Community Food Analysis Laboratories
Ron Wasik and Carmen Wakeling
The Small Scale Food Processors Association (SSFPA) is a national trade association of processors, growers and suppliers of food and agricultural products which aims to help its members grow their businesses and expand local economies.
A 2016 survey by the SSFPA revealed that there was a need for producers and processors to have access to local laboratory facilities that could provide less complex and more affordable alternatives to testing. It was a happy coincidence that around this time the SSFPA became aware of a concept being tested by the agriculture-based community on Lopez Island in the north-western corner of the State of Washington.
Being very remote, island food businesses had difficulty accessing mainland food laboratories. Their solution was to establish a co-operative food analysis laboratory with BioMedix, a California-based biotechnology company that provides food safety testing systems to food companies and government agencies around the world.
The cooperative food laboratory concept was a revolutionary departure from BioMedix’s conventional model of establishing in-house laboratories within businesses. Now, four years after that initial lab opening, Lopez Island food producers can satisfy the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules and have also made many improvements to their food safety practices.
About the same time, the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) were in the consultation phase. The expectation was that a more definitive, on-going food safety verification system would be a compulsory part of small food production in Canada.
In August 2015, Candice Appleby, Executive Director of the SSFPA, and Dr. Claver Bundac, founder and CEO of BioMedix, met to discuss establishing a similar communal food analysis system for the food producers and processors in BC. The first challenge was to decide which community to use as a testing ground. After much deliberation the town of Courtenay in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island was chosen.
The community laboratory, “FoodMetrics”, opened for business in October 2018 and was established as a partnership between Biomedix and Intrisk Training Solutions (a partner organization to SSFPA). The laboratory has been equipped by BioMedix with state-of-the-art rapid testing systems that can be used to perform a wide variety of screening tests for common foodborne pathogens and indicator organisms. The laboratory is entering the final stages of the ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accreditation, and now provides convenient and cost-effective food analysis services to growers and processors in the Comox Valley and surrounding areas.
Moving forward, if this pilot lab is financially viable the next steps include initiating labs in other rural areas. There have been people across the province knocking at the door already. Don’t hesitate to contact SSFPA with questions or feedback.
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Feature image: Spencer Serin and Ron Wasik in the FoodMetrics Lab. Credit: Carmen Wakeling