Tag Archives: LIMS

Arun Apte, CloudLIMS
In the Food Lab

Is Your Food Testing Lab Prepping for an ISO/IEC 17025 Audit?

By Arun Apte
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Arun Apte, CloudLIMS

With the increasing globalization of the food industry, ensuring that products reaching consumers are safe has never been more important. Local, state and federal regulatory agencies are increasing their emphasis on the need for food and beverage laboratories to be accredited to ISO/IEC 17025 compliance. This complicated process can be simplified and streamlined through the adoption of LIMS, making accreditation an achievable goal for all food and beverage laboratories.

With a global marketplace and complex supply chain, the food industry continues to face increasing risks for both unintentional and intentional food contamination or adulteration.1 To mitigate the risk of contaminated products reaching consumers, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), using a consensus-based approval process, developed the first global laboratory standard in 1999 (ISO/IEC 17025:1999). Since publication, the standard has been updated twice, once in 2005 and most recently in 2017, and provides general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.2

In the recent revision, four key updates were identified:

  1. A revision to the scope to include testing, calibration and sampling associated with subsequent calibration and testing performed by a laboratory.3
  2. An emphasis on the results of a process instead of focusing on prescriptive procedures and policies.4
  3. The introduction of the concept of a risk-based approach used in production quality management systems.2
  4. A stronger focus on information technologies/management systems, specifically Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).4

As modern-day laboratories reduce their reliance on hard copy documents and transition to electronic records, additional emphasis and guidance for ISO 17025 accreditation in food testing labs using LIMS was greatly needed. Food testing laboratories have increased reliance on LIMS to successfully meet the requirements of accreditation. Food and beverage LIMS has evolved to increase a laboratory’s ability to meet all aspects of ISO 17025.

ISO 17025 requirements
Figure 1. A schematic representation of some of the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025:2017 compliance. (Figure courtesy CloudLIMS)

Traceability

Chain of Custody
A key element for ISO 17025 accredited laboratories is the traceability of samples from accession to disposal.5 Sometimes referred to as chain of custody, properly documented traceability allows a laboratory to tell the story of each sample from the time it arrives until the time it is disposed of.

LIMS software allows for seamless tracking of samples by employing unique sample accession numbers through barcoding processes. At each step of sample analysis, a laboratory technician updates data in a LIMS by scanning the sample barcode, establishing time and date signatures for the analysis. During an ISO 17025 audit, this information can be quickly obtained for review by the auditor.

Procurement and Laboratory Supplies
ISO 17025 requires the traceability of all supplies or inventory items from purchase to usage.6 This includes using approved vendors, documentation of receipt, traceability of supply usage to an associated sample, and for certain products, preparation of supply to working conditions within the laboratory. Supply traceability impacts multiple departments and coordinating this process can be overwhelming. A LIMS for food testing labs helps manage laboratory inventory, track usage of inventory items, and automatically alerts laboratory managers to restock inventory once the quantity falls below a threshold level.

A food LIMS can ensure that materials are ordered from approved vendors only, flagging items purchased outside this group. As supplies are inventoried into LIMS, the barcoding process can ensure accurate storage. A LIMS can track the supply through its usage and associate it with specific analytical tests for which inventory items are utilized. As products begin to expire, a LIMS can notify technicians to discard the obsolete products.

One unique advantage of a fully integrated LIMS software is the preparation and traceability of working laboratory standards. A software solution for food labs can assist a technician in preparing standards by determining the concentration of solvents needed based on the input weight from a balance. Once prepared, LIMS prints out a label with barcodes and begins the supply traceability process as previously discussed.

Quality Assurance of Test and Calibration Data

This section of ISO 17025 pertains to the validity of a laboratory’s quality system including demonstrating that appropriate tests were performed, testing was conducted on properly maintained and calibrated equipment by qualified personnel, and with appropriate quality control checks.

Laboratory Personnel Competency
Laboratory personnel are assigned to a specific scope of work based upon qualifications (education, training and experience) and with clearly defined duties.7 This process adds another layer to the validity of data generated during analysis by ensuring only appropriate personnel are performing the testing. However, training within a laboratory can be one of the most difficult components of the accreditation process to capture due to the rapid nature in which laboratories operate.

With a food LIMS, management can ensure employees meet requirements (qualifications, competency) as specified in job descriptions, have up-to-date training records (both onboarding and ongoing), and verify that only qualified, trained individuals are performing certain tests.

Calibration and Maintenance of Equipment
Within the scope of ISO 17025, food testing laboratories must ensure that data obtained from analytical instruments is reliable and valid.5 Facilities must maintain that instruments are in correct operating condition and that calibration data (whether performed daily, weekly, or monthly) is valid. As with laboratory personnel requirements, this element to the standard adds an additional layer of credibility that sample data is precise, accurate, and valid.

A fully integrated software solution for food labs sends a notification when instrument calibration is out of specification or expired and can keep track of both routine internal and external maintenance on instruments, ensuring that instruments are calibrated and maintained regularly. Auditors often ask for instrument maintenance and calibration records upon the initiation of an audit, and LIMS can swiftly provide this information with minimal effort.

Figure 2. A preconfigured food LIMS to manage instrument calibration and maintenance data. (Figure courtesy of CloudLIMS)

Measurement of Uncertainty (UM)
Accredited food testing laboratories must measure and report the uncertainty associated with each test result.8 This is accomplished by using certified reference materials (CRM), or known spiked blanks. UM data is trended using control charts, which can be prepared using labor-intensive manual input or performed automatically using LIMS software. A fully integrated food LIMS can populate control data from the instrument into the control chart and determine if sample data analyzed in that batch can be approved for release.

Valid Test Methods and Results
Accurate test and calibration results can only be obtained with methods that are validated for the intended use.5 Accredited food laboratories should use test methods that are current and contain embedded quality control standards.

A LIMS for food testing labs can ensure correct method selection by technicians by comparing data from the sample accession input with the test method selected for analysis. Specific product identifiers can indicate if methods have been validated. As testing is performed, a LIMS can track time signatures to ensure protocols are properly performed. At the end of the analysis, results of the quality control samples are linked to the test samples to ensure only valid results are available for clients. Instilling checks at each step of the process allows a LIMS to auto-generate Certificates of Analysis (CoA) knowing that the testing was performed accurately.

Data Integrity
The foundation of a laboratory’s reputation is based on its ability to provide reliable and accurate data. ISO 17025:2017 includes specific references to data protection and integrity.10 Laboratories often claim within their quality manuals that they ensure the integrity of their data but provide limited details on how it is accomplished making this a high priority review for auditors. Data integrity is easily captured in laboratories that have fully integrated their instrumentation into LIMS software. Through the integration process, data is automatically populated from analytical instruments into a LIMS. This eliminates unintentional transcription errors or potential intentional data manipulation. A LIMS for food testing labs restricts access to changing or modifying data, allowing only those with high-level access this ability. To control data manipulation even further, changes to data auto-populated in LIMS by integrated instrumentation are tracked with date, time, and user signatures. This allows an auditor to review any changes made to data within LIMS and determine if appropriate documentation was included on why the change was made.

Sampling
ISO 17025:2017 requires all food testing laboratories to have a documented sampling plan for the preparation of test portions prior to analysis. Within the plan, the laboratory must determine if factors are addressed that will ensure the validity of the testing, ensure that the sampling plan is available to the laboratory (or the site where sampling is performed), and identify any preparation or pre-treatment of samples prior to analysis. This can include storage, homogenization (grinding/blending) or chemical treatments.9

As sample information is entered into LIMS, the software can specify the correct sampling method to be performed, indicate appropriate sample storage conditions, restrict the testing to approved personnel and provide electronic signatures for each step.

Monitoring and Maintenance of the Quality System

Organization within a laboratory’s quality system is a key indicator to assessors during the audit process that the facility is prepared to handle the rigors that come with accreditation.10 Assessors are keenly aware of the benefits that a food LIMS provides to operators as a single, well-organized source for quality and technical documents.

Document Control
An ISO 17025 accredited laboratory must demonstrate document control throughout its facility.6 Only approved documents are available for use in the testing facility, and the access to these documents is restricted through quality control. This reduces the risk of document access or modification by unauthorized personnel.

LIMS software efficiently facilitates this process in several ways. A food LIMS can restrict access to controlled documents (both electronic and paper) and require electronic signatures each time approved personnel access, modify or print them. This digital signature provides a chain of custody to the document, ensuring that only approved controlled documents are used during analyses and that these documents are not modified.

Software, LIMS
Figure 3. A software solution for food labs helps manage documents, track their revision history, and ensure document control. (Figure courtesy of CloudLIMS)

Corrective Actions/Non-Conforming Work
A fundamental requirement for quality systems is the documentation of non-conforming work, and subsequent corrective action plans established to reduce their future occurrence.5

A software solution for food labs can automatically maintain electronic records of deviations in testing, flagging them for review by quality departments or management. After a corrective action plan has been established, LIMS software can monitor the effectiveness of the corrective action by identifying similar non-conforming work items.

Conclusion

Food and beverage testing laboratories are increasingly becoming accredited to ISO 17025. With recent changes to ISO 17025, the importance of LIMS for the food and beverage industry has only amplified. A software solution for food labs can integrate all parts of the accreditation process from personnel qualification, equipment calibration and maintenance, to testing and methodologies.11 Fully automated LIMS increases laboratory efficiency, productivity, and is an indispensable tool for achieving and maintaining ISO 17025 accreditation.

References

  1. Spink, J. (2014). Safety of Food and Beverages: Risks of Food Adulteration. Encyclopedia of Food Safety (413-416). Academic Press.
  2. International Organization for Standardization (October 2017). ISO/IEC 17025 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. Retrieved from: https://www.iso.org/files/live/sites/isoorg/files/store/en/PUB100424.pdf
  3. 17025 Store (2018). Transitioning from ISO 17025:2005 to ISO/IEC 17024:2017. Standards Store.
  4. Perry Johnson Laboratory Accreditation (2019). An Overview of Changes Between 17025:2005 and 17025:2017. ISO/IEC 17025:2017 Transition. https://www.pjlabs.com/downloads/17025-Transition-Book.pdf
  5. Analytical Laboratory Accreditation Criteria Committee. (2018). AOAC INTERNATIONAL Guidelines for Laboratories Performing Microbiological and Chemical Analyses of Food, Dietary Supplements, and Pharmaceuticals, An Aid to Interpretation of ISO/IEC 17025. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  6. Cokakli, M. (September 4, 2020). Transitioning to ISO/IEC 17025:2017. New Food Magazine.
  7. ISO/IEC 17025:2017. General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories.
  8. Bell, S. (1999). A Beginner’s Guide to Uncertainty of Measurement. Measurement Good Practice Guide. 11 (2).
  9. 17025Store (2018). Clause 7: Process requirements. Standards Store.
  10. Dell’Aringa, J. (March 27, 2017). Best Practices for ISO 17025 Accreditation: Preparing for a Food Laboratory Audit (Part I). Food Safety Tech.
  11. Apte, A. (2020). Preparing for an ISO 17025 Audit: What to Expect from a LIMS?
LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

How Advanced LIMS Brings Control, Consistency and Compliance to Food Safety

By Ed Ingalls
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LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

Recent food scandals around the world have generated strong public concerns about the safety of the foods being consumed. Severe threats to food safety exist at all stages of the supply chain in the form of physical, chemical and biological contaminants. The current pandemic has escalated the public’s concern about cross contamination between people and food products and packaging. To eliminate food risks, manufacturers need robust technologies that allow for reliable monitoring of key contaminants, while also facilitating compliance with the ISO 17025 standard to prove the technical competence of food testing laboratories.

Without effective data and process management, manufacturers risk erroneous information, compromised product quality and regulatory noncompliance. In this article, we discuss how implementing a LIMS platform enables food manufacturers to meet regulatory requirements and ensure consumer confidence in their products.

Safeguarding Food Quality to Meet Industry Standards

Food testing laboratories are continually updated about foodborne illnesses making headlines. In addition to bacterial contamination in perishable foods and ingredient adulteration for economic gains, chemical contamination is also on the rise due to increased pesticide use. Whether it is Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter or undeclared horsemeat inside beef, each food-related scandal is a strong reminder of the importance of safeguarding food quality.

Food safety requires both preventive activities as well as food quality testing against set quality standards. Establishing standardized systems that address both food safety and quality makes it easier for manufacturers to comply with regulatory requirements, ultimately ensuring the food is safe for public consumption.

In response to food safety concerns, governing bodies have strengthened regulations. Food manufacturers are now required to ensure bacteria, drug residues and contaminant levels fall within published acceptable limits. In 2017, the ISO 17025 standard was updated to provide a risk-based approach, with an increased focus on information technology, such as the use of software systems and maintaining electronic records.

The FDA issued a notice that by February 2022, food testing, in certain circumstances, must be conducted in compliance with the ISO 17025 standard. This means that laboratories performing food safety testing will need to implement processes and systems to achieve and maintain compliance with the standard, confirming the competence, impartiality and consistent operation of the laboratory.

To meet the ISO 17025 standard, food testing laboratories will need a powerful LIMS platform that integrates into existing workflows and is built to drive and demonstrate compliance.

From Hazard Analysis to Record-Keeping: A Data-Led Approach

Incorporating LIMS into the entire workflow at a food manufacturing facility enables the standardization of processes across its laboratories. Laboratories can seamlessly integrate analytical and quality control workflows. Modern LIMS platforms provide out-of-the-box compliance options to set up food safety and quality control requirements as a preconfigured workflow.

The requirements set by the ISO 17025 standard build upon the critical points for food safety outlined in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology. HACCP, a risk-based safety management procedure, requires food manufacturers to identify, evaluate and address all risks associated with food safety.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
LIMS can be used to visualize control points for HACCP analysis according to set limits. Graphic courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The systematic HACCP approach involves seven core principles to control food safety hazards. Each of the following seven principles can be directly addressed using LIMS:

  • Principle 1. Conduct a hazard analysis: Using current and previous data, food safety risks are thoroughly assessed.
  • Principle 2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs): Each CCP can be entered into LIMS with contamination grades assigned.
  • Principle 3. Establish critical limits: Based on each CCP specification, analytical critical limits can be set in LIMS.
  • Principle 4. Establish monitoring procedures: By defining sampling schedules in LIMS and setting other parameters, such as frequency and data visualization, procedures can be closely monitored.
  • Principle 5. Establish corrective actions: LIMS identifies and reports incidents to drive corrective action. It also enables traceability of contamination and maintains audit trails to review the process.
  • Principle 6. Establish verification procedures: LIMS verifies procedures and preventive measures at the defined CCPs.
  • Principle 7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures: All data, processes, instrument reports and user details remain secured in LIMS. This information can never be lost or misplaced.

As food manufacturers enforce the safety standards set by HACCP, the process can generate thousands of data points per day. The collected data is only as useful as the system that manages it. Having LIMS manage the laboratory data automates the flow of quality data and simplifies product release.

How LIMS Enable Clear Compliance and Optimal Control

Modern LIMS platforms are built to comply with ISO 17025. Preconfigured processes include instrument and equipment calibration and maintenance management, traceability, record-keeping, validation and reporting, and enable laboratories to achieve compliance, standardize workflows and streamline data management.

The workflow-based functionality in LIMS allows researchers to map laboratory processes, automate decisions and actions based on set criteria, and reduce user intervention. LIMS validate protocols and maintain traceable data records with a clear audit history to remain compliant. Data workflows in LIMS preserve data integrity and provide records, according to the ALCOA+ principles. This framework ensures the data is Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original and Accurate (ALCOA) as well as complete, consistent and enduring. While the FDA created ALCOA+ for pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, these same principles can be applied to food manufacturers.

Environmental monitoring and quality control (QC) samples can be managed using LIMS and associated with the final product. To plan environmental monitoring, CCPs can be set up in the LIMS for specific locations, such as plants, rooms and laboratories, and the related samples can then be added to the test schedule. Each sample entering the LIMS is associated with the CCP test limits defined in the specification.

Near real-time data visualization and reporting tools can simplify hazard analysis. Managers can display information in different formats to monitor critical points in a process, flag unexpected or out-of-trend numbers, and immediately take corrective action to mitigate the error, meeting the requirements of Principles 4 and 5 of HACCP. LIMS dashboards can be optimized by product and facility to provide visibility into the complete process.

Rules that control sampling procedures are preconfigured in the LIMS along with specific testing rules based on the supplier. If a process is trending out of control, the system will notify laboratory personnel before the product fails specification. If required, incidents can be raised in the LIMS software to track the investigation of the issue while key performance indicators are used to track the overall laboratory performance.

Tasks that were once performed manually, such as maintaining staff training records or equipment calibration schedules, can now be managed directly in LIMS. Using LIMS, analysts can manage instrument maintenance down to its individual component parts. System alerts also ensure timely recalibration and regular servicing to maintain compliance without system downtime or unplanned interruptions. The system can prevent users from executing tests without the proper training records or if the instrument is due for calibration or maintenance work. Operators can approve and sign documents electronically, maintaining a permanent record, according to Principle 7 of HACCP.

LIMS allow seamless collaboration between teams spread across different locations. For instance, users from any facility or even internationally can securely use system dashboards and generate reports. When final testing is complete, Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) can be autogenerated with final results and showing that the product met specifications. All activities in the system are tracked and stored in the audit trail.

With features designed to address the HACCP principles and meet the ISO 17025 compliance requirements, modern LIMS enable manufacturers to optimize workflows and maintain traceability from individual batches of raw materials all the way through to the finished product.

Conclusion

To maintain the highest food quality and safeguard consumer health, laboratories need reliable data management systems. By complying with the ISO 17025 standard before the upcoming mandate by the FDA, food testing laboratories can ensure data integrity and effective process management. LIMS platforms provide laboratories with integrated workflows, automated procedures and electronic record-keeping, making the whole process more efficient and productive.

With even the slightest oversight, food manufacturers not only risk product recalls and lost revenue, but also losing the consumers’ trust. By upholding data integrity, LIMS play an important role in ensuring food safety and quality.

Data protection, security

The Digital Transformation of Global Food Security

By Katie Evans
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Data protection, security

Modern food supply chains are inherently complex, with products typically passing through multiple suppliers and distributors, as well as countries and continents, before they end up on the supermarket shelf. While global supply chains offer consumers greater choice and convenience, they also make protecting the security of food products more challenging. With additional stakeholders between farm and fork, products are exposed to an elevated risk of biological or chemical contamination, as well as food counterfeiting and adulteration challenges—potentially putting consumer health and brand reputation in jeopardy.

Given the importance of maintaining the safety, quality and provenance of food products, global regulatory bodies are placing the integrity of supply chains under increased scrutiny. In the United States, for example, the adoption of FSMA moved the focus from responding to foodborne illnesses to preventing them by prioritizing comprehensive food testing measures, enforcing inspections and checks, and enabling authorities to react appropriately to safety issues through fines, recalls or permit suspensions.1 Similarly, China’s revised Food Safety Law (known as FSL 2015) is widely considered to be the strictest in the country’s history, and seeks to drive up quality standards by empowering regulators, and enhancing traceability and accountability through robust record-keeping. 2 The European Union continues to closely regulate and monitor food safety through its General Food Law, which is independently overseen by the European Food Safety Authority from a scientific perspective.

Achieving the Highest Standards of Food Security, Integrity and Traceability

For producers, manufacturers and distributors, the heightened regulatory focus on the security and integrity of the food supply chain has placed additional emphasis on accurate record-keeping, transparent accountability and end-to-end traceability. To meet the needs of the modern regulatory landscape, food chain stakeholders require robust systems and tools to manage their quality control (QC), environmental monitoring and chain of custody data. Despite this, many businesses still handle this information using paper-based approaches or localized spreadsheets, which can compromise operational efficiency and regulatory compliance.

The fundamental flaw of these traditional data management approaches is their reliance on manual data entry and transcription steps, leaving information vulnerable to human error. To ensure the accuracy of data, some companies implement resource-intensive verification or review checks. However, these steps inevitably extend workflows and delay decision-making, ultimately holding up the release of products at a high cost to businesses. Moreover, as paper and spreadsheet-based data management systems must be updated by hand, they often serve merely as a record of past events and are unable to provide insight into ongoing activities. The time lag associated with recording and accessing supply chain information means that vital insight is typically unavailable until the end of a process, and data cannot be used to optimize operations in real-time.

Furthermore, using traditional data management approaches, gathering information in the event of an audit or food safety incident can be extremely challenging. Trawling through paperwork or requesting information contained in spreadsheets saved on local computers is time-consuming and resource-intensive. When it comes to establishing accountability for actions, these systems are often unable to provide a complete audit trail of events.

Digital Solutions Transform Food Security and Compliance

Given the limitations of traditional workflows, food supply chain stakeholders are increasingly seeking more robust data management solutions that will allow them to drive efficiency, while meeting the latest regulatory expectations. For many businesses, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are proving to be a highly effective solution for collecting, storing and sharing their QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data.

One of the most significant advantages of managing data using LIMS is the way in which they bring together people, instruments, workflows and data in a single integrated system. When it comes to managing the receipt of raw materials, for example, LIMS can improve overall workflow visibility, and help to make processes faster and more efficient. By using barcodes, radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags or near-field communication, samples can be tracked by the system throughout various laboratory and storage locations. With LIMS tracking samples at every stage, ingredients and other materials can be automatically released into production as soon as the QC results have been authorized, streamlining processes and eliminating costly delays.

By storing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) used for raw material testing or QC centrally in a LIMS, worklists, protocols and instrument methods can be automatically downloaded directly to equipment. In this way, LIMS are able to eliminate time-consuming data entry steps, reducing the potential for human error and improving data integrity. When integrated with laboratory execution systems (LES), these solutions can even guide operators step-by-step through procedures, ensuring SOPs are executed consistently, and in a regulatory compliant manner. Not only can these integrated solutions improve the reliability and consistency of data by making sure tests are performed in a standardized way across multiple sites and testing teams, they can also boost operational efficiency by simplifying set-up procedures and accelerating the delivery of results. What’s more, because LIMS can provide a detailed audit trail of all user interactions within the system, this centralized approach to data management is a robust way of ensuring full traceability and accountability.

This high level of operational efficiency and usability also extends to the way in which data is processed, analyzed and reported. LIMS platforms can support multi-level parameter review and can rapidly perform calculations and check results against specifications for relevant customers. In this way, LIMS can ensure pathogens, pesticides and veterinary drug residues are within specifications for specific markets. With all data stored centrally, certificates of analysis can be automatically delivered to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or process information management systems (PIMS) to facilitate rapid decision-making and batch release. Furthermore, the sophisticated data analysis tools built into the most advanced LIMS software enable users to monitor the way in which instruments are used and how they are performing, helping businesses to manage their assets more efficiently. Using predictive algorithms to warn users when principal QC instruments are showing early signs of deterioration, the latest LIMS can help companies take preventative action before small issues turn into much bigger problems. As a result, these powerful tools can help to reduce unplanned maintenance, keep supply chains moving, and better maintain the quality and integrity of goods.

While LIMS are very effective at building more resilient supply chains and preventing food security issues, they also make responding to potential threats much faster, easier and more efficient. With real-time access to QC, environmental monitoring and chain of custody data, food contamination or adulteration issues can be detected early, triggering the prompt isolation of affected batches before they are released. And in the event of a recall or audit, batch traceability in modern LIMS enables the rapid retrieval of relevant results and metadata associated with suspect products through all stages of production. This allows the determination of affected batches and swift action to be taken, which can be instrumental in protecting consumer safety as well as brand value.

Using LIMS to Protect Security and Integrity of the Food Supply Chain

Increasingly, LIMS are helping businesses transform food security by bringing people, instruments and workflows into a single integrated system. By simplifying and automating processes, providing end-to-end visibility across the food supply chain, and protecting the integrity of data at every stage, these robust digital solutions are not only helping food supply chain stakeholders to ensure full compliance with the latest regulations; they are enabling businesses to operate more efficiently, too.

References

  1. FDA. (2011). FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/full-text-food-safety-modernization-act-fsma.
  2. Balzano, J. (2015). “Revised Food Safety Law In China Signals Many Changes And Some Surprises”. Forbes. Accessed October 3, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbalzano/2015/05/03/revised-food-safety-law-in-china-signals-many-changes-and-some-surprises/#624b72db6e59.
LIMS, laboratory information management system

Integrated Informatics: Optimizing Food Quality and Safety by Building Regulatory Compliance into the Supply Chain

By Kevin Smith
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LIMS, laboratory information management system

Global food supply chains offer consumers more choice than ever before. Thanks to international networks of producers, wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers, many ingredients can be sourced all year round, meaning diets are no longer limited by what’s in season. However, the increasing complexity of these supply chains means many food and beverage products are potentially more exposed to biological and chemical contamination as well as food fraud issues, putting brand reputation and human health at risk.

With consumer trust and public safety of paramount importance, global food regulators have introduced strict rules to protect the quality and authenticity of products. Regulations such as the FDA’s Food Protection Plan, for example, seek to incorporate safety measures throughout food supply chains in order to better prevent and respond to potential issues.1 These regulations are complemented by standards such as the ISO’s recently updated ISO 22000:2018 guidelines that recommend the implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to achieve the highest levels of quality control (QC).2 For businesses working within this regulatory framework, it is essential to take a coordinated approach to deliver the standards of food quality and safety that customers and regulators expect.

Every food supply chain will have its own set of product specifications and QC parameters. However, all these requirements demand that decisions on the release of goods are made using accurate and timely information. Given the growing attention from regulators on the safety and provenance of food, as well as the need for operations to run as efficiently as possible, supply chain stakeholders are reevaluating the digital platforms they use to manage, store and recall their data. Here, we consider how laboratory information management systems (LIMS) can help businesses integrate efficient data collection workflows across multiple locations to support robust QC testing and build regulatory compliance into their operations.

Meeting the Challenges Facing Modern Food Supply Chains

Assuring consistent product quality and safety is a constant challenge for food supply chain businesses, given the broad range of issues that can compromise these standards. Although most businesses adopt strict storage and handling protocols to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacterial contamination, high-profile public health stories regularly hit the headlines. The widespread use of pesticides and veterinary drugs in farming also means that ingredients are potentially exposed to a wide range of known and unknown chemical contaminants. Contamination can also occur during the handling, processing and packaging stages. Robust QC measures are therefore essential to identify issues as early as possible.

Equally, food adulteration and counterfeiting continue to be key challenges, with high-value products regularly targeted by food fraudsters. The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that up to 10% of all commercially sold food products are affected by these practices, costing the industry between $10 and $15 billion each year and putting public health at risk.3 Comprehensive QC testing, supported by robust chain of custody data, is required to demonstrate quality and authenticity of goods, protect brands and safeguard consumers.

However, the extended nature of modern food supply chains can make delivering against these goals more difficult, especially if poorly integrated information management approaches are employed. As food supply chains have gone global, it has become increasingly common for businesses to operate storage, production and processing facilities across sites in multiple regions, countries and even continents. To deliver goods that meet well-defined safety and quality specifications, QC workflows must be built upon standardized protocols that are implemented correctly across the supply chain, regardless of the individual following them or the location in which they operate. These workflows must be supported by robust information exchange mechanisms that make sure the right decisions around product manufacturing and batch release can be made using accurate, complete and up-to-date information.

Improving QC Data Quality Using Integrated Data Management Solutions

With fragmented information management approaches often getting in the way of this ideal, many food businesses are looking to transform their poorly connected systems into informatics platforms that streamline operations, improve visibility and reduce errors. The latest LIMS allow businesses to bring all their QC data into a single integrated system, helping to harmonize processes and make information sharing more efficient to enhance product quality and safety.

Take the execution of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for pesticide residue testing, for example. By centrally connecting instruments and storing SOPs digitally on a LIMS, processes and parameters can be downloaded directly, eliminating the need for human error-prone manual set-up and supporting the consistent collection of data. Furthermore, because these SOPs are located in a centralized system, securely accessible to authorized users across all sites and facilities, the risk of SOPs becoming out of date or out of sync is greatly reduced. With guidance on residue levels regularly updated to reflect the evolving knowledge of these threats, ensuring the latest testing protocols are applied is particularly important.

Additionally, because LIMS capture and store QC measurements directly, as it is generated, they eliminate the need for labor-intensive transcription and data transfer processes. Not only does this improve measurement accuracy by taking human error out of the equation, it also boosts efficiency and reduces the administrative burden on those responsible for collecting QC data. As a result, experienced staff can spend less time on paperwork and data entry, and more time actively optimizing processes and finding solutions to other key challenges. With access to the most accurate and up-to-date information, businesses are better placed to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and can act to resolve potential issues before they turn into more significant problems.

Supporting Well-Defined QC Processes and Regulatory Compliance

With international food regulators turning their attention to the methods used to assure the quality and authenticity of foodstuffs, supply chain stakeholders are now expected to have well-defined QC workflows that not only provide complete traceability of products from farm to fork, but also transparency around processes such as instrument calibration and data handling.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
Modern LIMS allow food businesses to visualize their workflow data using dashboards, process diagrams or facility maps. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

LIMS allow food businesses to build regulatory compliance into their processes by providing a comprehensive overview of all supply chain data, including information associated with QC steps. As all data required to support proof of compliance is organized in a single system, it can be quickly and conveniently recalled for sharing or review purposes. Some of the latest systems allow users to visualize this data holistically on process diagrams or dashboards, helping to fulfill HACCP requirements and make keeping track of active workflows as easy as possible.

Furthermore, because LIMS can be used to capture and store data automatically, they also facilitate the real-time monitoring of supply chain processes, meaning out-of-specification QC parameters can be flagged and reported earlier. The sophisticated algorithms present in some of the latest LIMS can even be used to warn businesses of small but significant trends such as the decline in performance of an aging instrument, which could cause unexpected downtime or cause product quality standards to fall over time. These alerting capabilities mean potential issues can be remedied faster, helping stakeholders more proactively protect consumer safety.

Defensible data is central to protecting brand integrity, especially when it comes to issues around food adulteration and counterfeiting. As such, food businesses need robust data management tools that support complete traceability of actions. By automatically recording every interaction with the system to generate a comprehensive audit trail and facilitating the use of e-signatures to document review procedures, LIMS can safeguard the highest levels of accountability, from data collection all the way through to results reporting. Some of the most advanced LIMS also feature powerful audit trail search functionality, allowing authorized users to recall specific actions such as unusual QC activity or potentially non-compliant behavior. With a secure record of events and a single, integrated platform for supply chain data, food businesses can focus on what’s important—optimizing processes and delivering high-quality goods.

Optimizing and Safeguarding the Food Supply Chain Using LIMS

Modern LIMS allow food supply chain stakeholders to build regulatory compliance into their workflows by standardizing QC processes and giving authorized individuals full visibility over their data. By facilitating faster and more informed decision-making using accurate and up-to-the-minute data, LIMS are helping businesses meet current industry challenges head on to maintain the safety and integrity of the food supply chain.

References

  1. FDA. (November 2007). Food Protection Plan. Access April 7, 2019. Retrieved from , https://www.fda.gov/downloads/aboutfda/centeroffices/oc/officeofoperations/ucm121761.pdf .
  2.  International Organization for Standardization. (June 2018). ISO 22000:2018(en) Food safety management systems — Requirements for any organization in the food chain..
  3. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and A.T. Kearney. (2010). Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection.
PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

How Digital Solutions Support Supply Chain Transparency and Traceability

By Patricia McDermott
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PattyMcDermott, ThermoFisher Scientific

Ensuring the safety and authenticity of food is a key responsibility of growers, producers, manufacturers and suppliers. With so many partners involved in the journey from farm to fork, tracking chain of custody data and maintaining a clear, unbroken record are essential to safeguard the quality and provenance of products. However, without proper systems to maintain transparent supply chain audit trails, businesses operating within the food industry run the risk of being responsible for adverse events that could result in health, economic or even legal consequences.

One of the biggest challenges associated with maintaining a clear chain of custody is the need to monitor the flow of raw materials, ingredients and products across increasingly global distribution networks. To successfully track food products throughout the value chain, information on product movements and quality control data must be accessible to those who need it. These systems must also remain compliant with the latest regulations, as well as ensure stakeholders can achieve the highest levels of productivity to meet consumer demand.

For players within the food supply chain to achieve transparent processes and complete traceability, robust information exchange mechanisms and integrated data management systems are key. The latest digital solutions are ensuring the integrity of supply networks by capturing and making available data from any stage of this journey for regulatory or product quality assurance purposes.

Food Safety: A Global Responsibility

The global nature of modern supply networks can make ensuring the safety and quality of food challenging. From honey and juice to yogurt and cheese, tracking the lifecycle of food products is essential to combat food fraud and adulteration, as well as safeguard consumers from harmful food contaminants, such as pesticides and bacteria. Unscrupulous behavior from businesses operating within the supply chain can, for example, cause consumers to purchase products that are not what they claim to be, and even put customers’ health at risk through exposure to potentially unsafe batches.

Given the global expansion of the food supply chain, regulatory bodies are putting increased focus on ensuring that products that pass through multiple channels and regions comply with the same regulations. By focusing on enforcing standards through audits and reviews, it becomes possible to prevent and therefore reduce the potential for adverse events occurring.1 As a result, voluntary standards such as the ISO 22000 guidelines, and mandatory regulations such as FSMA and EU 178/2002, have been put in place to set clear benchmarks for stakeholders’ responsibilities and better enforce food quality and safety.

Regulations such as these require extensive record keeping, transparent audit trails and accountability for all processes. While end-to-end monitoring of one process may be relatively straightforward, ensuring visibility for every process within a complex food supply network can quickly become an overwhelming task. In order to achieve regulatory compliance across all aspects of a supply chain, businesses must be able to integrate their data management systems to achieve full oversight. Moreover, with effective data management tools in place, businesses can organize and incorporate data from all aspects of a food product lifecycle in a compliant manner, enabling them to expand globally.

Integrating Digital Solutions for Better Outcomes

To preserve consumer confidence and brand integrity, businesses operating within the food industry are recognizing the need for automated infrastructures that can manage data, streamline processes, and ensure traceability and accountability for every product. By integrating all monitoring processes into a single system and enabling access to this information via the cloud, the latest digital data management platforms are working to alleviate the challenges associated with operating global supply networks.

Manually organizing inventory management, standard operating procedure (SOP) use, and product traceability can be difficult and time-consuming, especially if operations are on a global scale. Setting up automated processes to manage fail points using a laboratory information management system (LIMS), where they can be itemized and protocols established for potential hazards and preventive measures, can boost speed and efficiency while ensuring the highest levels of data integrity.

Routine food safety testing requires the consistent replenishment of supplies, and the failure to keep on top of inventory use can cause operations to grind to an unexpected stop. Automatic supply level monitoring and automated ordering using a LIMS can eliminate inventory fail points and help to ensure uninterrupted productivity. Furthermore, introducing electronic SOPs as part of a LIMS can define and outline workflows to prevent unintended errors and ensure reliability. Additionally, tracking and logging products using barcode readers throughout their lifecycle gives stakeholders confidence in the products they handle, and can simplify quality control and regulatory review processes.

With the need to monitor so many processes across the food supply chain, there are large volumes of instrument data, workflows and records that must be maintained. Leveraging a LIMS to collect and manage disparate data from all aspects of every process can help stakeholders to streamline workflows. From evaluating potential hazards to eliminating possible issues, having procedures tracked automatically not only transforms processes, but also simplifies quality assessment.

The latest LIMS are able to aggregate all of this data in a single cloud-based system, making this information available at the tap of a tablet or smartphone. Integrating a LIMS with laboratory equipment across food safety testing protocols allows for automated data transfer and increased lab efficiency. Data can be captured from laboratory equipment using a connected scientific data management system (SDMS), which is generated using the approved methods and SOPs available from a laboratory execution system (LES). Interfacing to each instrument using the LES ensures there are no input or copying errors. Subsequently, as process results are entered into the system, any out of specification parameters can be flagged and reported automatically.

The value of an LES within a LIMS can be seen in food safety labs where global demand drives time to market and thus the need for high production efficiency. By giving lab managers control over method and protocol management from any location, the actions of users can be easily recalled for performance monitoring and accountability purposes. And with protocols, regulations and corrective actions defined through the LIMS, labs can achieve faster and more effective decision-making.

Digital solutions such as LIMS are enabling food safety scientists to perform analyses based on readily available SOPs using LES platforms, collect and store data in its original form using an SDMS, and evaluate how the data is being collected, transferred, stored and accessed from a centralized, cloud-based LIMS. These integrated digital solutions offer comprehensive support for the organization of chain of custody data, ensuring full traceability and compliance, and protecting consumer safety and food integrity.

Improved Traceability for Regulatory Compliance

Current regulations are enforcing the quality and safety of food products using well-defined standards for laboratory processes, ensuring the transparency of data handling processes, from raw materials to packaged products. ISO 22000 sets recommendations for food safety management systems and requires businesses to implement hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) to ensure the highest levels of quality control and assurance throughout the product lifecycle.

Regulations such as EU 178/2002 and FSMA include mandatory requirements for the traceability of food, feed and any other food-related substance or animal through identification and food tracking programs. Given the unfortunate growth of food fraud, traceability and authentication are becoming increasingly important. The latest regulations are helping the food industry to maintain optimal production practices to safeguard public health, maintain consumer confidence and preserve brand integrity.

Systems that are fully harmonized with these guidelines can be used to maintain data in organized archives, simplify audit trail recording for proof of compliance, and enable easy-access for users to review data. The latest LIMS can support HACCP compliance by automatically alerting users to deviations in expected processing parameters. In this way, issues can be quickly identified, and corrective action can be taken to prevent potentially dangerous products from reaching the consumer.

Digital lab and data management solutions are helping food supply chain stakeholders to simplify tracking, improve transparency and ensure the highest levels of accountability to protect both product authenticity and consumer safety. The integration and implementation of these systems helps to fulfill production demands as well as meet future challenges, allowing the food industry to expand and develop services and checks with the growing global market. Moreover, the potential for food fraud or adulteration is greatly minimized, giving consumers additional confidence in the products they purchase.

Reference

  1. Charlebois, S. Sterling, B. Haratifar, S. and Naing, S.K. (2014). “Comparison of Global Food Traceability Regulations and Requirements,” Compr. Rev. Food Sci. Food Saf., vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 1104–1123.
Tim Daniels, Autoscribe Informatics
In the Food Lab

Using LIMS to Get In Shape for FDA’s Visit

By Tim Daniels
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Tim Daniels, Autoscribe Informatics

FSMA is a major reform of the U.S. food safety laws. It shifts the emphasis for food safety to preventing contamination during manufacture instead of just responding to it. As part of the implementation process, the FDA will enforce these new rules during routine random inspections at food manufacturing sites. With such a significant change in emphasis, Shawn K. Stevens of Food Industry Counsel LLC, released an FDA Inspection Checklist. The checklist is designed to help food and beverage manufacturers to prepare for an agency inspection and to ensure they have the required controls and checks in place. Before we look in more detail at the checklist, it is worth reviewing some of the underlying requirements.

Some Basic Requirements

One of the fundamental requirements of FSMA is the establishment of an environmental monitoring program at each facility. It defines the testing protocols for appropriate microorganisms and verifies that the preventative measures undertaken are effective. Clear procedures and systems are required to identify the test microorganisms most suited to the risks in their systems. They need procedures to identify the locations from which samples will be collected and the number of sites to be sampled, since the number and location must be adequate to determine whether the preventative controls are effective. They also need to identify the timing and frequency for collecting and testing samples. The tests to be conducted must be specified, including the analytical methods used and the corrective action procedures in the event that testing detects an environmental pathogen or an indicating organism. Just as importantly, all of the data associated with this testing program needs to both be recorded and accessible for audit purposes.

Acquiring and Managing Environmental Monitoring Data

Any environmental monitoring program will come at a cost to the food manufacturer. While the program itself will need to be set up by experts in the field, much of the implementation can be carried out by lesser-qualified technicians. So a key aspect is having the tools to implement a program where the most effective use is made of each resource available, as this keeps costs down. In principle, one such tool is a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS).  The use of a LIMS is commonplace in QA Labs to record and monitor laboratory samples, tests and results in order to simplify and automate processes and procedures. There is a variety of ways in which a LIMS could facilitate the environmental monitoring process to enable best practice even by non-specialist staff. For example, analysis can be simplified if each set of test results can be automatically linked to respective sampling points in the facility. Out-of-specification test results could be linked to corrective and preventive actions (CAPA). Test failures at a particular sampling point could be used to trigger more frequent testing at that point according to pre-set criteria.

  • The data management capabilities within a LIMS make it possible to:
  • Implement data management strategies that increase security and availability of data
  • Eliminate manual assembly of data for analysis and audit
  • Make data more useful with easy retrieval/visibility

Perhaps most importantly, a properly configured LIMS can provide a suitable framework for set-up and adjustment by the environmental monitoring expert, while reducing the expertise required to operate it on a daily basis.

Laboratory Information Management Systems
The Matrix Gemini Environmental monitoring solution is an example of an information management system that uses the capabilities of a LIMS to record and monitor laboratory samples, tests and results to simplify and automate environmental monitoring in QA Labs. Image courtesy of Autoscribe Informatics

FDA Inspection Checklist

This comprehensive document highlights the steps that companies need to take to prepare for the inspection process, navigate the inspection itself and respond to any criticisms arising from the inspection.

There are three main areas in the checklist where a LIMS could help satisfy FSMA requirements:

  1. Finalizing written food safety systems and making sure certain employees know the plans. LIMS provides the framework to set up documented food safety sampling requirements and track microbial test results over time. This facilitates recall and more detailed investigation should a sample fail.
  2. Well organized and maintained data, and ease of records access. LIMS should be capable of date and time stamping every entry and since it will contain all the test data over time, this can be easily recalled should the need arise. Typically a standard operating procedure would be developed, which will increase testing and start “out-of-specification” actions if abnormal microbial contamination is detected. LIMS can provide a full audit trail for all test data and produce reports showing result trends over time, highlighting variance and peaks in data.
  3. Proper documentation of corrective actions. In the event of failures, investigators will want to focus on the particular sample points and the “out-of-specification” actions that were initiated to investigate and resolve these failures. Typically three months of data is requested around these sample points, although up to two years’ worth of data could be requested. LIMS should allow data to be instantly pulled from the database as a report for further investigation.

FDA investigators will be most interested in what happens in the event of a failure and what learning gets incorporated into your regular regime. What happens when an out-of-specification result is obtained is the crux of preventive testing regimes. Actions might include changing sanitation methods, increasing test frequency or locations in areas of concern, segregating traffic patterns, re-training staff and so forth. Some of these actions, such as increasing test frequency, can be automated. All actions must be clearly documented, which can be done by adding appropriate records directly into the LIMS. This captures the actions that each quality improvement cycle needs in order to discover the likely root cause of any problems and how they may be avoided in the future.

All corrective actions should identify the root cause of the deviation, actions taken to prevent recurrence and, if product safety is not affected, a written conclusion (supported by factual and scientific data) that the deviation “does not create an immediate food safety issue.”

The emphasis should always be on preventive actions to remove potential points of failure before issues get into the final delivered products causing stock loss and costly recalls.

Configuring a LIMS for Environmental Monitoring

While most LIMS in principle provide the capability to handle the requirements of environmental monitoring, the system will need to be configured to do so, and this may not be a trivial exercise. The software will need to be configured to represent user requirements in terms of workflows, screen designs, menu designs, terminology, numbering schemes, report designs and much more. For many LIMS, full configuration for specific applications requires custom coding, which will require re-validation.

Once configured, LIMS can offer a practical way for food and beverage companies to document their sanitation/safety programs and instantly show written evidence of both testing and corrective actions when the FDA comes knocking.

Jacob Bowland, Heateflex
In the Food Lab

FSMA to Increase Role for Food Microbiology Testing Laboratories

By Jacob Bowland
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Jacob Bowland, Heateflex

As a result of the finalization of FSMA regulations on September 10, 2015, increasing requirements for procedures, documentation and testing will soon be impacting the food industry. The major effects on the food microbiology testing market will come in the form of an increase in the volume of samples that must be processed in accordance with the new FSMA rules, along with an improved emphasis on accurate and complete record keeping. The goals of FSMA are to create a new safety standard across the entire food chain. Increasing food pathogen testing will minimize possible recalls and the probability that dangerous food outbreaks occur.

Food manufacturers’ testing labs and third-party accredited testing labs can meet the demand for increased testing and improved record keeping in one of two ways: Via facility expansion or via implementing new technologies into the laboratory. While facility expansion might be an ideal long-term solution, it will not address the immediate surge in lab demand brought on by the new FSMA requirements, as it takes time to build new laboratories and hire employees. Implementing new technologies in the lab, then, makes the most sense, and where automation can be introduced into traditionally-manual processes, higher throughput may be realized using existing personnel and facilities.  Automation further removes human error and improves the quality of the test being performed. The challenge for lab managers will be to objectively look at the current production bottlenecks in their testing operations and determine where technology may be introduced to increase throughput.

In addition to mandating additional testing, the FSMA regulations will require improved lab record keeping, as well as a new accreditation process that FDA will implement. The food testing industry faces the same dilemma that the healthcare industry faced some years ago in migrating from manual files to electronic health records.  Lab notebooks have a real purpose in the lab, but their purpose should be more as a backup system to information that is gathered and stored electronically. While Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) have been around for many years, their full potential in pathogen testing has yet to be realized. A properly designed LIMS provides an electronic database that not only aids in the accreditation process, but also allows samples to be traced throughout the testing facility.  This allows positive test results to be screened from false positives or false negatives, and points to which equipment or procedures in the testing process need to be improved upon.  LIMS technology for recording digital information can also trace user, operation time and performance specifications more accurately than lab notebook-based processes.

In summary, many changes are coming to the food industry as a result of increased regulations, presenting exciting opportunities to develop new products and technologies to alleviate the pain points within testing labs.  The industry of food pathogen testing must change alongside the regulatory atmosphere in order to be competitive in a post-FSMA era.

Laboratory Information Management System

How LIMS Facilitates ISO 17025 Certification in Food Testing Labs

By Dr. Christine Paszko
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Laboratory Information Management System

In order to ensure that a food testing laboratory maintains a quality management system that effectively manages all aspects of laboratory operations that affect quality, there are numerous records, reports and data that must be recorded, documented and managed.

Gathering, organizing and controlling all the data that is generated, managed and stored by food testing laboratories can be challenging to say the least. As the ISO Standards and regulatory requirements for food testing laboratories evolve, so does the need for improved quality data management systems. Historical systems that were very efficient and effective 10 years ago, may no longer meet the demanding requirements for ISO 17025 certification. One way to meet the challenge is to turn to automated solutions that eliminate many of the mundane tasks that utilize valuable resources.

There are many reasons for laboratories to seek this certification, including to enhance reputation, gain a competitive advantage, reduce operational costs, and meet regulatory compliance goals. A major advantage for food testing laboratories to obtain ISO 17025 Certification is that is tells prospective clients that the laboratory has a strong commitment to quality, and they hold the certification to prove it. This certification not only boosts a laboratory’s reputation, but it also demonstrates an organization’s commitment to quality, operational efficiency and management practices. Proof of ISO 17025 Certification eliminates the need for independent supplier audits, because the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory have been verified by external auditors. Many ISO Certified laboratories will only buy products (raw materials, supplies and software) and services from other ISO-certified firms so that they do not need to do additional work in qualifying the vendor or the products.

There are many areas in which a LIMS supports and promotes ISO 17025 compliance. Laboratories are required to manage and maintain SOPs (standard operating procedures) that accurately reflect all phases of current laboratory activities such as assessing data integrity, taking corrective actions, handling customer complaints, managing all test methods, and managing all documents pertaining to quality. In addition, all contact with clients and their testing instructions should be recorded and kept with the job/project documentation for access by the staff performing the tests/calibrations. With a computerized LIMS, laboratory staff can scan in all paper forms that arrive with the samples (special instructions, chain of custody (CoC), or any other documentation). This can be linked to the work order and is easy assessable by anyone who has  the appropriate permissions. The LIMS provides extensive options for tracking and maintaining all correspondence, the ability to attach electronic files, scanned documents, create locked PDFs of final reports, COAs (Certificate of Analysis), and CoCs.

Sample Handling and Acceptance

Laboratories are required to have a procedure that defines all processes that a sample is subjected to while in the possession of the laboratory. Some of these procedures will relate to sample preservation, holding time requirements, and the type of container in which the sample is collected or stored. Other information that must be tracked includes sample identification and receipt procedures, along with acceptance or rejection criteria at log-in. Sample log-in begins and defines the entire analysis and disposal process, therefore it is important that all sample storage, tracking and shipping receipts as well as sample transmittal forms (CoC) are stored, managed and maintained throughout the sample’s analysis to final disposal. To summarize, the laboratory should have written procedures around the following related to sample preservation:

  • Preservation
  • Sample identification
  • Sample acceptance conditions
  • Holding timesShipping informationStorage
  • Results and Reporting
  • Disposal

The LIMS must allow capture and tracking of data throughout the sample’s active lifetime. In addition, laboratories are also required to document, manage and maintain essential information associated with the analytical analysis, such as incubator and refrigerator temperature charts, and instrument run files/logs. Also important is capturing data from any log books, which would include the unique sample identifier, and the date and time of the analysis, along with if the holding time is 72 hours or less or when time critical steps are included in the analysis, such as sample preparations, extractions, or incubations. Capturing the temperature data can be automated such that the data can be directly imported into the LIMS. If there is an issue with the temperature falling outside of a range, an email can automatically be spawned or a message sent to a cell phone to alert the responsible party. Automation saves time and money, and can prevent many potential problems via the LIMS ability to import and act on real-time data.

If any instrumentation is used in the analysis, the following information must also be recorded in the instrument identification (to ensure that it is in calibration, and all maintenance and calibration records are current), operating conditions/parameters, analysis type, any calculations, and analyst identification. In addition to analyst identification, laboratories must also keep track of analyst training as it relates to their laboratory functions. For example, if an analyst has not been trained on a particular method or if their certification has expired, the LIMS will not allow them to enter any result into the LIMS for the method(s) that they have not been trained/certified to perform. The LIMS can also send automated alerts when the training is about to expire. Figure 1 shows a screen in the LIMS that manages training completed, scheduled, tests scores, and expiration dates of the training, along with the ability to attach any training certificates, exams, or any other relevant documentation. Laboratory managers can also leverage the LIMS to pull reports that compare analyst work quality via an audit report. If they determine that one analyst has a significant amount of samples that require auditing, they can then investigate if there is a possible training issue. Having immediate access to data allows managers to more rapidly identify and mitigate potential problems.

Laboratory Information Management System
LIMS manages a variety of aspects in training, including when it has been completed, scheduled, tests scores, and expiration dates. (Click to enlarge)

Another major area that a LIMS can provide significant benefit is around data integrity. There are four main elements of data integrity:

  1. Documentation in the quality management system that defines the data integrity procedure, which is approved (signed/dated) by senior management.
  2. Data integrity training for the entire laboratory. Ensures that the database is secure and locked and operates under referential integrity.
  3. Detailed, regular monitoring of data integrity. Includes reviewing the audit trail reports and analyzing logs for any suspicious behavior on the system.
  4. Signed data integrity documentation for all laboratory employees indicating that they have read and understand the processes and procedures that have been defined.

The LIMS will enhance the ability to track and manage data integrity training (along with all training). The LIMS will provide a definition of the training, the date, time, and topic (description); instructor(s); timeframe in which the training is relevant, reminders on when it needs to be repeated; along with  certifications, quiz scores, copies of quizzes, and more. With many tasks, the LIMS can provide managers with automated reports that are sent out at regular time intervals, schedule training for specific staff, provide them with automatic notification, schedule data integrity audits, and to facilitate FDA’s CFR 21 part 11 compliance (electronic signatures). The LIMS can also be configured to automatically have reports signed and delivered via fax or email, or to a web server. The LIMS manages permissions and privileges to all staff members that require access to specific data and have the ability to access that data, along with providing a secure document control mechanism.

Laboratories are also required to maintain SOPs that accurately reflect all phases of current laboratory operations such as assessing data integrity test methods, corrective actions and handling customer complaints. Most commercial LIMS provide the ability to link SOPs to the analytical methods such that analysts can pull down the SOP as they are doing the procedure to help ensure that no steps are omitted. Having the SOPs online ensures that everyone is using the same version of the locked SOPs, which are readily available and secure.

Administrative Records, Demonstration of Capability

Laboratories are required to manage and maintain the following information on an analyst working in the laboratory: Personal qualifications and experience and training records (degree certificates, CV’s), along with records of demonstration of capability for each analyst and a list of names (along with initials and signatures) for all staff that hold the responsibility to sign or initial any laboratory record. Most commercial LIMS will easily and securely track and manage all the required personnel records. Individuals responsible for signing off on laboratory records can be configured in the LIMS to not only document the assignment of responsibility but also to enforce it.

Reference Standards and Materials

Because the references and standards that laboratories use in their analytical measurements affect the correctness of the result, laboratories must have a system and procedures to manage and track the calibration of their reference standards. Documentation that calibration standards were calibrated by a body that can prove traceability must be provided. Although most standards are purchased from companies that specialize in the creation of reference standards, there are some standards that laboratories create internally that can also be traced and tracked in the LIMS. Most commercial LIMS will also allow for the creation, receipt, tracking, and management of all supplies in an inventory module, such that they document the reference material identification, lot numbers, expiration date, supplier, and vendor, and link the standard to all tests to which it was linked.

The ISO 17025 Standard identifies the high technical competence and management system requirements that guarantee your test results and calibrations are consistently accurate. The LIMS securely manages and maintains all the data that supports the Quality Management System.

Key advantages of food testing laboratories that have achieved ISO 17025 Certification with a computerized LIMS that securely and accurately stores all the pertinent data and information:

  • Proof of ISO 17025 Certification eliminates the need for supplier audits, because the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory have been demonstrated by the certification.
  • Knowledge that there has been an evaluation of the staff, methods, instrumentation and equipment, calibration records and reporting to ensure test results are valid.
  • Verification of operational efficiency by external auditors that have validated the quality, capability and expertise of the laboratory.
  • Defines robust quality controls for the selection and authentication of methods, analyzing statistics, controlling and securing data.
  • Clearly defines each employee’s roles, responsibilities and accountability.
  • Confidence that the regulatory and safety requirements are effectively managed and met in a cost efficient-manner.