Roy Betts, Ph.D.1
A Paradigm Shift in Food Safety Approach
The United States (US) is undergoing the most significant change in food safety legislation in 70 years with far reaching implications for the approach food manufacturers take to microbiological food safety, both within and outside of the US.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has been hailed as the most significant change in food safety legislation in the US since the passing of the original Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938. Its aim is to strengthen the food safety system with new enforcement powers focusing attention on preventing food safety problems, rather than reacting to problems as they occur. Foods imported into the US will also need to be produced to the same standards – making understanding these new requirements key to food producers globally.
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Dr Roy Betts is Head of Microbiology at CampdenBRI, an independent membership organization which provides scientific, technical and advisory services to the food and drink industry.
He studied for a degree in Biological Sciences at the Polytechnic of Wolverhampton (now the University of Wolverhampton), and completed a PhD in Bacterial Biochemistry at The University of Sheffield.
After three years studying the detailed enzymology of a bacterium that could grow on single carbon compounds as its sole carbon source, he felt a move away from the more fundamental academic research of university life was called for. Looking around at a range of career and job paths, he noted a position as a researcher at what was then Campden Food Preservation Research Association (now CampdenBRI). The chance to work in a very applied microbiological field where, on occasion, you could see the results of your work on a supermarket shelf, was exciting.
I initially worked in cleaning and disinfection research, quickly moving to study microbiological test methods. I worked in method development for many years building up a well respected research team. Soon I had the opportunity to take up the position of Head of Department. This is a challenging but enjoyable role managing six different groups containing a total of 45 staff.
The Microbiology Department is involved in operational research, contract testing, industry troubleshooting, laboratory auditing and training activities, and covers all types of food product. The food industry and food products themselves are continually changing. We now see products in supermarkets that have come from counties around the globe; people demand novel and “fresh” products with a long life but, of course, food safety is paramount. Consumers should, and do, expect safe foods that remain fresh for acceptable periods of time. This is where the work of CampdenBRI comes in. CampdenBRI provides the practical application of technical excellence to food, drink and associated organizations. We are an independent membership based organization with 2400 member companies in 75 countries worldwide. The industry members use CampdenBRI in various ways: we may be their technical resource, their laboratory, their pilot manufacturing plant, their source of expert information or their training venue. That is what makes any job at CampdenBRI fairly unique—the variety.
The Head of Microbiology role is highly varied. During a single week, I may find myself inputting to detailed research results and publications; visiting a food manufacturing factory advising on microbiology or hygiene problems and planning effective microbial elimination strategies; lecturing on training courses, or sitting on various industry, government or international committees on food microbiology. It’s a challenging but enjoyable position that I’ve now been doing for around 17 years.
There is always change in the food industry, new foods, new processing technologies, new hazards and new legislation. The FSMA is a good example of new legislation that will have a big impact on the way food is manufactured both within the USA and outside for import into the USA: a challenge yes, but one that should help control and reduce microbiological risk.