Analysis Request – Environmental and swabs

Environmental sampling and swabbing are useful tools for various industries, particularly food and beverage industries, in which products have a direct impact on consumer health and safety. This is either achieved through the use of sponge swabs for the isolation of pathogens that may be responsible for foodborne illness outbreaks, or through the use of swab sticks and contact plates to identify various quality parameters used to verify cleaning and sanitation procedures implemented, including hands.


There are two types of microbiological tests undertaken, being either quantitative in which quality parameters are investigated, and qualitative which are more common for human pathogens.  For isolation of pathogens qualitative tests are used in which the presence of Listeria spp., E. coli 0157, Campylobacter, and Salmonella spp. are investigated. When performing cleaning and sanitation verification quantitative methods are required with Total Aerobic Count, Total Coliforms, Enterobacteriaceae, and E. coli being the most frequently tested microbial parameters. Contact plates, generally to identify and quantify Yeast and Mould and Total Aerobic Counts, can also be performed for cleaning and sanitation verification.


By implementing a well-designed environmental sampling program food and beverage handling companies can monitor food spoilage microorganisms, as well as, pathogens responsible for outbreaks. This would enable companies to act in a timeously manner should it be necessary. Where testing the efficiency of cleaning and sanitation procedures is performed results can be trend analysed ensuring problem areas are dealt with effectively.

How often?

Environmental sampling and swabbing of food and pharmaceutical industries should meet HACCP prerequisites. Dependent on the Environmental Monitoring Program followed, direct and indirect product contact surfaces (conveyor belts, worktables, employee hands) are considered high risk contamination zones and are generally tested daily in-house. These results should be verified by an external laboratory at least quarterly. Product non-contact zones (exterior equipment, chill units, equipment housing) which are considered a lower contamination risk zone should undergo pathogen testing weekly.


Environmental sampling and swabbing should be taken from production sites after sanitation. When performing this sampling it is important to include non-food contact surfaces, such as conveyor belts, rollers, walls and drains, along with food/beverage contact surfaces.


As environmental hygiene is an essential part of all production processes, any industry involved in the food or beverage production process inspected by regulatory bodies and auditors should implement and follow an Environmental Monitoring Program.