Validation and Verification

How to take a food sample for verification

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.

Clean sampling equipment   

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.


10 thoughts on “How to take a food sample for verification”

  1. Elizabeth Rodriguez

    Where can I find information pertaining to sample size? For example, if I had 100 kg of strawberry jelly and wanted to test for yeasts and molds, how much sample should be collected to be representative of that lot?

    Thank you!

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      Hi Elizabeth

      Sample sizes can vary and there are no hard-set rules. It depends on the food product and also on any governing laws around sampling. For example, in some instances, it will state how many samples are required. I would recommend that you sample to a size that will give you the most confidence in the result and also one that is representative of the product/batch that you are testing.

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      It really depends on what you are trying to achieve Pedro. This is where using a risk-based approach can come in handy.

  2. Sandra Carlsson

    I am looking for more information regarding storage of said food samples from daily serving operation. If they are taken daily, mon-fri, stored in individual sealed bags/containers that are then in another sealed plastic container – for the sole purpose of enable testing in case of a potential food borne illness. Do the samples also (on top of sealed container in sealed container) need a separate storage area? I struggle to find information on this and kitchens are normally already challenged for freezer space without having to also have an alternative freezer for 5 small storage boxes. Does it matter where, in which freezer, samples are stored?

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      They do not really need a separate storage area as long as they are clearly identified as sampled and cannot be accidentally sent to customers. I would recommend storing in a dedicated area within your storage facility that is clearly marked.

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      It really depends on what type of food you want to sample and what you want to test for. Can you please provide more details?

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