Consumer demand for ready-to-bake products — and bad habits like eating raw cookie dough — call for higher microbial safety. As a rule, controlling hazards requires a value chain approach.
For instance, preventing mycotoxins starts with good agricultural practices, said Béatrice Condé-Petit, group expert and food safety officer at Bühler AG. Mycotoxins cannot be destroyed by baking, but mechanical cleaning and optical sorting of wheat contribute to significant mycotoxin reduction. Likewise, microbial safety requires protection of wheat from pests and hygienic handling to reduce the risk of bacteria introduction. Keeping wheat dry during storage and transport is the most effective method of preventing bacteria growth. Furthermore, sanitary designed milling equipment is key to preventing the risk of contamination. Finally, heat treatment allows the reduction of bacteria by inactivation for ready-to-eat food applications. Ms. Condé-Petit suggested a need for efficient and cost-effective bacteria inactivation that might be achieved with non-thermal technologies.
“Flour safety is currently being redefined by the food industry,” she said. “In the past, the focus was on controlling foreign material, mycotoxins and pests. Today, microbial safety of flour is a top concern due to recent outbreaks caused by bacteria like E. coli.”
As professional societies of flour millers, the International Association of Operative Millers (I.A.O.M.) and the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) also have prominent roles to play regarding flour safety through their committees, educational programs and publications.
Melinda Farris, executive vice-president of the I.A.O.M., said one of the association’s standing committees, the Food Protection Committee, meets three times a year and includes food safety experts from milling facilities across the United States.
“Their task is to share, monitor and advise on food safety and integrated pest management research activities of government agencies, and public and private institutions, as well as food defense, fraud and quality,” Ms. Farris said. “Using this strategy, I.A.O.M. promotes industry efforts and best practices for food safety directly to the industry.”
The I.A.O.M. Food Protection Committee, composed of representatives from 13 mills and food production facilities, AIB International, Kansas State University, NAMA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is committed to collecting and evaluating information regarding food safety, food defense and fraud, food quality and integrated pest management. This network of sharing and reviewing information between facilities and companies promotes industry efforts and best practices for food protection, Ms. Farris said. Through its committee, the I.A.O.M. communicates sanitary design best practices to suppliers of equipment, products and services.
Likewise, in “North American Millers’ Association Statement on E. coli in Wheat Flour,” Chris Clark, vice-president, NAMA, emphasized that food safety is a core value for the milling industry and the entire wheat sector, including growers, processors, manufacturers, grocery retailers and restaurants.
“Because the milling industry cares deeply about the safety of its products and the consumers who use them, NAMA recently launched a campaign to educate industry officials, food safety experts and consumers on proper food safety and handling instructions for flour, dough and batter,” Mr. Clark said.
To kick-off the campaign, NAMA distributed a simple and easy-to-use educational video in September 2017 on proper handling and baking instructions for flour, dough and batter.
Internationally, the world wheat flour trade reaches about 17 million tonnes a year. Different farming practices, raw material sources, transportation conditions and varying milling practices require more attention to continue to ensure a safe flour supply.