The objective of this study was to assess laboratories' ability to detect or rule out the presence of four common food pathogens: Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter spp. To do this, qualitative proficiency test data provided by one proficiency test provider from 1999 to 2007 were examined. The annual and cumulative 9-year percentages of false-negative and false-positive responses were calculated.
The cumulative 9-year false-negative rates were 7.8% for E. coli O157:H7, 5.9% for Salmonella spp., 7.2% for L. monocytogenes and 13.6% for Campylobacter spp. Atypical strains and low concentrations of bacteria were more likely to be missed, and the data showed no trend of improving performance over time. Percentages of false-positive results were below 5.0% for all four pathogens.