Laboratories and sample testing is one area which has been stressed upon time and again by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), given the existing low-calibre labs operating in the country.
As the draft on sample testing nears completion, Dr Deepa Bhajekar, MD, Microchem Laboratory Pvt. Ltd, chats up with Irum Khan on what should be the areas of consideration for the Authority.
You have been inviting suggestions for revision of the DGHS (DGHS - Director General of Health Services - India) manual from the stakeholders. What has prompted this initiative?
Yes. The DGHS manual can be upgraded with new methods available in the world today with new technology. Kits for quick online detection as well as highly sophisticated machines for trace level analysis can be updated in these test methods. This would permit the industry to adopt modern test methods.
What are your suggestions towards revision of the manual?
The DGHS manuals are specialised manuals for different categories of foods. New methods from international manuals available for these individual categories can be included in the DGHS manual. New methods of analysis can give accurate results in a shorter period of time increasing productivity.
With the new Food Safety and Standards Act forming shape and focus on lab building what role do you think labs like Microchem play in aiding implementation of the Act?
Well established labs like Microchem Silliker will have to strongly support the analytical requirements arising from the Food Safety Law. These will include building capacity for volume analysis while developing validated methods for various tests in the Food Safety Act. Laboratories should act as extended partners helping the industry achieve desired quality level.
Has the authority approached Microchem for assistance in any area of sample testing or any other area?
The authority has approved Microchem Silliker for testing local food samples as well as imported food samples along with other labs in the country.
What are your suggestions towards improvement in method validations?
Method validation has to be diligently followed by any laboratory to be able to deliver accurate reproducible analytical results. A thorough validation protocol based on international guidelines will ensure correct percentage recovery, LoD (Limit of Detection), and LoQ (Limit of Quantification) for trace level analytical methods. Method validation has to be carried out for different substrates for individual components.
While setting up new labs for testing what should be the infrastructural considerations of the Authority?
The Authority has to look into the scope of testing requirement, throughput of samples, calibre of manpower, latest equipments available and validated sensitive method of analysis. The location of the laboratory, layout, design and flow of samples through the laboratory to avoid cross-contamination are important aspects to be looked into.
The FSSAI has made NABL accreditation as prime criteria for labs to be qualified for testing? Can NABL be considered a panacea for all the challenges with regard to testing? Why?
NABL which is ISO / IEC 17025 accreditation is a good starting point for FSSA (I) to qualify labs. However individual strengths and capacity of labs will have to be studied to identify analytical capability.
What would be your objective suggestions to the FSSAI as the draft for Labs and Sampling Analysis nears completion? Have you approached the Authority for any possible association?
For approval of labs for sampling and analysis level of lab capabilities, sophisticated calibrated equipment, quality systems, international proficiency testing assuring analytical accuracy and reproducibility needs to be studied in detail.
How big is the market of food testing labs in the country?
Market estimates for laboratory testing stand at approximately Rs 750 crore.
Where is the potential for growth for this industry?
There is tremendous potential for growth of this industry as India is an agricultural country and is slated to be the food factory of the world in the coming year.
What are the challenges for growth?
The challenges for growth in the laboratory sphere will be to gear up analytical capabilities to increase our credibility in the international market. This would help our Indian exporters as well as reduce the cost of reanalysis when products from India reach foreign ports.