Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles and opinion columns we are publishing in recognition of Food Safety Education Month.

Since its founding as the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists in 1884 as part of USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry, AOAC has had a fundamental role in food safety. Our founder, Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, wrote the 1906 law that began the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and AOAC was a part of FDA until the late 1970s. By then, microbiologists and food science professionals joined chemists and other academic, government and industry professionals as AOAC became an independent, nonprofit organization and later changed its name to AOAC International in 1991.

Today, as a leader in analytical excellence, AOAC International advances food safety, food integrity, and public health, by bringing together members, organizations, and experts dedicated to developing and validating standards, methods and technologies of global relevance. Major goals of our strategic plan adopted in December 2017 include:

  • Address emerging issues and influence standards development as a global leader in analytical excellence; and
  • Build strategic partnerships to advance food safety, food integrity and public health.

Whether identifying pathogens or chemical adulteration, AOAC analytical products and services lead to solutions for many food safety dilemmas. AOAC Official Methods of Analysis and Performance Tested Methods have long provided a consensus approach to determining precisely how to test for various components, so regulators can manage, and industry can help prevent, food safety incidents. Food labels that indicate the absence or presence of certain food components often rely on an AOAC method to substantiate the accuracy of such claims. When industry or other stakeholders have a need for fit-for-purpose methods, we invite scientists to submit their approaches and convene experts around the world to consider and/or improve them.  After methods are adopted by AOAC, we provide training and proficiency testing to help labs improve analytical performance through independent measure of the quality of their data.

AOAC International shares its standards and best practices globally and provides educational outreach. For example:

  • In early November, we will be holding the first conference of the newly formed AOAC Sub-Saharan Africa Section (encompassing 49 African countries) in Pretoria, South Africa, and will focus on capacity building, harmonizing the variety of standards and methods currently used by governments in Africa, and gathering regional input for the development of new global standards and methods.  
  • A cooperative agreement was signed with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in February to accept AOAC standards and methods, and work together to develop new ones (both chemical and microbiological).
  • For years we have had a cooperative agreement with ISO to coordinate development of standards and methods for infant formula and dairy – for which we have then partnered to present through the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling, for adoption and for use by CODEX.
  • A cooperative agreement was recently signed with China Institute for Food Science and Technology (CIFST) to work with the Chinese government on review and development of GB standards/methods.

We cannot always predict which food safety issue will require fit-for-purpose methods evaluated by AOAC or when it will occur, but we stand ready to help when needed. 

Recently we have been asked to consider methods for cannabis, which is increasingly being found in the food supply in states that have legalized it and in Canada where recreational use was legalized in October, with food uses to be permitted as early as March 2019.  During the AOAC International Annual Meeting in Toronto in August 2018, our board approved a policy addressing cannabis:

“It is the policy of the AOAC International Board of Directors that we will not advocate for or against the use or legalization of cannabis. Our mission is consistent with ensuring public health and food safety by facilitating the development of methods for testing cannabis in food, feed or other substances of interest to determine the best available science to promote public health.”

Together, we can advance standards and scientific leadership for the food industry through active engagement of food safety and analytical science experts worldwide.  We invite you to learn more about AOAC International and how to become a member or stakeholder. 

Editor’s note: The author, David B. Schmidt, AOAC Executive Director, invites readers to contact him at dschmidt@aoac.org. AOAC International is a globally recognized, 501(c)(3), independent, third party, not-for-profit association and voluntary consensus standards developing organization founded in 1884. When analytical needs arise within a community or industry, AOAC International is the forum for finding appropriate science-based solutions through the development of microbiological and chemical standards. AOAC standards are used globally to promote trade and to facilitate public health and safety.

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