Food Safety and Quality
In the Isle of Man, 'An Act for preventing the Adulteration of Articles of Food and Drink, and for the Appointment of Public Analysts' was promulgated in 1869 and The Adulteration Act, 1874 led to the appointment of a Public Analyst who in 1874 was also an Inspector.
At that time adulteration of food was not uncommon, and the reports of the early Public Analysts and newspaper reports clearly show the sometimes outrageous lengths to which some food suppliers went to increase their profit. The improvements of the intervening years are in no small way due to the testing carried out by Public Analysts.
Times have changed and deliberate adulteration is rare, while food inspectors are now Environmental Health Officers outwith the Laboratory. However, analysis of food is still carried out by Government Laboratory under the direction of the statutory Public Analyst, although the main concerns today are generally failings by food businesses that may be ignorant of some of the compositional or other standards required for food, or contamination of food with substances such as toxic substances or bacteria.
As alluded at the end of the last paragraph, microbiology is now an important part of food testing and is recognised in the role of Food Examiner, an expert in the microbiology of food.
Official food control and monitoring
Samples of food are submitted by Environmental Health Officers who inspect food production premises and conduct random sampling there or at retail outlets, for compositional analysis, microbiological quality and assessment of the accuracy of labelling.
In addition to routine samples submitted by Environmental Health Officers are food complaint samples, which follow a consumer’s rejection of a food, whether due to an apparent abnormality in taste, presence of a foreign body, or other perceived defect in the food. These are often submitted also through Environmental Health Officers, though where a complainant has made their complaint known only to the food business concerned the sample may be submitted by that business. These samples become the focus of real Sherlock Holmes or CSI style investigations as the Public Analyst and his staff seek not only to identify what is the cause of the complaint, but also how it may have occurred – at what stage in production, or indeed whether deliberately or accidentally caused by the complainant (which has been known!)
Following examination of the food, the Government Analyst in his capacity as Public Analyst will produce a report on the quality and compositional nature of the sample submitted, normally in the form of a certificate of analysis, which may be used in enforcement action in the event of a breach of food law.
Support for food businesses
An analytical service is also offered to, and utilised by, food businesses on the Island, either to confirm that production is satisfactory, or to provide evidence of product quality monitoring that may be required typically by the larger retail outlets or for export purposes. Depending on the purpose, routine samples are submitted monthly, weekly or even daily, for microbiological examination and/or chemical analysis.
Other assistance can be provided on an ad-hoc basis, for example when determining appropriate labelling for a new product, or investigating a problem.
A developing area of testing in the Government Laboratory is the analysis of shellfish for substances that can be toxic to humans. Although rarely found at levels that would be harmful, these toxins can accumulate in the shellfish under certain conditions and so frequent monitoring is important. Linking with the marine monitoring of phytoplankton (which can give an early warning of the presence of algae that can give rise to the toxins in shellfish), the results of the analysis help with control of fishery beds and provides vital safety reassurance to support the exportation of shellfish.
Fishery products are also tested for other parameters, most commonly to show absence of harmful bacteria or to confirm absence of contamination by heavy metals such as lead or mercury.