As food safety testing continues to evolve, it has become increasingly important to ensure that your methods and technicians are providing you with reliable results. Participating in a proficiency program is a great way to build confidence in your methods and technicians. Cherney Microbiological Services, Ltd.’s Proficiency Manager, Ashley Erdman explains.

1 Why participate in a proficiency testing (PT) program?

Aside from meeting regulatory compliances, participation in PT is a GLP that ensures competency of your staff. PT programs allow comparison not only internally over time, but also immediately against technicians from other laboratories. These factors can help strengthen relationships with customers by showing commitment to quality and improvement.

2 What are the benefits of participating in an environmental PT program?
Product testing accounts for only a small portion of the finished goods that will ultimately be released to consumers. As the food industry shifts from a reactive to a proactive culture, testing the facility environment provides a more encompassing picture. As exhibiting competence is a foundation of PT, an environmental PT program shows competence in one’s EM program and ultimately, safety of the product within your facility. These programs bridge the gap from knowing only your product testing process is proficient, to knowing your environmental testing process is proficient as well.
3 What is important when selecting a program?

The most important factor when selecting a program is ensuring it is fit for your purpose. Choose a program that allows the use of your internal methods and processes as they are, or as close to routine as possible. Other important factors include sample matrix, ease of processing, result presentation, program size, and provider accreditation and responsiveness.

4 What are the benefits of participating more than once a year?

More data is available for trending each time a facility participates, which provides a more robust trend analysis. To ensure competence, everyone performing testing in the facility should participate in PT. When efficiency is a concern, one option is to rotate technicians through rounds so all participate, but not at one time. If your provider rotates matrixes, participating more will ensure you receive multiple matrix types, increasing confidence in your results and processes.

5 What should I look at when conducting an unsatisfactory result investigation?

Check to ensure results were reported correctly. Refer to information within the report and the original instructions. Review the results to ensure no clerical errors occurred while entering data (incorrect values or transposing test results). Review sample storage and handling before, and during, sample processing to ensure the sample was not compromised or temperature abused. Ensure processes were followed correctly and all equipment was within calibration/specifications. If a root cause cannot be determined, reach out to your provider for assistance.