The overall objective of this project was to produce a set of guidelines which can be used as a best practice guide for the medium to long term storage of official samples by enforcement authorities. The guidelines would also provide information for retailers on how to store their part of the sample.<p>
The project objectives were:
to identify appropriate storage conditions for sample transport;
to identify appropriate conditions for the long-term storage, of official samples
to provide clear advice to ensure that all three parts of an official sample remain representative and reflect the state of the product at the time of sampling
to be applicable to the food industry's own samples taken for routine or due diligence purposes
The guidelines apply to samples for analysis but not to samples for examination. As part of the project, a review of local authority practices was carried out and reported. Also, storage trials were carried out on formal food samples that were stored either frozen or chilled.
This was to simulate the storage that would occur to the part of the sample that is retained, possibly for long periods (a year) for analysis in cases of dispute by the referee analyst. Samples of sausages (sulphur dioxide), rancid chicken (free fatty acids in fat and protein breakdown), whisky (alcohol) and fruit juice (vitamin C) were stored and analysed at varying intervals.
The Food Safety Act 1990 empowers authorised officers to take or purchase samples which they have reason to believe may be required as evidence in proceedings under any of the sections of the Act, or the regulations or orders made under it. If they consider that the samples should be analysed then they must be submitted to a public analyst for the appropriate analysis.
One of the most common reasons for food enforcement actions to fail is doubt about the validity of analytical data presented. Furthermore, these criticisms often relate to the condition and history of the 'official food sample' when it is submitted for analysis.
In 1999, questions addressed to 12 local authorities indicated the lack of any clear, practicable and technically valid guidelines for the preservation of official samples for analysis. Furthermore, a series of codes of practice and international standards, which refer to food sampling, have little or no guidance relating to sample storage.
<p>Find more about this project and other FSA food safety-related projects at the <a href="http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/" target="_blank">Food
Standards Agency Research webpage</a>.