FAPAS expands reference material range to support analysis demand

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

FAPAS said it is working on expanding its range of reference materials to meet market demand
FAPAS said it is working on expanding its range of reference materials to meet market demand

Related tags Quality control Aflatoxin Fraud

An expanded range of reference materials to meet increasing global demand have been launched by FAPAS, the proficiency testing division of Fera.

FAPAS now has materials contaminated with mycotoxins, including Aflatoxin B1, Ochratoxin A, Deoxynivalenol (DON), Zearalenone (ZON), T2 and HT-2.

It also has arsenic, lead and mercury in canned crab and antimony or cadmium in soft drinks.

Reference materials are samples which have been prepared with calibrated amounts of a contaminant to allow food labs to test accuracy by inter-laboratory comparison.

With many laboratories developing methods to analyse for multiple mycotoxins within a sample rather than searching for toxins individually, demand for suitable reference materials is increasing.

Growing demand

Kate Somerwill, head of proficiency testing group at Fera, said it regularly has customers of proficiency tests enquiring about reference materials.

“The demand is global, as more countries start to adopt more strict food control legislation and their laboratories become accredited, the demand is for reference materials to support that analysis,​” she told FoodQualityNews.

“Analytical methods tend to be fully validated on a limited range of analytes/matrices because it’s a very costly exercise. However, the labs then need to extend their scope to other analytes/matrices and train new staff. 

“They also need a source of reliable reference materials for ongoing quality control purposes, to chart the method performance over a long period of time. In addition, a lab’s routine work involves accepting a very wide range of matrices for analysis, so they need appropriate reference materials for comparison.”

Reference material types

FAPAS launched 14 reference materials earlier this year for matrixes including breakfast cereal, canned meat, milk powder, paprika and tomato paste.

It said the move was in response to analytical laboratories demanding a greater range of matrix-matched reference materials for quality assurance, method validation and training.

The list now runs to 20 and there are another 11 waiting to go live on the website.

Recently unveiled ones include mycotoxins in breakfast cereal, arsenic, lead and mercury in canned crab and antimony or cadmium in soft drinks.

The emphasis of the first set of materials around metals was ‘coincidental’, said Somerwill.

“We have a good balance between metals and a range of mycotoxins reference materials. Together with the canned meat reference materials, these are the highest demand reference materials based on our knowledge of the food proficiency testing market.”

Somerwill said the process from conception to first reference material products was about two years.

“The time has been spent developing the ideas for what we want and how we characterise the materials. In particular, the stability studies have taken time to design and implement to the point where we are satisfied,” ​she said. 

“We’ve also had to spend time building additional processes and controls into our own formal quality system and developing our database to handle the additional products.

“Basically, they are not easy to produce. If it was easy, the market would be flooded with them. It takes time, effort, money and a thorough understanding of the underlying science to produce reference materials.”

Reference materials differ to proficiency testing quality control materials as they require a comprehensive stability assessment and a complete uncertainty budget for reference values.

Funding for food fraud projects

Meanwhile, the FOODINTEGRITY project, co-ordinated by Fera is urging academics, research firms, SMEs and industry to come up with research projects to help fight food fraud and qualify for a share of €3m funding.

Grants are available to consortia with research and development ideas in four areas, which complement work under the FOODINTEGRITY programme.

These include: standardisation and harmonisation of untargeted food integrity methods, approaches to assure integrity of complex foods, a feasibility study of how information can be shared along the supply chain to identify risks to integrity of food; and rapid, on-site, cost-effective methods for feed and food fraud detection. 

Paul Brereton, FOODINTEGRITY co-ordinator and head of Agri-Food Research, at Fera, said providing assurance about the safety, authenticity and quality of food is of vital importance to the UK and wider European agri-food economy.

“We know that food fraud is still happening on a massive scale,” ​he said.

“In the last six months alone data collected and analysed by Fera has found more than 200 incidents of reported food fraud, from the ‘wine’ that contained no grapes, to ‘finest’ honey that was clearly old and poor quality. 

“Other examples include undeclared soya and wheat in almonds, faked famous brand beers, sugar added to ‘no added sugar’ drinks and mislabelling for a range of produce, including hazelnut oil and pork.”

Deadline for proposals is 14 August and applicants can submit a proposal at www.foodintegrity.eu/sdt​ 

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