#AskLavina - Food & Beverage Trends, and the Difference Between a Spoilage Organism and a Pathogen (May 2024)

By Community Manager posted 20 days ago


In addition to being CFIN’s Regional Innovation Director for BC and Yukon, Lavina Gully is a food scientist and product developer with almost two decades of experience helping food and beverage companies innovate. In this series, Lavina answers questions from CFIN members on everything from product development, R&D, manufacturing best practices, and co-packing – just to name a few! 

If you have questions for Lavina, you can reach out to her directly and we can answer your question in next month’s mailbag. 

This month, Lavina answers your questions about keeping up with food and beverage trends, and the difference between a spoilage organism and a pathogen. 

Q: Trend predictions change so often. What’s the best way to stay on trend without completely changing our product lineup? 

A: When considering food and beverage trends, it’s important to be able to identify trends with staying power over fads with short-lived appeal. While all trends have a lifecycle, there are macro themes which develop more slowly and arc over a longer time period, and which ultimately have mass appeal. For instance, increased consumer interest in health and wellness or convenient snacking are broad macro themes. Within these arcs are trends that follow their own lifecycle, from initial interest by early adopters, to a rise in popularity, followed by mainstream acceptance, and then saturation. So a trend with staying power within the health and wellness theme might be products designed for gut health. 

Lasting trends also tend to reinvent themselves – just look at the continued popularity of low-carb, high protein diets such as Atkins, paleo, or keto. On the other hand, fads tend to hit the market with high consumer interest, but often fade as they have only short-term or limited appeal. Think about the sudden interest in dalgona coffee during COVID-19 lockdowns, or the initial media frenzy around the cronut, which spawned a range of hybrid bakery treats, including today’s more popular flat croissant. So it’s essential to take some time to consider if what you’re considering is a longer-term trend, and where it is on the trend lifecycle, or if you’re looking at a fad.  

Once you’ve identified a trend you’d like to jump on, do your research – evaluate industry reports, consumer surveys, and social media. You will also have to consider whether that trend makes sense for your brand and your customers. Choose trends that naturally align with your brand identity, values, and product offerings to ensure consistency and authenticity in your product lineupdon’t compromise the integrity of your brand for the sake of following trends. Instead, consider innovating within your company niche and incorporate trends into your product line, rather than overhauling your entire portfolio. This could involve introducing new flavours, ingredients, packaging designs, or product formats that resonate with consumer preferences. Think about how any new products will fit with your current lineup, and whether they will be limited offerings or several rotating on-trend products.  

Finally, before fully committing to a new product, consider testing it with a smaller audience, in controlled markets, or through limited releases to gauge customer response. Use that feedback to iterate and refine your offerings, ensuring they meet both trend-driven demands and your brand standards. Above all, stay flexible in your approach, and be willing to adapt as consumer tastes evolve.  


Q: I know that microorganisms can affect the shelf life of products, but I’m also worried about pathogens. What is the difference between a spoilage organism and a pathogen, and how would control measures be similar or different? 

A: I asked Nicole Detlor, Director, and Cynthia Riddle, Food Science Researcher, at Conestoga College Food Research & Innovation Lab, for their input on this question (you can also read Nicole’s interview with CFIN’s Nestor Gomez about shelf life here). 

While noting that they are answering the question from a perspective of product developers rather than microbiologists, here’s what they had to say: 

Pathogens are specific types of microorganisms that can cause foodborne illness or in extreme cases, death, if ingested. They can grow under many different conditions including refrigeration (such as Listeria monocytogenes). In general, the presence of pathogenic bacteria in food is not detectable visually, or by smell or taste. Spoilage microorganisms are different from pathogens in that they do not usually cause illness and grow in a much wider range of conditions than pathogens. Excessive quantities of spoilage microorganisms can cause food to develop unpleasant flavours, odours and textures. The visible presence of mould is an example of a spoilage microorganism. 

To validate that a product does not support pathogenic growth (or in some cases that the preservation system will reduce the presence of pathogens), a specific type of shelf-life study known as a “challenge study” is used. This study intentionally introduces pathogenic bacteria in very lab-controlled conditions to validate the performance of the preservation system (process, ingredients, etc.). CFIA provides useful guidance on this type of testing in Listeria monocytogenes Challenge Testing of Refrigerated Ready-to-Eat Foods and there are organizations that can support this testing. 

Some control measures for spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms are similar, since they can grow under similar conditions. Temperature control is a common control measure for pathogens and spoilage microorganisms. Thermal processing, such as pasteurization, is designed to eliminate pathogenic microorganisms, and reduce spoilage microorganisms. An example of this is pasteurised fluid milk that with time will eventually spoil. The process of commercial sterilization is also a thermal process but eliminates all pathogens and spoilage microorganisms due to the higher temperatures and longer times compared to pasteurization. Refrigeration or freezing can slow the growth of all microorganisms, but does not significantly reduce their numbers if they are already present. Other processes such as high-pressure processing can eliminate the presence of both spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms, but does not inactive spores. 

As product developers, we consider pH and water activity control as two formulation methods to reduce the risk of pathogenic bacteria growth. Below specific pH and water activity levels, pathogenic bacteria are unable to reproduce. Spoilage microorganisms have wider ranges of pH and water activity at which they can grow, but control of pH and water activity can still be used to prevent their growth. Preservatives can also be used to limit the growth of pathogens and spoilage microorganisms. 

The types of pathogens and spoilage microorganisms that may affect a product are usually specific to that type of food. For example, the spoilage microorganisms that are more likely found in milk are different from the ones that are more likely to cause spoilage in baked goods, and the pathogens more often found in raw eggs are different from the ones that are more often found in produce. The processing environment, production process, packaging and storage conditions will also determine which pathogens and spoilage microorganisms are likely to be the biggest concerns. All these factors should be considered when determining which microorganisms are likely to affect a product, and subsequently controls for each of these factors should be put in place to ensure the product is safe to consume, and looks, smells and tastes like it should throughout its shelf life.