Food Laboratory Testing
Many food manufacturers, processors or food service establishments conduct some of their own food analysis. Swabs taken from products or surfaces, user-friendly technology platforms and commercially available food analysis kits have simplified the process and made in-house testing possible.
However, food analysis methods available in-house are not always advanced enough to meet the needs of industry. After routine tests reveal a problem, further investigation using advanced instrumentation and technical expertise in food analysis may be required.
The role of diagnostic laboratories in food analysis is two-fold. First, they provide the expertise and research acumen that drives food safety forward as new tests enhance our detection capability. But food testing laboratories are also driven by the modern industry landscape, responding to the challenges of increasing globalization and the emergence of new risks.
Further, for regulatory food testing in particular, it is often required that food analysis be conducted by an external, accredited laboratory.
Just as a food processor can become certified to a food safety standard, so too can a diagnostic food laboratory undergo third-party assessment to become accredited under a standard. The ISO 17025 standard that is applied to laboratories is a form of quality assurance, providing peace of mind that specific quality control requirements are met for food safety.
In addition to the 17025 quality standard, laboratories may accredit specific methods (food analysis tests) that they run at their lab. For instance, a food laboratory may be accredited to test for peanut, egg and soy, but not for milk, shellfish or gluten. If regulations require that allergen tests are accredited, it is up to the food company to ensure that the lab they choose has accreditation for the specific method needed.
The food laboratory’s Quality Manager and scientific staff conduct the steps required to accredit a method, and so there is variation among labs with regards to which methods are accredited and when. However, regulatory requirements often stipulate that labs and/or test methods must be accredited, making it a big selling point for diagnostic labs that want to attract business from the food industry and governments. International and national bodies (such as the Standards Council of Canada) that accredit laboratories may list accredited facilities and tests on-line, allowing businesses to search for potential accredited food laboratories or methods based on their testing requirements.
Some laboratories provide consultation in addition to testing, helping companies manage their processes and products, or consulting on new regulations and food law, although not all labs provide this service as it goes beyond food analysis and into a consulting role on the application of the results of food analysis.
International laboratories often have field sites globally, strategically locating themselves in food safety hot spots where more food analysis and on-site inspection are needed, such as in developing markets.
In addition to accreditation, a new initiative in the US has been implemented to foster growth in the area of food safety testing. The International Food Safety Training Laboratory, located in Maryland, was opened in September of 2011, with the goal of training foreign lab workers to help them get up to speed with US standards in food analysis.
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