How to Deal with Microbiological Issues in Plant-Based Food
Hear from Bio-Rad and TEQ Analytical Labs on managing microbiological safety challenges in plant-based meat alternatives.
Over the last decade, plant-based food alternatives have experienced tremendous growth and continue to disrupt the food industry with the promise of improved health and wellness, better sustainability, and a reduced carbon footprint. Manufacturers drive innovation in the plant-based meat category with their vegan burger patties that mimic the taste, appearance, sensory, and nutritional elements of animal meat. As the popularity of these alternative meat options continues to rise, concerns around the safety and microbiological risks of these products are beginning to increase among consumers and food manufacturers.
“With a long list of highly-processed ingredients and complex manufacturing processes, plant-based meat products introduce a new set of safety and quality risks to consider that are not required in animal-based meat products.”
Many of the safety concerns related to these products are due to the relative novelty and unfamiliarity of the ingredients, as well as the current grey area from regulatory food agencies regarding which food category plant-based meats should be assigned. Technically, they are not meat products since none of the components are derived from animals, hence they are not subject to the same microbiological testing requirements as beef, poultry, and pork products. However, they are not truly fresh produce or ready-to-eat products either, since they consist of a mix of different processed plant-derived materials and consumers are instructed to cook the plant-based meats as they would animal-based meats prior to consumption.
From a chemical point of view, animal-based and plant-based meats share similar moisture, protein, and fat content, as well as similar neutral pH levels, which provides a suitable growing environment for bacteria, both pathogenic organisms (such as Salmonella) and spoilage organisms (such as yeasts and molds). Due to the addition of grain-based ingredients, soy and pea proteins, and food starches, plant-based meats introduce new pathogen and quality risks such as Bacillus cereus and lactic acid bacteria, which are not commonly a concern in animal-based meats.
In response to the need for reliable testing methods that address these new microbiological risks in plant-based meat testing, Bio-Rad is in progress to obtain AOAC PTM approval for the iQ-Check™ Salmonella II Real-Time PCR Method for plant-based meat product matrices.
Conversations with TEQ Analytical Labs and Bio-Rad
Alexandra Tudor* and Mike Clark explain how the validation study was conducted; the key technical and regulatory differences between animal-based vs. plant-based meats; and how Bio-Rad can support manufacturers to navigate the emerging food safety challenges in these new products.
You recently worked with Bio-Rad to complete the AOAC validation study for Salmonella in plant-based meat products. What was your role and your key responsibilities in the study?
What were some of the technical challenges that you faced when analysing plant-based meat products?
Do you think plant-based meat product testing should be subject to the same regulatory requirements as animal meat products? If so, why?
What are your thoughts on the future of plant-based meat product testing?
What food matrix category does plant-based meat products fall under?
Are there any new emerging microbiological risks or safety concerns for plant-based meats that are not common in animal meats?
How can plant-based meat producers ensure the microbiological safety of their products for consumers?
How can Bio-Rad help support plant-based meat producers to address these new emerging microbiological challenges?
- While plant-based meat will remain a permanent alternative protein option in restaurant menus and grocery stores, the need for standardised and validated testing methods is essential to monitor and ensure the microbiological safety of these products for consumers.
- Although food safety regulations and testing requirements for these products will inevitably evolve due to their unique and innovative design, food diagnostic experts like Bio-Rad continue to support and provide guidance for manufacturers to address these new changes.
Detection of Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella spp. in plant-based foods.