September 24, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists around the globe, consumers and buyers have become more conscious about the importance of safe and high-quality food products. A high-quality safe product stems from rigorous and quality testing of products throughout the food supply chain. Food manufacturers must ensure that food products are properly tested throughout the production cycle to avoid food counterfeiting and eliminate food safety risks, assuring the delivery of high-quality products to consumers. Food testing laboratories, in-house or third-party contract laboratories, must implement strict Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA) processes for accurate and reliable testing of raw materials to final food products.
QA aims at preventing defects by concentrating on the process used to make the food product. Most of us tend to repeatedly buy the same brand when it comes to food items. When we perceive the product is of good quality and matches our expectations, we make it our first choice. In the case of F&B companies, even a single negative review on the quality of products could tarnish the brand image. Furthermore, poor food quality can be detrimental to public health and may lead to food recall, thus adversely affecting profitability.
QC is important in food and beverage testing laboratories to assure safety and to substantiate the validity and reproducibility of the test results. Furthermore, QC helps in determining potential anomalies in test results and enables food testing laboratories to take corrective measures and prevent recurrence of non-conformities. QC demonstrates the capability of a laboratory to perform tests with accuracy and precision. Hence, food testing laboratories must process standard QC samples, such as a method blank, matrix spike, laboratory fortified blank, laboratory fortified blank duplicate, a matrix spike duplicate, along with each food sample batch while testing.
Thus, QA/QC in food testing labs is of utmost importance as it defines the overall quality of food products.
A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is a software solution that helps in hassle-free data management and workflow automation in various laboratories. A Food LIMS plays a vital role to efficiently manage incoming food samples, tests, test results, and control the QA/QC processes of food testing laboratories. A LIMS helps in comparing QC test results with the test results of actual samples to detect analytical errors caused by improper equipment calibration, faulty reagents, or any contamination.
A LIMS also enables food testing laboratories to define acceptance ranges for multiple analytes tested per sample. If test results fall outside the threshold acceptable limits, a LIMS automatically flags it, enabling food testing laboratories to quickly identify abnormal experimental values and re-test the samples if required. Hence, a LIMS for QA/QC in food labs effectively addresses quality issues. Furthermore, it helps in generating custom Certificates of Analysis (CoA) or test reports as per customer or regulatory requirements.
Any food product not only needs to be safe for consumption based on strict regulatory and quality guidelines but also has to be consistent in taste and quality every time it is introduced to the market. A Food LIMS offers a secure environment maintaining relationships between raw ingredients, processed materials, and packaged final products. It helps food producers minimize the risks associated with contaminated foods, ensuring consumer safety, and adding continuous value to the company’s shareholders. A LIMS helps in managing QA/QC data through every step of the food production process. Managing QA/QC data manually using paper-based methods is error-prone and time-consuming. A LIMS automates and streamlines QA/QC processes, thereby maximizing the transparency of analytical data in food testing labs and preventing chances of food fraud.
All the stages of the production process, including raw material production, procurement, manufacturing, distribution, and end product consumption, involve multiple challenges that need to be addressed. A Food and Beverage LIMS ensures the traceability of samples throughout the production process, maintaining the highest product quality. Not only does it help in determining and monitoring biological, chemical, and physical hazards using current and previous data, but also helps in driving response to such hazards much faster.
A LIMS manages the quality assurance process by organizing and storing analytical data and facilitating the conversion of data to useful information for decision making. Food samples also require suitable storage conditions at times depending on their properties. A LIMS helps in tracking the storage locations of samples in a few clicks. A LIMS is capable of assigning barcodes or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags to food samples which helps in tracking samples throughout their life-cycle and throughout various laboratories and storage locations.
Although a LIMS plays a crucial role in maintaining quality throughout the production process, it is as important and helpful post-process as well. It collates all the data and generates reports for a complete audit trail during regulatory inspections. A LIMS ensures that the products meet internal quality standards and accreditation requirements for food exports. Therefore, LIMS software is an ideal tool for food producers to ensure product quality and safety.
Overall, the use of LIMS for QA/QC in food labs ensures that samples are handled correctly and processed within allowed time frames, maintaining the top quality of the product. Each activity in this process is fully audited, ensuring full traceability of samples, tests, and results which assures manufacturers about the quality of food products. A LIMS ensures consistency in the quality of the food product every time it is introduced to the customers. Thus, a Food LIMS minimizes the risk of poor product quality through rigorous, accurate, and reliable testing of products.