A report on best practice use of Point of Contact (POC) testing methods has been published by the UK Food Standards Agency and referenced on FAN's Research index page.

This report informs on the current state of the art and availability of POC instrumentation, technologies involved, current applications, commodity testing, gaps and limitations, and end-user requirements, with a specific focus on official controls.

The first phase of the project, which involved the horizon scanning, literature review and stakeholder engagement exercises, revealed that there was no harmonised definition of POC testing in the foods area, although this was generally understood to encompass portable analytical instrumentation which can be deployed at the point of sample testing throughout the food supply chain, often affording the potential to screen samples quickly and cost effectively.

The POC area encompassed technologies inclusive of rotational vibrational spectroscopy platforms (Near infrared (NIR), Fourier-transform infrared (FT-IR) and Raman), spectral imaging platforms (multi- and hyperspectral imaging), mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and biological analyte-based platforms (proteins and nucleic acid-based). In recent years, the areas of NIR, Raman and nucleic acid detection methods have shown increased interest. Topical commodity and food testing remains consistent with previous years, with areas inclusive of meat and fish speciation, herbs and spices adulteration, and testing for allergens continuing to remain at the forefront of analyses, but also being joined with quality and safety applications. Advantages and benefits of POC testing are generally well understood in terms of providing rapid, real-time results as part of screening approaches. The use of POC testing for official controls emphasised the potential of POC devices to provide a useful and cost-effective screening tool and the importance of method validation to provide objective evidence of the fitness for purpose was reiterated.

The second phase of the project was to establish a set of recommendations for developing an infrastructure for guidance for POC testing in the food sector as part of official controls. A detailed list of guidance and recommendations have been provided. Key aspects centre on the need to assess end-user requirements (the concept of operations) in addition to applying core method validation principles. Central recommendations also include the need for method validation to be performed on the specific combination of POC technology, instrument, application or commodity as per standard practice, to validate the method performance in the context of field-based setting at the point of application, to establish appropriate reference materials and databases, and to develop a centralised UK-based POC testing and advisory framework for provision of guidance and support as an aid to harmonisation.

Future work proposals were made, inclusive of developing a candidate POC test case for method validation to demonstrate cost-saving benefits, as well as a recommendation to further engage with regional official control groups to further assess regional variations and end-user requirements.

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