Food safety and quality control (and European Union Reference Laboratories for mycotoxins, PAHs and heavy metals)
Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements
Food safety is of paramount importance taking into consideration its short and long term impact on the health of the European citizens. For this reason the system put in place after the BSE and dioxin crisis of the late 1990's early 2000's to safeguard food and feed quality, needs to be maintained and taken care of. The main elements of the European food safety policy are mapped out in Regulation (EC) N° 178/2002, which lays down the general principles and requirements of food law and Regulation (EC) N° 882/2004 on official controls. The latter states that "designation of EU and national reference laboratories should contribute to a high quality and uniformity of analytical results. This objective can be achieved by activities such as application of validated analytical methods, ensuring that reference materials are available, the organisation of comparative testing and the training of staff from laboratories". EU Reference Laboratories (EU-RLs) contribute to a high quality and uniformity of test results throughout the EU, in particular in those areas where a need for precise analytical and diagnostic results exist (regulatory limits). The Action operates three EU-RLs for: mycotoxins (EU-RL-MYCO), polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (EU-RL-PAH), and heavy metals (EU-RL-HM), thereby contributing to the coordination of the European measurement infrastructure in the fields concerned.
The main activities carried out by the Action are: method development and standardisation, certification of food reference materials, organisation of interlaboratory comparisons and provision of technical support to policy Directorates-General and stakeholders. With those activities the action contributes to the development and implementation of the European legislation on contaminants in food and feed (Regulation (EU) No 835/2011, Regulation (EU) No 836/2011, Regulation (EC) No 333/2007, Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006, Directive No 2002/32/EC, Commission Recommendation 2006/576/EC, Regulation (EC) No 401/2006), on labelling of allergens in food products (Commission Directive 2003/89/EC, Commission Directive 2006/142/EC and Commission Directive 2007/68/EC) and on organic production and labelling of organic products (Regulation (EC) N° 834/2007). The Action also supports Regulations (EC) N° 543/2008 and 1234/2007 regarding the monitoring of water content in poultry meat by chairing the consortium of national reference laboratories in this area.
The activities that carried out can be grouped in the following categories:
- Scientific support to implementation of Europe 2020 priorities
In line with the support that the JRC provides to the implementation of Europe 2020 priorities, the Action will carry out activities related to sustainable production and consumption, mainly taking part in foresight studies which would help to identify areas in which research will be need to cope with future demands in food related issues.
- Development, optimisation and validation of analytical methods
This set of activities frequently takes place in the frame of the standardisation process. Methods are developed and validated in support to the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Methods are also validated within the activities of the EU-RLs whenever requested by the network of National Reference Laboratories and in case standardised methods are not available. Finally, some activities on method development and validation are carried out as exploratory research projects in areas in which research is still needed to make possible future standardisation of methods. This is for instance the case of the activities developed in the action to support the legislation on labelling of allergens and in the fight against fraud allowing the identification of products of sustainable agriculture.
- Production of reference materials for food testing
The reference materials for food are produced mostly for food safety application supporting the policy DGs, the corresponding EU-RLs and official control laboratories. Emphasis is currently placed on the development of concepts for the establishment of quality control tools for pesticide and PFASs measurements and for pesticides in order to deal with the very large number of possible analyte/matrix combinations, including e.g. the validation of sufficiently reliable methods to be used for the characterisation of the reference materials. The feasibility of processing and later production of new mycotoxin reference materials will be other tasks of the action.
- Organisation of interlaboratory comparisons (ILC)
Organisation of proficiency tests (PTs) to check the analytical capabilities of control and routine laboratories in the analysis of chemical substances in food and feed matrices is one of the core activities of the EU-RLs, as requested in Regulation (EC) N° 882/2004. The International Measurements Evaluation Program (IMEP) provides support to the European measurement infrastructure organising PTs in close collaboration with customer DGs, European Cooperation for Accreditation (EA) and the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC). Allowing laboratories from countries outside Europe, which export food and consumer products, to take part in the IMEP PTs, the action provides support to trade activities. ILCs of the category collaborative trial are organised as the final step of method validation in the standardisation process.
Thanks to the Action's analytical expertise, combined with its in-depth knowledge of EU food legislation and food technology scientific and technical assistance is provided to other Commission DGs (DG SANCO, DG ENTR, DG AGRI, DG TAXUD) and to international organisations such as ISO, CEN (Technical Committee TC 275 on food and TC 327 on feed), Codex Alimentarius, EA, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In the frame of the EU-RLs' activities, official food control laboratories in EU Member States, candidate countries and potential candidate countries are supported via advice, training and workshops.
The action as part of IRMM is committed to maintain the accreditation status in ISO 17025 and 17043, and the certification according to ISO 9001, 14001 and 18001.
In pursuing its goals, the Action collaborates with others, namely the Actions:
"Feed safety and Community reference laboratory for feed additives" (33002),
"Reference materials for biotechnology and life sciences" (15012).