answer is, we know you don’t have three logs on there, but we want to know what your process would do if you did have three logs because some day three logs may show up.

Meatingplace: What is the appropriate use of the scientific literature in terms of the validation process?

ACUFF: The scientific literature should be where you start. That’s what you pull out and say, “It looks like we can do something like this and add some control to our process.” I’m not sure that you can take it much further than that.

Meatingplace: When are microbiological studies from laboratories useful and when are they dangerous?

ACUFF: It’s another step. You have the scientific literature. Now you want to try and apply that to your process. If you take that scientific literature and go straight out to the process then you’re going to have a lot of hits and misses before you are successful. But if you do a challenge study in the laboratory you can actually use the pathogen so that gives you even stronger data because you’re looking at the behavior of the pathogen. At the same time, you can run the surrogate organisms parallel to that and use that data to reflect or extrapolate when you use the surrogate in your process.