Finding the right outside contract laboratory is one of the most important decisions a food company must make. The laboratory you hire must be able to serve as a strategic partner to help your company navigate the many challenges of supply chain safety in today’s global economy.
As trade barriers came down during the 1990s, foreign investment in agriculture and food processing grew exponentially. This increased globalization within the food industry has forced companies to face a myriad of new issues and demands as part of their responsibility to provide safe products that are of high quality.
A good contract laboratory can help your company augment its staffing needs, and, more importantly, provide you with independent, unbiased technical expertise and a cost-and-time saving advantage both at home and abroad. Whether you are testing for product and ingredient safety and quality, substantiating claims, looking for assistance in defining nutritional attributes, developing testing methodology, or trying to meet product development needs, the right contract laboratory should become an extension of your company. It should share your objectives, understand and meet your requirements, and provide the confidence you need to substantiate the safety and quality of your product.
Selecting the correct partner laboratory will require extensive time and effort. The first steps you must take are to research prospective laboratories and clearly define your company’s requirements. A company that has a well-defined goal or need before starting the search can make a stronger decision and get better information and specifics from the contract lab it is interviewing. If you want to make an informed decision, there are several key questions to ask.
What are the advantages of using this contract laboratory? This is perhaps the best first question you can ask prospective laboratories. Many food companies are increasingly looking for contract laboratories that offer a wide range of services yet can be flexible enough to provide customized programs and protocols. Consultants and outside contract laboratories can offer many advantages such as extending your company’s own technical capabilities and reducing your operational costs by minimizing expensive investments in testing equipment, testing methods, validations, and standards.
Also, if results of in-house testing become routine and the resources to validate and update methods are not available, partnering with a third-party laboratory can remove this burden from the operation and provide stability and fast entry into the marketplace. Having inventory waiting for release is a costly holding pattern. Without current technical abilities and equipment, your product or ingredient might not make it to the marketplace.
An outside contract laboratory can allow your company to concentrate on its own areas of competence, while your contract lab provides concentrated technical assistance and quality assurance outside of your company’s direct capabilities.
Does the contract laboratory have a global testing program? With so many ingredients and products manufactured overseas, confidence in your supply chain is a critical business issue. If you are using apple puree from China in a food product in the United States, how can you know it is safe and complies with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations?
Look for a contract laboratory that provides third-party manufacturing, auditing, and testing services overseas to help expedite, monitor, and ensure the safety of the ingredient or product you are importing. Also, with global target markets, regulatory issues, and product claims changing so quickly, make sure that your laboratory is a resource you can rely on for up-to-date industry regulations and global challenges.
Is the laboratory qualified to conduct the analysis or service that you require? Visit the laboratory, meet the key personnel, and check the facility for regulatory compliance. Knowledge of, and compliance with, good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and good laboratory standards, as well as FDA and International Organization for Standardization certifications and audits, are necessary. Check for accreditation from such organizations as the International Association of Analytical Communities, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and others.