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Accreditation vs certification: The status of Jamaican labs

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Marguerite Domville, GUEST COLUMNIST

There is a difference between certification and accreditation. There are several Jamaican labs that are equipped to perform the food-safety tests indicated and are well experienced having done them over several years and possibly will give accurate results.

The situation is that none of the 83 labs are accredited to do these tests.

As the national accreditation body, Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation's core function is to provide accreditation services, thus we do not deal with the matter of certification.

Laboratory accreditation is the independent evaluation of a laboratory against a recognised standard to ensure its impartiality and technical competence to carry out tests or calibrations. It is normally done by a competent authority, which attests that all their critical processes conform to the standard.

Increasingly, countries are demanding through regulations that the labs which test products for sale in their market be an accredited lab. This is so because in trade, there is a need to build trust and consumer confidence and it has been accepted worldwide that accredited labs give accurate and reliable results.

lab certification

In certification, an entity which may be a lab is audited against the international standard ISO 9001 which is a Quality Management Standard (QMS). In this activity, the entity or lab is checked to see if it is in conformity with this standard and has a quality management system in place.

Unfortunately, this does not ensure that results generated by this lab are accurate as there are other elements that help to ensure this and these may be missing. These elements collectively make up what is called the technical competence of the laboratory.

Food laboratories are normally accredited using an international accreditation standard ISO/IEC 17025 — general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. This standard describes not only the requirements for its quality management system but also its technical competence.

An accreditation evaluation is done by a team of assessors who look at both the QMS and the technical competence. In determining the technical competence of the laboratory, the technical assessors on the team look at several factors:

1. The technical competence of staff is evaluated - their qualifications, training and experience;

2. Suitability, calibration and maintenance of test equipment must be objectively proven;

3. Traceability of measurements and calibrations to international standards must also have objective proof;

4. Adequate quality assurance procedures must be in place — quality management requirements are based on ISO 9001 and are detailed in ISO/IEC 17025;

5. Proper sampling practices must be in place. Procedures must be documented and practised;

6. Validity and appropriate test methods must be used. Test methods must be documented and used as indicated;

7. Test results must be accurately recorded and reported in the manner detailed in the documented procedures;

8 Laboratory's physical infrastructure must be such that it allows accurate testing - example, no test environment allowing cross-contamination or testing at the wrong temperature is allowed.

9. Procedures for handling and transportation of test items must be in place, documented and practised.

Marguerite Domville is chief executive officer of Jamaica National Agency for