TPSD Updates

The Department of Food Technology & Quality Control’s (DFTQC) NATIONAL Food & Feed Reference Laboratory (NFFRL) strengthens capacity on microbiological testing of food products to ensure food and feed products placed on the domestic and export markets are safe for consumption. This will strengthen consumer protection, reduce the incidence of food borne disease outbreaks and increase access to global markets.


Most foodborne outbreaks in both developed and developing countries recent years have been linked to microbial contamination of food products. These food outbreaks can cause considerable food losses, and hence can play a role in global food insecurity. Microbial contamination may take place at pre-farming, farming or post-farming stages of the food supply chain. Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and non-O157:H7 STEC E. coli are the most common pathogenic bacteria associated with food safety issues in the food supply chain. Efficient process controls and effective food safety management systems by food business operators at all stages of production and distribution in the supply chain  are vital elements to reduce microbial contamination and improve food safety. Effective official controls by the food safety competent authorities are also vital to  ensuring compliance by the food operators with national food standards and food safety legislation. These controls include licencing of food products and business establishments and market surveillance of food products (including imports) placed on the domestic and export markets. A vital component of these controls is laboratory capacity to test food products for microbiological contamination.
 
Effective official controls and market surveillance in line with international standards are also a necessary condition for export market access as developed and developing countries require equivalent control systems to their own controls to be place in the exporting country. This is of particular importance for the export of products prioritised in Nepal Trade and Integration Strategy (NTIS) as microbiological contamination of spices in ready to eat foods is a growing concern to national food safety authorities.  A review carried out in 2013 identified fourteen reported illness outbreaks attributed to consumption of pathogen-contaminated spice during the period 1973-2010. Countries reporting outbreaks included Canada, Denmark, England and Wales, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, and the United States. Together, these outbreaks resulted in 1946 reported human illnesses, 128 hospitalizations and two deaths. Infants/children were the primary population segments impacted by 36% of spice-attributed outbreaks. Four outbreaks were associated with multiple organisms. Salmonella enterica subspecies enterica was identified as the causative agent in 71% of outbreaks, accounting for 87% of reported illnesses. Bacillus spp. was identified as the causative agent in 29% of outbreaks, accounting for 13% of illnesses. 71% of outbreaks were associated with spices classified as fruits or seeds of the source plant. Consumption of ready-to-eat foods prepared with spices applied after the final food manufacturing pathogen reduction step accounted for 70% of illnesses.
 
DFTQC  as the regulatory authority for food quality and safety are mandated to ensure that food presented for human consumption is not contaminated and is fit for purpose.  In order to fulfil this mandate, it must have laboratory capacity to test samples of food products for microbiological contamination on a routine basis as part of its licencing of food establishments, food products and market surveillance activities. Historically the development of this capacity has been constrained by the lack of a role for a ‘microbiologist’ in the civil service employment positions. This resulted in DFTQC focusing primarily on laboratory testing of food products for compliance with the quality parameters of the food standards or for chemical contamination rather  on microbiological contamination. In recent years with the support of the TPSD project DFTQC has focused on correcting this capacity deficit.
 
The advanced training on microbiological testing of food products completed last week on Friday 21st September  in the NFFRL contributes to this. Six technical laboratory staff completed a follow-up practical hands-on 3-day course on the Methods for the Detection of Shigella, Salmonella & Listeria. This follows a 3-week advanced Practical Training Course on Methods for the Microbiological Examination of Food completed on Friday last 10th August 2018 which in turn  built on earlier training completed under the TPSD programme  in 2016 & 2017.  As a result of this programme the NFFRL is now in a position to extend its scope of accreditation by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) of India  under ISO/IEC 17025:2017 ‘General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories’ to include Listeria in addition to Enterobacteriaceae which was included in 2017. This strengthens the NFFRL’s capacity for the microbiological testing of food products including the NTIS products to international standards thereby meeting a regulatory  and / or buyer requirement in export markets. Utilising this NFFRL capacity DFTQC can now implement effective market surveillance of food to ensure food placed on the domestic or export markets complies with national and international food standards on microbiological contamination and is safe for human consumption.  The NFFRL is also now in a position to offer laboratory testing services for microbiological contamination of  food products to exporters.
 
In addition to strengthening capacity of the NFFRL  in Kathmandu, DFTQC with the support of the TPSD project have also started to building capacity  in microbiological laboratory testing of food products in its regional laboratories. The second 2-week phase of a 6-week training basic programme on microbiological  testing for 13 laboratory technical staff commences today (26th September 2018) in the DFTQC laboratory in Biratnagar. Participants include technical staff form DFTQC’s other regional laboratories. The objective is to enable DFTQC to establish capacity in microbiological testing of food products in all 7 provinces to  provide testing services to DFTQC  to support its official controls on licencing of food products and food establishments as well as its market surveillance activities. As the current training is a basic training programme the achievement of this objective will require:
 
a. follow-up training on advanced microbiological testing of food products;
b. upgrading of the environmental conditions of DFTQC’s regional laboratories 
c. accreditation of the regional laboratories by NABL  under ISO/IEC 17025.
 
Assuming DFTQC can acquire  the resources for this then the objective may be realised with 18 -24 months from the completion of the basic training currently been conducted.

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