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Assessment Report of Costa Rica's Food Safety Control System for Fresh Fruit
8.0 Laboratory capacity

8.1 The Costa Rican Institute for Research and Education in Nutrition and Health

Law No. 8270 (2002) makes INCIENSA responsible for laboratory-based epidemiological surveillance, research in public health themes and the teaching and education processes derived from its work. Originally founded as a hospital for sick children, the focus of this institution was on nutrition. It now serves as a national laboratory for public health, serving several government organizations including the MOH, and in the case of outbreak investigations, the MAG, and AyA.

INCIENSA has 7 different specialized units (reference centres). For example:

  • The National Reference Centre for Microbiological Food Safety which analyzes both food and water using both traditional and molecular microbiology methods (whole genome sequencing, antimicrobial resistance) for a variety of foodborne pathogens including: Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes, pathogenic and indicator Esherichia coli, Staphyloccocus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Vibrio spp., Cronobacter, and Shigella spp. Future analyses will include viruses, parasites and anaerobes. Additionally, they conduct molecular typing for genetic markers, and molecular subtyping of foodborne diseases as well as for anti-microbial resistance. They are expanding their scope to include whole genome sequencing
  • The National Reference Center for Bromatology which analyzes for the presence of chemical residues, aflatoxins, heavy metals, mycotoxins, allergens and verifies the nutritional composition and labels of foods for export as per the MOH requirements

INCIENSA analyzes samples taken by the MOH EMs under their annual sampling plan and, during outbreak investigations to determine compliance to the CATRs. Results of analysis are communicated to the MOH by email.

INCIENSA does not currently receive samples from the public. Industry samples must be analyzed by private laboratories. Although private laboratories do not generally report positive analysis results to INCIENSA, they can request INCIENSA to conduct subtyping of notifiable organisms such as Salmonella spp. The information will then follow through the National Surveillance System.

INCIENSA's laboratories are accredited to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025, ISO 9001-2015 and ISO 17043. In June 2017, INCIENSA was accredited by the Costa Rican Accreditation Entity (ECA) for several additional methodologies for food. INCIENSA is currently building a new laboratory which will allow for the expansion of their scope of testing methodologies.

The facility is appropriate for use, and has implemented processes to maintain chain of custody, limit access to authorized personnel etc. Staff are well-trained and aware of their internal policies and procedures to deliver reliable results.

INCIENSA is part of several laboratory networks, including the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Network for Food Analysis Laboratories, The Global Foodborne Infections Network, and PulseNet Latin America and Carribean. INCIENSA participates in external proficiency tests to confirm the ongoing exemplary quality of their work. They are also audited internally and externally by ECA every 12 months (6 months apart). ECA's last audit was observed to have been conducted on 19 June, 2017.

8.2 Laboratory for chemical residue analysis

The SFE's LRE is responsible for performing pesticide residue analysis on fresh fruit, vegetables and grains. They test both imported and domestic products. The laboratory is accredited by ECA to the International Standard INTE-ISO/IEC 17025:2005. Additionally, they work according to the Good Laboratory Practices guidelines and follow the guidance of SANTE/11945/2015 Analytical quality control and validation procedures for pesticide residue analysis in food and feed.

SFE partners with INA and other organizations to research issues and develop better pest management strategies that decrease the impact on food safety and increase environmental protection. For example, cilantro aphid infestation, tomatoes.

SFE has agreements with some large supermarket chains who promote the implementation of GAPs by requiring their suppliers to meet the requirements of a voluntary domestic certification scheme. This scheme is overseen by SFE.

SFE partnered with the Chamber of Agriculture and Farming and, with municipalities to implement the Empty Pest Container Project which promotes appropriate handling and storage of used pesticide containers. Under this project, SFE runs container collection programs.

The SFE is a member of a national Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) Commission which aims to implement tolerance limits for antibiotics and endocrine disruptors. Led by the MOH, other members include SENASA, private companies, hospitals and clinics.

8.3 National water laboratory

The LNA is the reference laboratory for microbiological and physical analysis of water. They monitor the sanitary quality of water at various sampling levels including: operators of aqueducts, wastewater treatment plants, health sector points (hospitals), restaurants, hotels, recreational sites, and other establishments.

Samples are taken by AyA's regional personnel according to an annual sampling plan for potable water quality which is developed with the MOH. AyA also conducts monitoring and sampling in the event of emergencies. All samples are tested in the San Jose laboratory. Samples are analysed for chemical and microbial contamination including viruses and parasites. Reports of results are posted publically.

Results are routinely communicated to the MOH and, the CCSS. If the aqueducts are publically owned, AyA will send workers to repair it. If it is privately owned, then AyA provides recommendations. The MOH has the authority to close aqueducts in the event of a risk to public health. Agreements are signed in instances where other ministries such as the MOH or the MAG request assistance in sampling and analysis. The MOH routinely reviews AyA's annual water quality reports.

The laboratory employs a sufficient number of well trained personnel.

The LNA is ISO 17025-accredited by ECA for 88 methods of analysis and and 2 sampling techniques.

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