Accreditation stands for reliability. Accredited laboratories work according to standardized and validated procedures that yield reliable test results. Every food manufacturer wants to ensure their products are safe, but how can they be sure? By having their laboratory accredited, they can offer their customers greater reliability assurance.
Because the accreditation process also explicitly examines the process improvement cycle for procedures and the trend analyses for methods used, a manufacturer can always be certain that their laboratory methods remain current.
The Dutch Accreditation Council (RvA) assembles a team of specialists when visiting a laboratory for accreditation purposes. The RvA works with experts specialized in chemical or microbiological analyses. Together with team leaders specialized in management systems, the RvA aligns the manufacturer’s procedures with the ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory standards.
ISO/IEC 17025 is an internationally accepted standard, and offering or exchanging test results fosters international trade. Tests performed in an accredited laboratory do not need to be repeated.
The ISO/IEC 17025 standard provides tools for realizing demonstrably reliable results, including for laboratories that do not wish to become accredited. In any event, following the norm increases the procedures’ reliability. The standard states that deviations must be investigated, and trend analyses must be carried out. These investigations and analyses ensure the continued improvement of the laboratory’s procedures and methods. However, because laboratories are always working under time constraints – someone is always waiting for the test results – the investigations into deviations and trend analyses often end up at the bottom of the to-do list. This is regrettable. Accreditation requires laboratories to show that they carry out these procedures.
Annual RvA inspection visit
The RvA inspection team always starts the inspection day with a meeting to discuss any changes to the scope or modified procedures. The team leader then meets with the management, and the RvA experts take a few laboratory technicians through several randomly selected accredited procedures. They base this on a sample that has to be analyzed or vice versa: they follow an analysis result back to the sampling process. An important aspect here is the reporting.
For example, how can you be certain that the results taken for use in reporting are correct? And if data is kept in Excel files, are these secured to ensure that not every laboratory technician can change the data? Are the calculations correct, and have they been validated?
Accreditation is not only about standardizing analysis methods but also about data reliability in every respect. For food manufacturers, reliability is a valuable asset nowadays. The proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms is a significant risk, and every uncertainty concerning this must be removed. The assurance provided by reliable test results helps in this. Accreditation is a means of regularly assessing performance and provides demonstrable reliability. Given the importance of maintaining a good reputation in the current climate, accreditation is a valuable investment.