ISO 17025 requires laboratories to have and apply procedures for estimating uncertainty of measurement. The purpose of this legislation is ultimately to improve - and where possible guarantee - food safety. But the problem, says CCFRA, is that no measurement is perfect, and this uncertainty can affect consumer confidence. In addition, until now there has been little guidance for microbiologists on how to do this.
Understanding this uncertainty - its extent, how it arises and how contributing factors affect it - is therefore important for the correct interpretation of a result. Microbiological measurement uncertainty: a practical guide (CCFRA Guideline No. 47) is designed to address this. CCFRA says that it is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach to the measurement of uncertainty in microbiological analysis, produced by a group of industrial microbiologists and data analysts.
With a strong emphasis on practical day-to-day application, the guide includes a spreadsheet to perform the necessary mathematics and specifically addresses the ISO 17025 requirements to identify and estimate all components of uncertainty.
Importantly, many laboratories will find they do not need to conduct extra analyses or generate additional data to make use of the procedures as the approach makes optimum use of data generated duringroutine internal and external laboratory quality assurance.
Many food companies are looking at ways to ensure food safety throughout the supply chain. Manufacturers in the EU are preparing for forthcoming legislation in January 2005, which will see food traceability through the supply chain becoming a legal responsibility.
Under the new laws, food producers must be able to identify products by batch, lot or consignment numbers and traceability of the product must be possible at all stages of production, processing and distribution. This means food businesses will have to be able to identify every supplier of food, feed, a food producing animal or any substance incorporated into their food/feed products.
In any case one thing is certain - such is the public concern surrounding food safety that it would be commercial suicide for any food manufacturer or retailer to ignore the issue. The issue has always been of public concern, but as Mark Baillache, a partner in UK-based consultancy firm KPMG points out, food safety has been dramatically ratcheted up the news agenda on the back of some intense media coverage.
"In the UK you can't pick up a newspaper without some issue of food safety," he said. "Today, there are three pages on obesity in The Times. You have TV programmes such as Food Police, and there was about 15 minutes devoted to food on Question Time (a BBC current affairs programme). All these have helped to raise public awareness of the issue of food safety, and made it an issue you can't avoid."