[Infographic] Finding the Right Food Allergen Testing Lab in 9 Questions

How do you know whether a 3rd-party lab is the right one for your food allergen testing needs? Like every new relationship, you’ll have a few questions for them, and they’ll have a few questions for you. So what questions should you expect from a qualified lab? What should you ask them?

 

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FINDING THE RIGHT FOOD ALLERGEN TESTING LAB IN 9 QUESTIONS

How do you know whether a 3rd-party lab is the right one for your food allergen testing needs?
Like every new relationship, you’ll have a few questions for them, and they’ll have a few questions for you.
So what questions should you expect from a qualified lab? What should you ask them?

Questions from the lab
 

What is the purpose of the analysis you need?
For many labs, this is another way of asking whether you need qualitative or quantitative testing. Are you verifying the allergen profile of a sample, monitoring the effects of a change in the recipe or confirming the result of an on-site method? All of them require different methods or levels of sensitivity.

What type of sample will you be sending us?
Are you testing a swab or rinse water? Raw material or finished product? Once again, the suitability of a method, its performance and even the sensitivity will differ depending on the matrix. Experienced labs can anticipate problems and help you collect and prepare samples properly.

What sensitivity do you need?
Make sure that the laboratory can provide an assay with the necessary sensitivity. This could be tricky if you use threshold guidelines: some guidelines have thresholds so low that they might not be available given the portion size of your product.

What matrix are you testing?
Matrices can be tricky: they can have substances that interfere with the extraction or detection of the target molecule. The physical properties of matrices can also make the extraction process inefficient. This is one of those questions you can’t answer in enough detail, so don’t be afraid to tell the lab too much!

Questions to the lab
 

What accreditations does your lab have?
Anyone can open a lab, but only a few have the competence to get an ISO certification or relevant national certifications. Look for a lab with ISO 17025 accreditations and make sure the certifying bodies are on the level. In the UK, make sure a lab is UKAS-accredited before doing business with them!

Can you provide me with the units I need?
20 ppm peanut is not the same as 20 ppm peanut protein. Make sure your lab can provide you with the units you need or the appropriate conversion factor. This can be particularly tricky for fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The amount of protein, proportion of target proteins and homology between them will differ from species to species!

Is your lab’s method validated for my matrix?
The matrix might not only complicate the extraction process, but also interfere with the detection so that the LOD and LOQ are different from those stated as the minimum performance criteria. Make sure that the lab has validated your type of matrix before submitting a sample.

What analytes do your methods actually detect?
Take the example of milk. Even if the results of the lab’s method are expressed in ppm milk, the real analyte of the method is likely to be a surrogate, such as casein. If the food component in your sample doesn’t match the actual method analyte, you might wind up with false negatives!

How does your lab go about result confirmation?
Insist on precise information about how the lab confirms its results. Assays with positive and negative controls are the minimum. It’s even better if the lab uses additional, alternative methods of analysis to confirm their results.