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National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accreditation delivers confidence to the accredited laboratories in India. This confidence is acquired by a transparent & controlled system of laboratory accreditation process in all the major fields of science, technology and engineering, including food. NABL has been established to provide Government, Industry Associations and Industry in general with a scheme for third-party assessment of the quality and technical competence of Conformity Assessment Bodies. It is an internationally recognized evaluation process.
NABL has established its Accreditation System in accordance with ISO/IEC 17011 “Conformity Assessment – General requirement for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies”, which is followed internationally. NABL maintains international linkages by being an MRA signatory with International Laboratory Accreditation Co-operation (ILAC) and Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Co-operation (APLAC) for Testing including Medical and Calibration laboratories, which is based on mutual evaluation. Such international arrangements facilitate acceptance of test/ calibration results between countries which MRA partners represent.
The ILAC as well as APLAC MRA supports the provision of local or national services, such as providing safe food and clean drinking water, efficient utilization of energy, delivering health and social care or maintaining an unpolluted environment.
It enhances the acceptance of products across national borders by removing the need for additional calibration/ testing/medical testing and promotes international trade and the free-trade goal of “accredited once, accepted everywhere” can be realized.
Accreditation is the formal recognition that an organisation is competent to perform specific processes, activities, or tasks in a reliable credible and accurate manner. The provision of accreditation must:
• be objective, transparent and effective; • use highly professional competent assessors and technical experts in all relevant fields; • use assessors that are reliable, ethical and competent in both accreditation processes and the relevant technical fields.
NABL accreditation is voluntary in nature. It grants accreditation to food testing laboratory through the fields of Chemical testing & Biological testing under the group “food and agricultural products” to the food testing laboratories.
Currently, there are 106 NABL accredited food testing labs authorized for chemical testing of food products and 119 NABL accredited laboratories for biological testing of food products in India. Importantly, since the number of food testing labs in the public sector is comparatively less, the labs in the private sector become all the more important.
Grant of accreditation involves series of steps from quality manual adequacy, pre-assessment, final assessment, and review by accreditation committee. The success indicator for grant of accreditation is chosen with respect to the optimum time involved in completing the activity effectively i.e. 8 month to 12 months.
In order to monitor the effective implementation and maintenance of accreditation system of an accredited laboratory, annual surveillance is adopted as a tool which needs to be completed within 12 months of grant of accreditation. The accredited laboratory shall be subjected to re-assessment every 2 years. Once the completed application is received for renewal of accreditation, NABLrequires minimum of two months to conduct the assessment.
Accreditation of Food testing laboratories plays a vital role. Food products tested can range from processedfoods to agricultural commodities, from the field to the store. The testing can be done on raw materials, the product during its processing and production, as well as the finished products.
Food testing laboratory performs tests on food products, ingredients, in process samples, food packaging materials for additives, chemical analytes and microorganisms and associated environmental aspects’. Once the laboratory decides to seek NABL accreditation, it should make a definite plan of action for obtaining accreditation. Laboratory should get fully acquainted with relevant NABL documents and understand the assessment procedure and methodology for filing an application. Laboratory needs to ascertain the status of its existing quality system and technical competence with regards to the requirement of ISO/ IEC 17025:2005 and relevant requirements of NABL. The questions the laboratory needs to address are:
• Does the laboratory have a quality management system?
• If yes, is the quality management system documented and effective in accordance with ISO/IEC 17025?
• If no, what are the corrective steps needed?
Benefits of Accreditation
Improvement gradients are embedded into the accreditation process. First, the standards encourage organizations to achieve particular criteria. Second, assurance to laboratory customers that provided results are reliable and accurate. Both of these elements elicit continuous quality improvement efforts. The goal is to contribute to the provision of high-quality and safe food services.
Accreditation ensures better control of laboratory operations and feedback to laboratories as to whether they have sound Quality Assurance System and are technically competent. Laboratory quality control is an essential aspect of ensuring that data released is based on Internal quality control (IQC) by use of Certified reference material/reference material, internal quality control material, Retesting using same or different method, Replicate testing using same or different method & external quality measures(Proficiency testing & Inter laboratory comparison).
Quality controls results are used to measure accuracy, precision, contamination, and matrix effects. The laboratory determines, where feasible, the accuracy and precision of all analyses performed. The QC range of each quality control data is evaluated for acceptability.
Data that fall inside established control limits are judged to be acceptable, while data lying outside of the control interval are considered suspect. Control limits established by the laboratory are not to be exceeded except as resolved under a documented corrective action process. This planned action includes the checking of results for calculation or transcription errors, preparation or use of new standards, recalibration of instrument, reanalysis of all samples with new controls or reagents, use of alternate system, repeating analysis are the part of evaluation of quality control records.
NABL has a defined process to cater with above needs by enhancing the capability & resources related to accreditation activities. Presently there are about 100 accreditation personnel internally & about 2000 assessors/experts externally supporting the accreditation process.
NABL gives the glimmer of hope for the Reference Material Producers & Proficiency Testing Providers who are supporting the “Make in India” campaign which aims to transform India into a global manufacturing hub and have the potential to be a game-changer by providing reference material & proficiency testing services indigenously in India, at a fraction of the cost. Today we have 9 accredited Proficiency Testing Providers & 2 accredited Reference Material Producers in our country.