When quality managers at food manufacturing companies make smart use of the microbiological analysis results, they can enhance the accuracy of the samples’ microbiological values. Any deviations in values are also picked up sooner, which benefits food safety.
How do laboratories currently work? Accredited microbiological laboratories are required to perform internal quality controls. Non-accredited laboratories at food manufacturers are also increasingly carrying out daily internal quality controls. Each laboratory wants to ensure that microbiological analyses are performed properly, and the results are reliable. They also participate in external quality control studies to test the correctness of analysis results. External quality controls, or proficiency testing, are organized by external parties. But does this provide the laboratory with enough information about the correctness of their analyses? Is there a smarter way of dealing with the existing analysis results?
Depending on the number of samples tested annually, a laboratory should participate in a comparative proficiency test, or ring trial, at least once a year. This entails the microbiological testing of an identical sample by multiple laboratories. The analysis results from the participating laboratories are subjected to statistical comparison. After some time, the organizing party sends out the statistical comparison results, showing whether the results from its laboratory fall within the set limits. These limits are reasonably broad, and the results generally come a few weeks after the microbiological test. The turnaround time makes it difficult to ascertain the cause of a deviating result. In addition, many laboratories have the same employee carry out the periodic analyses, which means that they are, therefore, not representative of the laboratory. This proficiency testing is a snapshot and does not indicate a laboratory’s ongoing, regular performance. There are, therefore, several reasons that periodic proficiency tests do not necessarily increase the reliability of a laboratory’s tests.
Digital data bundling
A new trend in microbiological research (which has already been used for some time in clinical chemistry) is to digitize and bundle all of the daily process control analysis results. Analyzing and comparing the digital analysis results yields more reliable comparisons and trend analyses. This provides the laboratory with real-time insight into their score concerning the use of statistical analysis charts or when looking at the normal distribution of the data.
Comparing digital data increases the accuracy
The digital bundling of analysis results from the process controls enables comparison of these results with those from other production locations or, just as in proficiency testing, other companies’ laboratories (anonymously). No additional analysis or testing is required for this. A precondition is that the laboratories must use the same reference materials and methods. Web-based software is now available on the market for this purpose. Comparing daily analysis results yields a great deal of information about a laboratory’s procedures and the reliability of the media, resources, materials used, and the people carrying out the work.
By automatically comparing microbiological test results with those of other laboratories, a laboratory increases the accuracy of its own work. Furthermore, this enables laboratories to see how they score compared to others in the field. This enables them to refine their procedures and thereby improve the reliability of their test results, with greater food safety being the indirect consequence.