Understanding food sampling analysis certificates

Sampling analysis certificates are the way by which laboratories report the result of a particular analysis. You may be familiar with these certificates but do you really understand what they mean? In this article I share an experience involving the case of the lost food sampling certificate and cover interpreting the reported results.

The case of the lost food sampling certificate

The inspiration for this post comes from one of my clients, a large food agri business. I love this client. They basically follow the rules, keep a clean factory and provide minimal stress when it comes to implementing my food compliance directions and recommendations. Fast forward to last week.

The business was contacted by the local health authority and told that they had a positive Listeria monocytogenes result from recent product sampling. It is a regulatory requirement in Australia that detection of Listeria Monocytogenes is reported by the testing authority to the government health authority. When management were contacted by the government it came as a complete surprise. We had not even seen a copy of the food sampling certificate. That was just the first of many ‘stuff-ups’ experienced during this incident.

Understanding sampling  analysis certificates

Unless you are a microbiologist or have maybe worked in laboratory before, you may not have a full understanding of what you should be looking for when you review your sampling analysis certificates. Take a moment to have a look at an analysis certificate that has been filed for your food business.

Each third party laboratory will most  likely  have a different reporting format but the content will basically tell the same story. Some laboratories may tell you in the report, by way of description, if there are concerns or issues, where others may not. Regardless, all sampling analysis certificates should, at a minimum, tell you:

  • Your business details
  • Your product details including product name, batch or traceability code, the products expiry date
  • What the product was tested for
  • The test method used
  • The result of the test
  • The meanings of any abbreviations used on the report

What is the food testing certificate telling you?

When you start to look at the results you need to be able to know – Is that bad? By this I mean, based on the tests performed by the laboratory and the results provided, do you need to take action. If you don’t know what is bad and what is good, it makes this decision process harder.

The easiest solution is to have a compliance table developed that becomes your go to (or for any other person who maybe looking at these reports). This compliance table can be based on legislative and customer requirements. Here is a very simple example of what I am talking about:

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It is best to develop this table in consultation with your testing laboratory if you are unsure what is acceptable and what is not. I am sure they will not hesitate to give you advice on this.  You will also need to check what the food safety legislation states for your country of manufacture and country of sale.

Lessons Learnt

I am the type of person who loves to learn. The more you know and understand, the better decisions can be made. I learnt a lot from this experience and also from my complacency. There is always that expectation that other people know what you know. Sometimes I lose sight of this. Here are a few of my key takeaways from this incident.

  1. Make sure that food sampling analysis certificates go to a person in your business that has been trained in how to read and interpret the results noted.
  2. Make sure that any request forms provided to the testing authority have been completed including the correct contact name and business details.
  3. Make sure that the correct food analysis has been requested.
  4. Ensure that all staff are trained in your non conforming product procedures and actually understand what they are required to do in a similar situation.
  5. Ensure that you have a procedure documented that explains what will happen if there is an adverse report from your external testing laboratory.
  6. Refresher training is essential. People forget things as other priorities take hold.

What do you think?

I would love to read about your experience. Have you been in a similar situation? What did you learn? Share with the HACCP Mentor community by leaving a comment below.

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