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Food Safety and Control Laboratory

The Food Safety and Control  Laboratory (FSCL) is located at the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratories, Seibersdorf. The laboratory assists Member States to improve laboratory and regulatory practices and methodologies in the areas of food traceability and authenticity, food safety and food quality in order to safeguard the health of consumers, help to facilitate international trade and enhance food security.

This is achieved through applied research and method development, technology transfer and the provision of data and expertise to support the development of international standards and guidelines. Since food safety is a very dynamic field, FSCL maintains the capability to respond to emerging and emergency food safety issues affecting Member States.

Food traceability and control of food contaminants

FSCL’s work centers on the traceability and authenticity of food products, and the control of food contaminants such as mycotoxins and residues of veterinary drugs and pesticides, and environmental factors related to food safety. Control of these and other hazards requires a holistic approach addressing the entire food production chain. FSCL targets critical points within the food supply chain where isotopic and related techniques provide added value, whilst encouraging and fostering the involvement of all stakeholders to promote sustainability.

FSCL provides expertise and develops and transfers analytical methods and procedures to allow Member States to produce analytical data, which are essential to provide feedback to regulators, farmers/producers, and post-production industry, on the effectiveness of the regulations and practices put in place to ensure food safety and protect the environment.

Isotopic fingerprinting of food – “Mother Nature’s barcode”

An essential element of a holistic approach to food safety is the ability to trace food products to their source in order to facilitate corrective actions when contamination is detected. Traceability of products across international boundaries is a key requirement to assure food safety, and is also important for economic and religious or cultural reasons. Analytical techniques to determine and verify the provenance of food provide an independent means of verifying “paper” traceability systems and also help to prove authenticity, to combat fraudulent practices, and to control adulteration.

FSCL collaborates in applied research and method development for product and contaminant traceability using techniques that make use of the naturally occurring stable isotope “fingerprints” in foods, as well as complementary techniques such as metabolomic fingerprinting. These techniques complement other new and emerging approaches for the detection of residues and contaminants, providing an effective package of analytical tools transferable to Member States to support holistic food safety systems.

Coordinating research

FSCL coordinates and provides technical expertise and methods to international research projects, for example, a project on the implementation of isotopic and complementary techniques to improve food traceability, in which robust isotopic and elemental fingerprinting analytical tools are being developed to determine or verify the geographical origin of a variety of food products.

Another example is a project focusing on accessible technologies for the verification of origin of dairy products as an example control system to enhance global trade and food safety.


Stable isotope measurements to establish food origin

The FSCL implements various training activities through the FAO/IAEA Training and Reference Centre for Food and Pesticide Control (TRC). Training Courses are organized both at the FAO/IAEA laboratories and in host laboratories in Member States. Training is mainly focused on enhancing the capabilities of analytical laboratories and subjects include:

  • Food traceability and authenticity techniques
  • Veterinary drug residues in animal derived foods
  • Pesticide residues in food
  • Laboratory Quality Assurance

The training approach is built on the concept of accelerated capacity building - a step-by-step approach allowing trainees to obtain the necessary level of background knowledge, hands-on workshops in the laboratory, and further dissemination of knowledge by the trainees in their home countries.

Technical back-up

Using radioisotopes to investigate the transfer of natural toxins from the environment to food

FSCL staff are designated as Technical Officers for several Technical Cooperation Projects and work closely with the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation in the management of these projects. The laboratory also provides technical back-up and troubleshooting for methodologies implemented in Member State laboratories.

The Laboratory produces an annual Activities Report which is available for downloading together with the biannual Newsletter on the Sub-Programme's present and future activities.

Analysis of trace-level chemical contaminants in food

More than 100 developing country laboratory personnel were trained over the past three years in inter-regional train the trainers workshops or as fellows at FSCL on analytical methodology for the control of residues and contaminants in food and laboratory quality assurance/control.

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