Outsourcing—converting corporate activities into service agreements managed by outside personnel—has become a key part of operations for many food companies. Because consumer safety is a primary consideration among food manufacturers, many have opted to outsource their analytical testing with the goal of obtaining faster and more objective results. But like the outsourcing of any function, this act of delegation requires companies to address multiple interdependent business and scientific variables in choosing a contract laboratory.

Too Good To Be True?
It is only second nature to focus on cost. Companies, however, should not give pricing inflated importance over other critical variables such as turnaround time and testing methodologies.

Essentially, all contract laboratories face many of the same operational costs, provided they implement extensive quality systems to ensure the accrual of quality data. If a laboratory places an overabundant emphasis on price, bear in mind the old refrain: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Request prospects to submit records detailing the scope of their internal quality systems. From participation in reputable proficiency trials to the employment of statistical process controls, these records will provide you with an introductory snapshot of their quality systems.

Deciding Factor
ISO 17025 provides the basis of laboratory accreditation. Due to continuous expansion of the global food market, ISO accreditation has become a major deciding factor for many companies. Due to the significant investment that is required to attain ISO-approved status, accredited labs will readily share this information with you. If a candidate is not accredited, ascertain why.

Responsive Partner
In the unfortunate occurrence of a foodborne disease outbreak or product recall, your testing provider should be available to respond to crises. Determine if your prospects possess the technical capabilities to pinpoint problems in your food safety and quality systems, initiate environmental and testing programs, assist you with regulators and devise practical, scientific solutions.

Real-Time Information
State-of-the-art testing methodologies and technologies can mean considerable time and cost savings. Inquire about the analytical methodologies and testing equipment your prospects employ, and ask them to formulate a comprehensive testing program specific to your product.

Due to the importance of having real-time information at your disposal, find out if your prospects have a Laboratory Information Management System.

Lines of Communication
Productive partnerships are built on solid lines of communication. Learn if your prospects have a dedicated client services staff that will promptly apprise you of problems and respond to your special needs.

Final Cut
Seek out the opinions of trusted colleagues. Odds are you will receive an earful of honest and open feedback on the companies who make your initial cut. When two or three finalists remain, conduct on-site Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) audits. During a comprehensive GLP audit, it is imperative for labs to validate the existence of:

Written core standard operating procedures for the performance of properly documented methods

Written schedules for the regular calibration of all laboratory equipment

Certification of routine participation in proficiency programs that are designed to verify testing results

Records verifying employee training and competency

GLP audits offer valuable opportunities for you to interact with laboratory management, view lab operations firsthand and ask far-ranging questions such as:

Do you use lab environmental testing to verify samples and tests are not contaminated in the lab?

Is media sterility productivity and selectivity monitored for every lot of media produced? How?

Do you use control checks (i.e., positive and negative controls)? If so, at what frequency?

What type of daily checklist do you use to verify methods are completed accurately?

How often do your employees receive updated training and verification of competency?

How do you notify clients if results are “suspect” or out of specification?

Armed with this information, you can find a contract laboratory that suits your organization.