Nuclear techniques helping with global food safety

08 June 2020

Yesterday, 7th June 2020, was World Food Safety Day, marking the second year that attention has been drawn to the prevention, detection and management of food borne risks. The day was established during 2019 and is facilitated by the WHO in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The theme for 2020 is ‘Food safety, everyone’s business.’

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), builds capacity around the world in the use of nuclear, isotopic and complimentary analytical techniques to determine the safety and quality of food, including its origin and authenticity. It also provides support to specialists worldwide on the use of food irradiation to increase the durability of food products. More than 70 countries have been supported in using nuclear techniques for the control of harmful chemical residues and contaminants. Among these countries are Uganda and Costa Rica.

In Uganda agriculture is the back bone of the economy, employing more than 70% of the working population and accounting for a quarter of the country’s GDP. To help protect this sector, the IAEA and the FAO have, for over five years,  supported the county’s capacity building by setting up modern laboratories and training staff in the detection and monitoring of a range of hazards, including veterinary drugs and pesticide residues in food, according to national and international regulations. Further support will see the country’s testing capability expand to include isotopic chromatographic-spectrometric techniques for the confirmation of volatile substances.

The IAEA and the FAO, along with Uganda’s relevant governmental bodies, carry out regular independent sampling of a wide range of market bound animal and plant products, testing for residues and contaminants. These institutions have allowed the country to address food safety emergencies, especially in the case of vulnerable populations during the covid-19 lockdown. Mobile laboratories ensure that rural communities are also protected. These laboratories can, for example, quickly screen milk and milk products for residues.

As a major agricultural exporter, Costa Rica has to comply with a range of food-safety related measures set by the importing countries. This requires the necessary analytical capacity to detect and monitor food contaminants. 

The IAEA in partnership with the FAO, have enhanced Costa Rica’s National Laboratory for Diagnosis and Research in Animal Health so it can screen for a wide range of residues and contaminants using radio receptor assay and related techniques, as well as confirming the results using isotopic chromatographic and spectrometric tools. These tools mean that Costa Rica is not dependent on overseas testing which is, for example, saving local fish producers Euro27 000 each year, as they no longer have to send 200 samples a year abroad for testing. Costa Rica will soon have the capability to carry out advanced testing of toxic metals.

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