More than 200 food safety experts across 14 countries in Asia and the Pacific have been trained in the use of nuclear techniques to test for microbial and chemical hazards, through a project led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The project began in 2016 and has enabled food safety professionals in participating nations to conduct analyses in-house rather than outsourcing the task abroad. The nuclear techniques taught to the participants can be used to analyze residues and food contaminants in foods of animal origin, execute quality assurance and controls, and maintain equipment. The program also involved scientific meetings and interlaboratory proficiency testing schemes, as well as group training on analytical methods, laboratory quality management, equipment maintenance, and troubleshooting.

The FAO/IAEA program also provided resources required to conduct testing to laboratories. For example, the Veterinary Assay Laboratory in Myanmar is now able to screen food and feed for veterinary drug residues and mycotoxins thanks to radioreceptor assay equipment and other laboratory items acquired through the project.

The ability to test for antimicrobial drug residues is important to mitigating the global public health threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which is another skill taught to participating countries through the program. With training and equipment, the Food and Drug Administration of Jordan are now able to test for 30 more different types of antimicrobial residues in agrifood products, and the National Agricultural Research Institute in Papa New Guinea has the ability to screen and quantify drug residues in everyday animal products.

Additionally, the program has helped countries comply with international trading partners’ regulations. In the Syrian Arab Republic, the Department of Agriculture of the Atomic Energy Commission is applying new food safety knowledge to identify chemical growth promoters in meat that are prohibited in some markets, such as the EU.

In total, 10 countries—Bangladesh, Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines—have improved their national testing programs by expanding their routine testing to cover more food products or by increasing the range of drug residues or contaminants for which they test. China, Laos, Oman, and Vietnam also participated in trainings and meetings, where harmonization of methodologies for standard operating procedures was promoted. Finally, the program assisted laboratories in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam with attaining or renewing their international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2017 certifications on general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration.

IAEA and FAO will continue to support countries in the region in a follow-up technical cooperation project to broaden the scope of testing beyond products of animal origin.