The CFA’s membership comprises a significant proportion of the UK’s major chilled prepared food manufacturers, companies that supply retailers with every type of chilled food imaginable and rely on the CFA for best practice guidance and the championing of vital, groundbreaking research.
Foremost among those research projects is the SUSSLE (Sustainable Shelf Life Extension) programme, which carried out a quantitative microbiological risk assessment of individual foods to assess the required bacterial destruction during their cooking processes. Armed with this information, manufacturers can determine the maximum safe shelf life for their products. This crucial data not only ensures food safety but also helps reduce wastage and the energy required by processing, thereby improving sustainability.
At the heart of SUSSLE is a complex data processing system that essentially comprises two main programs:
SUSSLEtT (Time and Temperature) examines the various components of the thermal process according to data supplied by the manufacturer and precisely calculates and validates the destruction of non-proteolytic clostridium botulinum over the course of the process.
BcereusCCP, the second program, specifically targets B cereus which, although they can be destroyed during cooking, produce spores that may still germinate if the food isn’t cooled down rapidly enough to prevent them.
The SUSSLE system that the CFA had been using before our involvement had become outdated and unsatisfactory for their needs. Our task was to remodel SUSSLE and create a programme that was easy to use, swift to process data, and which would generate highly accurate results in a format that was clear and simple to understand. We also had to ensure that the legal and scientific requirements of CFA and IFR (Institute of Food Research) were met at every stage of the development, all within budget and against rigorous timescales. There are also very complex mathematics underpinning SUSSLE that we had to take into consideration when coding the new web service. It was an unusual assignment with a unique but fascinating set of challenges.
We redesigned SUSSLE from top to bottom and wrote all the code for the new site - and a tremendous amount of code was required. SUSSLE is a web-based system so we ensured that the CFA’s members can enter the program quickly and easily using a unique login which provides secure access to all their information. Once inside the system they can easily upload their thermal process data by copy-and-pasting it directly from their spreadsheet into SUSSLE and running the programme via a simple drop-down menu. After running the analysis, SUSSLE generates its conclusions in two separate ways, so there is no risk of misinterpreting the results: an easy-to-follow time/temperature graph and a small text box which briefly details the process ranges and then clearly informs the user if their thermal process has passed or failed SUSSLE’s safety requirements.
Both the graph and the Pass/Fail statement appear together on the same screen accompanied by the Dataset inputted by the user at the start of the operation. This ensures that everything the manufacturer needs to know is set out cleanly in front of them without the awkwardness of having to scroll through different screens, meaning they can analyse the entire process at a glance and enabling data to be audited. Our redesign also allows two different sets of data to be compared side-by-side with each other. Finally, the results can be downloaded into a PDF document for reference.
When we took these projects to 101, we knew that our requirements were deeply complex and required patience and precision. We’re delighted to say that the team did not disappoint. The coding work they did to create SUSSLE was very intricate and impressive. There was no room for error in the working of these programs, and we are confident that manufacturers have got a system they’ll find easy and accurate. 101’s attention to detail, hard work and communication with us was excellent. It was not an easy job but they delivered, on time and on budget.