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Food for thought: behind that stamp of quality

Accreditation of AsureQuality's food and contaminant testing laboratories helps their customers penetrate chosen markets, gain competitive advantages and protect their brands and reputations.

Every day, AsureQuality's team of 1,700 experts spread out over Australasia, Singapore and the Middle East, and work with clients from over 40 countries worldwide to ensure the safety and quality of food being produced for millions of people.

As more companies look overseas to export their products, quality and standards have never been more important. Two testing firms – AsureQuality and Singapore Electrical Testing Services – share how accreditation has helped their customers sharpen their competitive edge and gain access to new markets.

IN AN industry that has been plagued with food scares and scandals, an important lesson that has emerged is the need for external accreditation to ensure that quality and standards are met in the food industry.

One company that recognises this necessity is AsureQuality, a commercial business owned by the New Zealand government that provides food safety and biosecurity services to the food and primary production sectors worldwide.

Accreditation is no longer considered an accessory for companies looking to export their products - it has now evolved to become a must-have.

"Today's consumers are increasingly concerned about the safety and quality of their food. That is why having independent proof that their food is safe is essential for AsureQuality's customers taking products to market," says Kerry Russell, general manager of South-east Asia and China, AsureQuality.

The company achieves this through accreditation of its food and contaminant testing laboratories in New Zealand and Singapore, and joint venture food testing laboratories in Australia and Saudi Arabia.

For laboratories, the international standard is the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation. Its Singapore lab received its Singapore Accreditation Council's (SAC) accreditation in June 2010, which is an independent assessment and formal recognition of the competence of its food testing lab to perform specific types of testing.

The accreditation ensures the credibility of all food safety testing that is completed at the Singapore lab.

"This credibility means that our customers can get market access for their products, and that end consumers can be confident in the safety and quality of these products," says Mr Russell.

With over a hundred years of history, AsureQuality's role back then was to provide food producers with scientific advice to improve the quality and quantity of their production with the aim of exporting their food products.

To meet their customers' needs, the company worked alongside their customers in the food and agricultural sectors to ensure that products met both domestic and overseas market access requirements.

This has carried on till today. Aside from its food testing labs, the company also has a vast network of auditors performing food supply chain certification, which is a recently established consulting business operating in South-east Asia and China.

In addition, it fully owns Global Proficiency, which provides an independent and confidential service in analytical benchmarking to more than 750 labs in 80 countries.

Every day, AsureQuality's team of 1,700 experts spread out over Australasia, Singapore and the Middle East, and work with clients from over 40 countries worldwide to ensure the safety and quality of food being produced for millions of people.

Mr Russell explains that having internationally recognised accreditation demonstrates their expertise and credibility to carry out their work. The company has a large range of these approvals across all their inspection, certification and laboratory services.

They enable the company to audit, inspect, verify and certify food safety and quality and management systems from "the farm right to the supermarket shelf".

Accreditation by the SAC gives AsureQuality and its clients an edge over the rest.

Not only does it demonstrate to customers that they operate to international laboratory standards due to SAC-SINGLAS' (the Accreditation Scheme for Laboratories) rigorous assessment process, it also allows their clients to use their lab testing results for market access.

Among the clients that have benefited from utilising AsureQuality's accredited testing services is SMC Food 21, a company that manufactures and supplies quality blends of sugar, milk and cocoa for the production of chocolates and confectionery goods.

AsureQuality provides testing services for SMC Food 21 to ensure that its products are safe and meet the specifications set by many overseas countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and China.

Accredited lab reports are required for the registration of products for sale in such countries, and thus AsureQuality's accreditation helps the food blend company to penetrate chosen markets, gain competitive advantage and, in turn, protect their brand and reputation.

As AsureQuality is a conformity assessment body, Mr Russell says that quality is part of their DNA.

"Using a lab in Singapore that has achieved this voluntary accreditation demonstrates to international markets that our customers are committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality testing, and are prepared to make an investment in providing proof of this."

Not content to rest on its laurels, the company is constantly striving to "leverage science and innovation" to better meet the needs of customers.

To maintain compliance, he adds that employees are aware of and comply with systems and processes that define how they operate. These practices are kept current by regular reviews, as well as their internal and external audit programmes.

Looking ahead, one of AsureQuality's strategic priorities is to grow its global business. This includes growing its presence in the South-east Asia testing, inspection and certification market from its Singapore hub.

But even as the business grows, the company remains committed to its vision of becoming a global expert in food safety and quality. This means maintaining and keeping to the highest internationally benchmarked standards, adds Mr Russell.

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