Testing food samples is one of the verification activities that a food business is required to undertake. This is a requirement in the majority of GFSI standards along with legislative requirements in certain countries. To ensure the integrity of the food sample being taken, there a several actions that need to be undertaken.
Identify the correct analysis required
A common question that I get asked is “What should I get our product tested for?”. The first thing that needs to occur is understanding why the analysis is required in the first place. Is it to satisfy a customer requirement? Is it part of a complaint investigation? Is it to determine the shelf life of the product? Is there a legal requirement that needs to be achieved?
The reason for sampling will generally dictate what type of analysis is required. For example, if you are required to assess your product against a customer specification on an annual basis, you would review the finished product specification. The specification may state requirements for certain microbiological, chemical, physical and/or quality criteria. You would then test against these criteria.
It is imperative that whenever you take a food sample the equipment used and sampling containers are clean and in some situations sterile. The reason is to prevent any contamination of the food sample that you have taken.
Good personal hygiene
You as the person taking the sample can become a source of contamination to the product if good personal hygiene is not implemented. This includes thoroughly and effectively washing your hands prior to taking the food sample.
Correct sample size
Always check with the testing authority how much product will be needed to perform the analysis that is required. To get a good representation of the finished product, several samples of the same batch may be required to be blended together during the testing process.
Suitable storage and transport conditions
If your finished product is one that is usually stored under refrigerated conditions make sure that you transport the sample in the same condition. If you have a fair distance for the sample to travel to the testing authority you don’t want to subject it to any temperature abuse. Doing so may result in an outcome that is not actually reflective of your process. On the other hand, if you are trying to set worst case scenario for your product, temperature abuse may be warranted. Again, this will depend on the purpose of your testing.
These are just a few areas that need to be undertaken when taking a food sample. The list is not comprehensive but will give you a good place to start. If you have any other tips on taking a food sample share with us all and comment below.