Analysis and sampling

To develop effective food control systems, regulatory bodies and laboratories in Member States must have the capability to apply sound sampling schemes and analytic methods. Our efforts focus on the development of sampling and analytical methods for transfer to regulatory and research laboratories in Member States.

To ensure the safety and quality of food commodities, Member States need effective food control systems, regulatory bodies and national laboratories. These in turn must have the appropriate infrastructure, trained personnel, and the capability to apply sound sampling schemes and methods of analysis.

Together with the FAO, the IAEA helps Member States develop their capacities in applying such schemes and methods, to ensure food and environmental safety practices that support the intensification of crop production and the preservation of natural resources.

Standard setting for laboratory analysis and sampling

Member States need to have appropriate and validated analytical methods that can be applied by their laboratories to support food traceability systems, facilitate authenticity testing to combat food fraud, and detect and quantify food and environmental contaminants, such as residues of veterinary drugs or pesticides, and natural toxins, such as mycotoxins.

To ensure that the results of the laboratories’ analyses are meaningful, sampling plans and procedures are required that are appropriate and validated for the intended use. In regulatory control, for example, it is important to be able to accurately estimate the true levels of contaminants in food commodities so that valid decisions can be made about their suitability for consumption. This can only be achieved through the collection of truly representative samples.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body established by the FAO and the World Health Organization in 1963 to develop harmonised international food standards, elaborates standards and guidelines on the application of analytical methods and sampling plans for the control of pesticide and veterinary drug residues, and for other issues related to food safety, authenticity and traceability. The Joint FAO/IAEA Division’s Food Contaminant and Residue Information System includes, among others, analytical method databases that support Member States in complying with Codex guidelines.

We develop, adapt and validate analytical methods so they can be applied by Member States’ regulatory and research laboratories. The techniques applied to trace contaminants in food and verify its authenticity include stable isotope measurements, chemical fingerprinting and trace element profiling. To allow on-site food authenticity testing, we develop screening methods that use hand-held or portable spectroscopic instruments for field use.

Multi-residue or multi-contaminant methods are used, wherever possible, for the analysis of food contaminants, as it is cost-effective while meeting the performance requirements necessary for use as regulatory methods to facilitate international trade. Stable isotope-labelled compounds are included as internal standards to improve the accuracy and precision of the methods to meet international standards.