According to a report, only one laboratory got a top score as part of a Campylobacter testing exercise, suggesting there is room for improvement.

In 2018, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to provide an external quality assessment (EQA) scheme for the detection and enumeration of Campylobacter from a simulated matrix representing uncooked chicken.

It was available to 20 laboratories in the UK that provided an accredited test for Campylobacter in foods. At the time, there was no reliable test to identify the pathogen.

The EQA ran from March 2019 to November 2021, due to COVID-19 disruption. A total of 39 samples were sent; 26 for enumerating the levels of Campylobacter, if detected, and 13 for detection of the organism.

An EQA provides labs with an independent external assessment of their performance. Regular participation is part of quality procedures and helps to ensure that results of tests are accurate. It also gives assurance for clients.

The main findings of the assessment

Campylobacter strains chosen to simulate food samples varied and contained common species such as jejuni, lari, and coli. High levels of background organisms were included to simulate the contents of raw chicken.

There was variation in the enumeration results reported, even though all labs claimed the same method was used.

Labs returned an acceptable or questionable result for at least 80 percent of samples examined for enumeration or detection of Campylobacter. This shows that they can undertake testing for pathogens in foods using both methods, according to the report.

One lab contacted UKHSA early in the program as results were consistently outside the expected range. After advice, performance significantly improved with most enumeration-reported results in the expected range. All labs reported some counts outside the expected range; however, the root cause was not investigated.

For the detection part, two labs reported a false negative result for two samples. Two labs recorded a false negative for one sample. One lab also had a false positive result for the one sample that did not contain Campylobacter.

Only one lab reported all their counts within the expected range, getting an overall performance of 100 percent for all the distributions and samples examined. One lab reported a count outside the expected range for four of the 25 enumeration samples analyzed.  

“Regular EQA participation will allow laboratories to keep a check with any changes to operating conditions such as media, staffing levels. Addressing gaps identified through an EQA will help ensure that public health incidents are detected early and managed effectively,” said the report.

Radioactivity in food
Meanwhile, UK authorities have published an annual report with sampling and analysis on levels of radioactive substances in food and the environment.

Monitoring activities are designed or undertaken by the Environment Agency, FSA, Food Standards Scotland, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

The 2022 report released recently found exposure to the public from all sources of artificial radioactivity in food and the environment was low and within the legal limit of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year. Food and sources of public drinking water that make up a general diet for people were analyzed for radioactivity across the UK. Artificial radionuclides only contribute a small proportion of public radiation in people’s diets.

A monitoring system is in place to detect radioactivity in consignments. No significant radioactivity above screening levels was detected at entry points. In June 2022, EU regulations on Fukushima import controls were removed for England, Scotland, and Wales.

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