Elevating Standards: How Accreditation has Enhanced Food Safety Laboratory Services in Africa

Elevating Standards: How Accreditation has Enhanced Food Safety Laboratory Services in Africa

Elevating Standards: How Accreditation has Enhanced Food Safety Laboratory Services in Africa

Elevating Standards: How Accreditation has Enhanced Food Safety Laboratory Services in Africa

Zimbabwe’s Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) and Uganda’s Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratories (DGAL) have attained accreditation to the international standard for testing and calibration in laboratories with the support of the IAEA and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Achieving this accreditation is a goal for many testing and calibration laboratories within Africa as it demonstrates competence; increases confidence among clients; and enhances the prospect of attracting resources by providing paid services and therefore contributing to the sustainability of such laboratories. Accredited laboratories also help food traders to access and sustain national and international markets.

In the face of limited resources, national testing and calibration laboratories such as CVL in Zimbabwe and DGAL in Uganda must explore mechanisms to attract funds to facilitate routine operations and ensure sustainable service-delivery. Support provided by the IAEA, in cooperation with the FAO, has helped to strengthen CVL’s and DGAL’s capabilities.

The CVL is now capable of regularly testing foods such as chicken for chemical hazards and can provide end-users with more reliable analytical test results, creating greater consumer confidence.

Additionally, personnels from CVL were recently trained and provided with equipment in a regional AFRA food safety project also involving Namibia and Zimbabwe, giving them even greater capability. One beneficiary  of this capability is a major national chicken producer in Zimbabwe that exports poultry meat to a neighboring country. The producer is now able to rely on laboratory-test results from an accredited institution, which can prove the absence of hazards such as antimicrobial residues. Previously food business operators had to send samples out of the country for testing.

“We are glad to have a local accredited food safety laboratory that supports the testing of our food products to ensure confidence among our clients about their safety and save us from the burden of testing abroad”, said Moses Nyanzunda, the company veterinarian.

The CVL recently achieved accreditation for some of the analytical techniques (radio-receptor assays using radiotracers such as C-14 and H-3) for milk and meat to ISO17025:2017 – the international standard for testing and calibration laboratories – for an initial period of two years starting September 2023.

Supplying this service locally is faster, cheaper, creates financial opportunities for citizens and reduces the double burden of costly outsourcing. It also reduces shipping biological material across borders, a major obstacle due to concerns about potential spread of transboundary diseases.

The services rendered by the laboratory will facilitate analytical cost recovery as these companies pay for testing services. Antimicrobial test results obtained from the national residue programme can now be used to advise farmers on appropriate use of chemicals in food production. The laboratory continues to routinely assess its capabilities by participating in proficiency (blind) testing schemes supported by the IAEA technical cooperation programme, where the CVL has performed well. Thanks to its strong quality management system, the CVL now shares best practices and related experience with others in the region, maximizing the use of regional resources.

Following the support provided to DGAL in Uganda, the institution attained ISO17025:2017 accreditation of 14 tests including techniques for determining residues of pesticides in fruits and vegetables; persistent organic pollutants in fish and meat, as well as toxic metals such as lead. Other tests include microbiology, toxicology, and DNA testing by six sections of the laboratory. This accreditation is for four years starting February 2024,  enhancing confidence among users of the laboratory’s services, nationally and internationally. Maintaining the accreditation means that laboratories must improve their quality management system as this is a requirement from accreditation to re-accreditation.

“The path to accreditation can be long and demanding, requiring rigorous training of personnel, establishment of equipment handled by well trained personnel. We thank IAEA’s support in the process” said Kepher Kuchana Kateu, Director of DGAL. “Excellence in analytical service delivery is required to maintain this status beyond the four years and we are determined to keep the standards and provide laboratory leadership in the country and the region” Kateu said. DGAL plays a critical role in investigations including in forensics, poisoning, paternity tests and food safety.

“With the IAEA’s support, which includes installation and building capabilities for routine use of an inductively coupled mass spectrometer as well as the establishment of a laboratory information management system, the status of those laboratories is expected to be significantly enhanced and to maintain this status to remain credible” says Anna Grigoryan, Programme Management Officer at the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).