Collecting data in a busy lab is always important, and when that lab is testing product for potentially lethal microbes, obtaining accurate data is imperative to public health and commercial success. It is equally important to accurately record, store and report that data.
One lab rose to the challenge by combining the newest testing and data tracking technologies by upgrading testing methods to automated DNA-based technology, and then imported those test results directly into their LIMS database.
Speedy Sample Processing and Data Management
Lab managers concur with Food Quality’s observation; microbiologists in the food industry are feeling the need for speed. (See “Rapid Micro: Microbiology in the Fast Lane,” Aug/Sept 2004, p. 30).
“We deal with fresh product that requires further processing before being frozen, and the turnaround time is very important to our customers” says Tina O’Rielly, who heads up the microbiology lab for an Alberta, Canada-based food producer.
The company had recently switched from ELISA-based, phenotypical antigen-antibody reaction tests to a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) system.
They also chose DuPont Qualicon’s BAX detection system, which screens for pathogens and other microorganisms, and can process up to 96 unique samples per batch. O’Rielly noted that although both systems have merit, the BAX “has a higher specificity with a lower false positive rate.”
The BAX test produces a positive result when amplified DNA from targeted bacteria in the processed sample generates a fluorescent signal. If the sample contains no amplified DNA, the result is negative. The BAX system application analyzes the signals and displays the findings on the instrument’s computer screen. The display graphically represents the test rack’s 96 sample wells in an 8×12 “table.” Each on-screen result corresponds to the sample’s physical location in the BAX test rack, and is represented by a red (positive) or green (negative) icon. At the same time, the organization was tuning up its new laboratory information management system (LIMS).
While its parent company had been using LIMS for years, O’Rielly’s group only recently found the need to upgrade. “Sample tracking is a major component of being a lab that is accredited to the ISO 17025 standard,” O’Rielly says. “And the LIMS was a great improvement to our overall system of sample logging and sample tracking.”
The lab had quality tools and highly skilled staff, but they lost momentum performing repetitive data entry.
Stalled at the Data Entry Crossroads
The BAX system keeps its own records of test results for each sample, and each sample’s identification and description must be “known” to the BAX. Obviously this means data entry. In a lab that also maintains sample data in a LIMS, that can mean double the entry of sample characteristic data.
“We were required to enter all the sample information into the LIMS system, and then post-incubation reenter all the information into BAX, including the 10-digit LIMS identification number,” O’Rielly says. “A full BAX run of 96 samples worth of information having to be reentered took significant time. We typically run multiple BAX runs a day as well.” A technician would then read the BAX screen and transcribe completed test results into the corresponding sample record in the LIMS. This meant hand-entering data for up to 200 samples per day. “Not only was this tedious, it represented the possibility of transcription errors, which in a laboratory has serious consequences.”
The obvious solution is to enter sample data once, then share that data between applications. Again quoting from Food Quality’s Rapid Microbiology overview: “The BAX platform … can either be used as a stand-alone system or integrated into most LIMS systems…”
But just how does a lab actually go about integrating the two systems?
Integrate BAX and LIMS
The need for seamless integration between instruments and in-house data systems is well recognized in programming circles, says Jeff Rohrbeck, BAX system developer. “The DuPont Qualicon software team decided early on that we would serve our customers best by making the BAX system easy to integrate with external record-keeping systems, such as LIMS. The BAX system, Rohrbeck explains, uses simple, text-based files to capture data. This enables customers to use external systems to generate and export tracking files to the BAX system for testing, and then import results back into the external system.”