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   Home » Consumables & Supplies » Articles » Keeping Tainted Products out of Consumer Reach
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Keeping Tainted Products out of Consumer Reach
Keeping Tainted Products out of Consumer Reach

 North Carolina Food and Drug Protection Division demonstrates laboratory competence with ARTEL pipetting proficiency training

In 2007, salmonella in peanut butter and tomatoes sickened a total of 808 North Americans. Three-hundred and fifty people became ill from E. coli-contaminated lettuce, bagged spinach, and ground beef—three of whom died. This year, a number of patients were paralyzed after taking a tainted drug manufactured by a Chinese company.

Laboratory technicians at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services calibrate their pipettes with the ARTEL PCS®
Part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), the Food and Drug Protection Division's core mission is to protect citizens from these kinds of unsafe food and drug products, to ensure consumers are purchasing quality products and to protect animal health. This responsibility is carried out through inspections and laboratory analyses. NCDA&CS is also responsible for improving the state of agriculture in North Carolina. In order for NCDA&CS to achieve this mission, it relies on a rigorous inspection program, strict regulation enforcement, and an active educational program.

At the Food and Drug Protection Division’s laboratory, samples are analyzed to identify the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms, chemicals, heavy metals, foreign material, and other food safety concerns including pesticide residues. 

Sample results may be used to initiate product embargoes and recalls and launch necessary public health advisories.

Competency and quality are especially critical for the lab because inaccurate test results can be lethal. When a product is identified as contaminated or unfit to consume, it must be quickly removed from the market to reduce public harm.

Test speed and accuracy are especially important for early detection, rapid response by the regulatory agency, and swift recovery of suspect products. These expedited efforts also aid in the mitigation of market quality issues and a return to providing safe, wholesome products.

To defend its analytical work, the laboratory must demonstrate method reliability and employee competence. Without quality standards in place, laboratory data may not withstand legal scrutiny. Lastly, providing accurate results during the initial test is critical for the lab due to the scarcity of samples.

Several additional factors are leading to an even more stringent focus on laboratory quality at the NCDA&CS. First, the FDA has been inundated with increased demand for food and drug quality testing. This trend has resulted in state labs conducting approximately 90 percent of food product analysis in the U.S. As federal labs rely more on state facilities to conduct food and drug testing, it is essential that results be comparable and methods and processes meet equally high standards.

To prove the reliability of its results, the NC Food and Drug Protection Division laboratory is applying for accreditation to ISO 17025, an international standard for calibration and testing laboratories. To be recognized by ISO, labs must demonstrate that they operate successfully under a rigorous quality management system. They must also prove their ability to generate technically valid results and that their equipment, procedures and personnel demonstrate competent performance.
Excellence through Training
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
To demonstrate its ability to produce accurate results on par with federal standards and to achieve accreditation to ISO 17025, the NC Food and Drug Protection laboratory sought to increase its personnel training program.

Because liquid handling is an important component of its sample testing processes, the lab focused on standardizing operator pipetting skills. The organization turned to ARTEL because of the company’s knowledge in liquid handling and best practices and FDA-2400 compliance.

ARTEL’s Pipetting Proficiency Training and Certification program is designed to minimize the risk of operator error and improve data quality. The program employs the ARTEL Method™ of training, which is a standardized, consistent teaching approach. The method includes education about the mechanical function of pipettes and various causes of failure: choice of pipetting mode, tip insertion depth and aspiration rates.

For standardized and comparable skill assessment, ARTEL tests attendees’ pipetting techniques pre- and post-training using the ARTEL PCS® (Pipette Calibration System). The PCS provides NIST-traceable measurements of volume accuracy and precision and verifies volume in seconds, supplying instant feedback on proper technique. It also provides automatic documentation, an important factor in ISO accreditation. ARTEL’s PCS technology also meets the FDA-2400 check-sheet criteria.

The NCDA&CS also uses the PCS to calibrate its pipettes. Based on ratiometric photometry, the PCS measures the absorbance of light by two standardized dyes to simultaneously determine the accuracy and precision of liquid volume dispenses.

Prior to the PCS, the lab calibrated its pipettes using mass analysis of de-ionized water. This method, however, does not produce traceable results, is affected by environmental conditions, and can be time consuming.
Liquid Handling’s Role in Consumer Safety
With ARTEL training and technology in place, the lab has established a stringent liquid-handling quality assurance program. Given that pipettes are commonly used in food and drug quality analysis and these tests are often highly quantitative, any error in liquid handling can compromise data integrity.

For example, pipetting error may result in false negative results, allowing tainted products to remain on the market. Conversely, pipetting error could produce false positive results, leading to the unnecessary pulling of uncontaminated products from store shelves.

Accurate liquid handling is also critical in the feed laboratory, which analyzes commercial animal feed products. This department often tests forage and grains for nitrate and aflatoxin levels, and these tests are purely quantitative. Pipetting error can affect test results and the lab’s ability to identify harmful concentrations of these contaminants.

In light of recent food and drug contamination issues, the responsibility of state testing labs in the mission to keep consumers safe is likely to grow. And laboratory quality and accurate test results are crucial in this mission. By equipping its personnel with critical pipetting skills, the NC Food and Drug Protection laboratory is strengthening the line of defense against the consumption of contaminated products.
1. Gardner, Amanda and E.J. Mundell. 2008. U.S. Food Safety: A Grocery List of Tainted Products. HealthDay News. January 14.


For additional information on the companies discussed in this article, visit:

• www.ncagr.com
• www.artel-usa.com
Company’s Other Products 
Artel, Inc.
25 Bradley Drive
Westbrook ME 04092
Phone: 207-854-0860
Fax: 207-854-0867

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