Getting food from farm to fork

New strategy expands NMISA’s world-class infrastructure offering

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South Africa has developed a quality infrastructure over a period of 70 years to support its trade, the manufacturing industry and to provide an essential component of environmental health and safety and effective law enforcement. The global and domestic situation is changing fast with new technological advances and a looming African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA) is responding accordingly with one view on the international and regional developments and the other on the national priorities and needs and the Industrial Policy Action Plan, IPAP 2018. The need for a much stronger export effort, gearing up for the digital industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), beneficiation, institutional co-ordination and raising IPAP impact are specific drivers for the strategy. Additional drivers are the regulation of medical devices and subsequent need for traceability, the needs from law enforcement agencies and laboratories.

NMISA’s Strategy 2019 to 2024 expands the traditional offerings of the application of measurement units and the establishment of National Measurement Standards to a comprehensive measurement offering to Government, state-owned enterprises and applied/industrial metrology. The world class measurement infrastructure is placed at the disposal of the national manufacturing community and the populace and leads the region to international and inter-regional acceptance of products and goods.

Proficiency testing and reference materials in the agricultural sector

The agricultural sector is central to South Africa in terms of food security as well as its contribution to the economy through exports and job creation. Successful export of agricultural produce and products is dependent on goods meeting specification and regulations as determined by the importing country. To prove that goods are suitable for sale internationally involves laboratory testing of nutritional content as well as the level of contaminants such as pesticides or biotoxins. If laboratory results do not agree with import laboratories, entire consignments can be lost if notifications or recalls occur. To assist laboratories in obtaining the required traceability and international comparability, the National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA) is committed to supporting the agricultural sector through proficiency testing and traceable reference material production.

What is proficiency testing?

Proficiency testing proves that a laboratory can obtain the same accurate result, when testing the same material, as any other laboratory. Therefore, when you send your apples or maize to a local lab, you can have confidence that the test report you receive will be the same as the test report generated anywhere else in the world.

What is a reference material?

There are two kinds of reference materials. The one is an authentic standard of a pure chemical and the other is a material with a known amount of a certain chemical in it. When performing a chemical test, it is important to know without any doubt that you are measuring the correct chemical and its concentration. If you are exporting wine, you need to be sure that most of the alcohol is ethanol and not the potentially toxic methanol.

To do this, you must ensure that you can distinguish these two alcohols and measure the amount of each present with an authentic standard at a known concentration. To test if the measurement of the wine is accurate, laboratories use wine reference materials or quality control material. This is a wine sample with a certified concentration of both methanol and ethanol. If a laboratory can obtain the correct value for the reference wine sample, it is very likely that the sample test result will be correct also.

The Chemistry and Materials group at NMISA houses an energetic, scientifically diverse set of staff members committed to supporting the agricultural sector. Staff members have a wide variety of expertise from the surface analysis of materials to determining the levels of contaminants such as pesticides and mycotoxins in foodstuffs.

These skills are combined to produce Africa-relevant reference and quality control materials and coordinate proficiency testing schemes for contaminants, nutritional content and food labelling parameters.

The advantage of having material that is sourced and produced locally is that these materials inherently compensate for differences in food composition, pesticide usage and biotoxin growth compared to material originating from Europe and the United States. That means reference materials and proficiency testing samples will be similar to the samples laboratories obtain daily and better represent results provided to clients. Through this value added-chain, NMISA supports the laboratory that assists the farmer and producer in getting the food from the farm to the fork.

Ndwakhulu Mukhufhi, CEO, NMISA

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