Food testing: expectation vs. reality

Joanne Hubbard, Technical Specialist Manager for Intertek, provides insights from inside the laboratory to help you understand how food testing operates in real life and what you can actually expect.

Food testing is an essential part of running a food business, whether it’s a regulatory requirement, to support new product development, to assure safety, or to verify a product’s labelling. This testing may include assessment of shelf life, microbiological safety, allergens, nutritional analysis, contaminants, or authenticity.

During my 30 years in the world of food testing, I have seen first-hand how mismatches in expectations can occur between customers and testing laboratories. In this article, I will share five common misconceptions and how you can get the most from your testing programme, with insights from inside the laboratory.

Expectation #1: All testing laboratories operate to the same standards and will provide the same results. 


It is important to verify that the laboratory you choose is reputable and has the correct accreditation (UKAS/RSA) to provide fit‑for-purpose testing.

As a minimum requirement, it is recommended to choose a laboratory whose testing is accredited to ISO 17025. This is the international standard for laboratories wanting to demonstrate their capacity to deliver reliable results. In the UK, this accreditation is provided through the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), appointed by government to assess and accredit organisations that provide services including certification, testing, inspection and calibration.

However, a laboratory being ‘UKAS accredited’ doesn’t mean that all the testing they offer is accredited. The accreditation is granted per test or as a flexible scope for a technique, so it is important to understand the scope of accreditation of the laboratory. Having said that, if a laboratory is not accredited for the test you need, but is accredited for other testing, this shows they have a robust quality system in place and provides confidence in their laboratory management processes.

For microbiological testing, some retailers require you to use a laboratory that is RSA accredited. This is the Retail Supplementary Audit scheme and is an audit independent of a laboratory’s ISO 17025:2017 accreditation, which requires compliance with specific retailer requirements for management, control and reporting of work, and requires the use of approved methods.