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Keywords:

  • commutability;
  • food microbiology;
  • matrix effect;
  • methods;
  • proficiency testing;
  • samples

Abstract

Aim

Food microbiology proficiency testing (PT) is a useful tool to assess the analytical performances among laboratories. PT items should be close to routine samples to accurately evaluate the acceptability of the methods. However, most PT providers distribute exclusively artificial samples such as reference materials or irradiated foods. This raises the issue of the suitability of these samples because the equivalence—or ‘commutability’—between results obtained on artificial vs. authentic food samples has not been demonstrated. In the clinical field, the use of noncommutable PT samples has led to erroneous evaluation of the performances when different analytical methods were used. This study aimed to provide a first assessment of the commutability of samples distributed in food microbiology PT.

Methods and Results

REQUASUD and IPH organized 13 food microbiology PTs including 10–28 participants. Three types of PT items were used: genuine food samples, sterile food samples and reference materials. The commutability of the artificial samples (reference material or sterile samples) was assessed by plotting the distribution of the results on natural and artificial PT samples. This comparison highlighted matrix-correlated issues when nonfood matrices, such as reference materials, were used. Artificially inoculated food samples, on the other hand, raised only isolated commutability issues.

Conclusions

In the organization of a PT-scheme, authentic or artificially inoculated food samples are necessary to accurately evaluate the analytical performances. Reference materials, used as PT items because of their convenience, may present commutability issues leading to inaccurate penalizing conclusions for methods that would have provided accurate results on food samples.

Significance and Impact of the Study

For the first time, the commutability of food microbiology PT samples was investigated. The nature of the samples provided by the organizer turned out to be an important factor because matrix effects can impact on the analytical results.