Assessment of the capacities of food safety laboratories in Palestine
Adeeb Ismael Amin Nawahda
أديب اسماعيل أمين نواهضة
In Palestine, the food industry and agribusiness are growing and expanding in scale and diversity responding to the continually changing market demands. Thus, to provide consumers with safe products, laboratories of food safety play a crucial role and form the basis of the national food control system. The aim of this research was to assess the testing practices and the compliance of the main food safety laboratories in Palestine (seven laboratories in West Bank and two laboratories in Gaza Strip) with the internationally recognized standards and guidelines. To achieve the purpose of the study, the researcher used questionnaires focusing mainly on the following aspects; quality assurance and quality control, testing procedure, available devices and equipment, facilities and premises, personnel, handling of samples, and main barriers. In addition to that, the researcher used structured interviews with three national food control authorities, they were conducted to survey their practices related to testing of food safety and their relationship with local food safety laboratories. The collected data and information were processed and analyzed using the SPSS program. Additionally, SWOT analysis was used to get a better understanding of the practices of the targeted laboratories. Key findings are summarized as follows: (i) Five out of the nine working laboratories in Palestine were locally accredited by the Ministry of National Economy (MONE) and the accreditation did not cover all performed food tests. While other laboratories were providing service without any accreditation. (ii) Most of the assessed laboratories were not fulfilling adequately the requirements of the recognized international standards and guidelines such as ISO17025. (iii) No sub-contracting analysis between laboratories (no parallel integration). (iv)More than half of the laboratories had participated in national or international inter-laboratory proficiency tests with (66.7%) of agreement. (v) Only five laboratories had the necessary equipment to perform most of the chemical, microbiological, and physical food safety tests, while the others performed mainly microbiological or physical tests. (vi)Most laboratories, in terms of facilities and premises, were well designed but did not have enough space to facilitate and expand their work. (vii) Six of the nine laboratories studied suffered from lacking staff with and 5 suffered from lack of sufficient training for lab staff. (viii) More than half of the laboratories introduced sampling services following procedures and instructions. (ix) All of the laboratories performed procedures for traceability of samples from reception until reporting of results, but only three laboratories used an electronic LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) for traceability. (x) The laboratories had faced many gaps due to managerial and technical reasons, such as: (small scale of businesses, the limited geographical distribution of laboratories, inability to perform certain food tests, insufficient space, equipment maintenance difficulties, no periodic maintenance, insufficient lab staff, insufficient training, insufficient equipment, and no specific turnaround time (TAT) for tests. (xi) The laboratories faced many external obstacles such as (occupation, frequent closures and access restrictions, high costs of equipment and materials, unavailability of some materials, power cuts, no existing international accreditation body, and no licensing authority for food laboratories). (xii) On the other hand, two out of the three national control authorities did not have any food safety laboratories. There is a lack of a clear sampling plan specifying the number of samples and frequency of sampling for food establishments. Also, there was no data communication or warnings from food safety laboratories about risks and history of tested food samples in general. Several recommendations targeting both the food safety laboratories and the national food control authorities are presented in this thesis. These recommendations focused mainly on the sustainability of the service, strengthening the testing competence and leveling up the skills of the laboratory staff. According to the best knowledge of the researcher, this study is the first of its type in Palestine and no previous studies have been undertaken to assess the competence of the food safety laboratories. Thus, this research gives a better understanding of the current situation and sheds light on the number of emerging concerns related to the national food safety system. Keywords: Assessment, Food safety laboratory, Control authority, Food safety tests, Sampling, Accreditation, Proficiency tests, Managerial gaps, Technical gaps, Capacity.