The complex nature of modern food production and supply chains means that today’s food products and ingredients are at greater risk of exposure to accidental contamination or intentional interference. Food testing laboratories play a critical role in protecting both public health and brand reputation, and today operate in an increasingly demanding regulatory environment. As such, these laboratories require the use of robust technologies for both effective analytical testing and information management. Without the right informatics tools to organize and control the vast quantities of information handled in food testing workflows, data mismanagement can compromise the validity of results and put food safety in jeopardy.
Here, we look at how modern Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) are helping food testing laboratories maintain the highest standards of data integrity, thereby safeguarding product quality and ensuring compliance with the updated ISO 17025 requirements from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Assuring food safety in an evolving regulatory landscape
Threats to the safety and integrity of food and beverages come in a variety of forms, from the inadvertent contamination of products by physical, chemical or biological agents to the deliberate adulteration or counterfeiting of high-value goods for financial gain. Concerns over food safety in recent years have led national food standards authorities and industry bodies to strengthen regulations, putting additional focus on hazard minimization and the use of preventative control plans in food production processes.
The ISO 17025 quality management standard is a key regulation in global food testing, enabling laboratories to demonstrate their operational competence and the validity of their results. In 2017, ISO 17025 was updated to put greater emphasis on risk management and the use of information technology, particularly with regards to electronic test results and record-keeping.
The requirements outlined in ISO 17025 build upon the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. HACCP is a risk-based safety management approach that helps food manufacturers identify, evaluate and address food safety threats by:
- Determining hazards and critical control points (CCPs)
- Establishing critical limits, monitoring procedures and corrective actions
- Adopting robust verification and documentation processes
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires certain food testing procedures to be ISO 17025-compliant by February 2022, meaning food testing laboratories will need to establish systems and technologies to meet these requirements. To achieve ISO 17025 compliance, many food testing laboratories are turning to the latest LIMS platforms to standardize their workflows and integrate their people, processes and equipment.
Modern LIMS are built for ISO 17025 compliance
Modern LIMS, such as Thermo Scientific™ SampleManager LIMS™ software, are designed for robust data management in accordance with the latest ISO 17025 requirements. By streamlining workflows, automating processes and ensuring comprehensive record-keeping, LIMS are proving to be the key ingredient for compliance in food testing.
A defining feature of SampleManager LIMS software is the ability to build data management workflows that map to actual laboratory processes, allowing CCPs to be added and critical analysis limits set. These pre-defined criteria can be used to drive automated actions, such as verification steps or corrective measures, reducing the potential for human error and delivering more accurate and consistent outcomes. Workflow-based LIMS can be used to support both quality control (QC) processes and environmental monitoring, with the option to assign CCPs to specific locations, such as production plants or laboratories. As well as simplifying deployment, these types of LIMS can help laboratories rapidly adapt to process changes or implement new testing technologies.
The real-time data visualization and reporting tools built into the latest LIMS platforms also allow food testing laboratories to quickly detect and respond to adverse trends or out of specification results. Through configurable dashboards that can be optimized by facility or food product, SampleManager LIMS software can improve visibility over testing workflows and more easily track key performance metrics. Other features, such as automated system alerts, enable laboratories to monitor for subtle changes in equipment performance, minimizing workflow disruption by avoiding unscheduled instrument downtime.
Modern LIMS can also simplify record-keeping and documentation procedures, eliminating many of the error-prone manual processes associated with traditional workflows. As well as handling laboratory data and test results, SampleManager LIMS software can manage personnel training records, and equipment calibration and performance data too. By integrating people, data and workflows in this way, laboratories can be sure tests are performed only by trained individuals, using equipment that is verified and calibrated for use. Following analysis, LIMS can automatically generate certificates of analysis, which demonstrate products meet specifications. Furthermore, with all data processing steps and user-interactions automatically logged in a fully-searchable audit trail, modern LIMS provide laboratories with a comprehensive record to demonstrate full compliance and accountability.
Together, the advanced features of modern LIMS serve to streamline data management, enabling food testing laboratories to reduce risk, improve oversight and respond to threats faster.
Greater control, consistency and compliance in food testing
With industry and government bodies strengthening the regulations around food safety, it is becoming increasingly important for food testing laboratories to adopt the right data management tools to ensure continued compliance. Through workflow simplification, increased automation and enhanced accountability, LIMS platforms are helping food testing laboratories access the highest standards of control, consistency and compliance to better protect consumers from food safety threats.
To learn more about recent changes in food testing regulations and how your laboratory can meet them, watch this recent webinar.
Alternatively, you can find out more about how Thermo Fisher Scientific is enhancing safety and compliance in food testing by providing solutions for robust data management on our Thermo Scientific SampleManager LIMS software product page.