The National Veterinary Laboratory works to safeguard animal health and contribute to public health in the Maltese Islands by providing laboratory support to the various sections within the Veterinary Regulation Fisheries Conservation and Control Division. The National Veterinary Laboratory plays an important role in the control of Food safety at farm level of food of animal origin.
Among the roles that the National Veterinary Laboratory fulfils there are the following.
• Animal Disease Surveillance such as Enzootic Bovine Leucosis, Classical Swine Fever, Foot and Mouth, Avian Influenza and Bluetongue
• Food Health Surveillance such as Trichinella and Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy.
• Zoonotic Disease Surveillance such as Brucella and Salmonella
• Veterinary Drug Residue Surveillance such as Antimicrobials, growth promoters and contaminants in foods of animal origin.
The National Veterinary Laboratory also fulfils the role of National Reference Laboratory, in several areas of the European Veterinary aquies.
The staff at the National Veterinary Laboratory keeps abreast with current issues by attending training in various European National and Community Reference laboratories and with other agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.
To maintain the required standards in analytical procedures the National Veterinary Laboratory participates in Proficiency Tests organised by Community Reference Laboratories in several work areas.
BSE testing the stable to table approach
An exercise in traceability and audit
By Noel Demicoli MSc
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is an important food safety concern, which has attracted consumer attention worldwide. Consequently BSE surveillance is an important task for every country, and is a requirement of both National and European legislation. The Diagnostic Laboratory within the Department of Food Health and Diagnostics in Malta carries out screening tests utilising Platelia Biorad ELISA kits. During the last year a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), Lab Track, has been developed and linked to the testing method. This kind of functionality allows regular monitoring of analytical method robustness and rapid verification of the validity of analytical results.
The computerisation of the BSE testing has improved traceability, continuity of evidence, the audit trail of data and ease of reporting.
BSE testing is carried out under very tight time constraints as test results have to be issued prior to the sale of fresh beef; therefore, significant gains in efficiency and information dissemination have been achieved through computerisation of this work area.
The Fish & Farming Regulation & Control Division (FFRC) have been using a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) called ChemTrac for 2 years. This system was developed specifically for the lab and was initially designed for Veterinary drug residue analysis.
Most of the development work for this system was funded through projects in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency and a pre-accession twinning project with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Northern Ireland.
The Fish & Farming Regulation & Control Division already had in place an extensive and comprehensive animal movements database "Inter Trace" which records information on all producers and individual animal details based on bar-coded ear tags (for bovine animals). It was recognised that integration between ChemTrac and this database could significantly improve data transfer between the laboratory, Veterinary Service and policy division. It would also afford significant time savings for lab staff during sample login and result reporting.
FFRC currently test all bovine, ovine and caprine animals for BSE at slaughter, as well as all fallen and emergency slaughtered animals of the above mentioned species. This requires a very rapid turnaround of results and is a significant strain on laboratory personnel. Before the implementation of this database, all results sample logging and result recording was carried out on paper. Although this was a robust and comprehensive system with very good audit trail it was time consuming and result reporting was complicated and extremely time consuming especially when considering the high sample throughput and the tight result turnaround times.
Like any paper system it was also difficult to search and summarise results. A decision was taken to spend significant time automating this work area as far as possible to remove as much of the user intervention as possible and to speed up and formalise reporting of results.
A barcode reader used to scan the ear tags; allows the database to automatically assign a unique lab number to each sample
When the ear tag is scanned the database collects other data from the National Livestock Database and records: Species, Kill number, Date of slaughter, Date Received and the Status of the animal. When the ear tag is scanned, the validity is evaluated (through checksum calculations) and the National Livestock Database is interrogated for the relevant animal information such as species and kill number and this is automatically entered into the database and a BSE test is scheduled.
Every step of the testing carries an individual lab number that permits sample traceability to the carcass. The data output from the micro plate reader, is imported by the database, which is then able to automatically link each individual result with the sample. This database provides the facility to export the results to other remote databases in the Department.
Each sample is assigned a unique laboratory reference number and sample labels are printed for each sample and sub sample which is created during the analysis. The samples to be tested are selected from the list and labels printed for the:
- sample reception form
- grinding tube
- eppendorf tube
Samples are then automatically assigned to a work list in the layout of a BSE EIA plate. The plate template replicates the micro plate, maps the position of each sample on the plate and acts as a pipetting aid for the operator.
A further significant addition was the inclusion of a "drill down" feature whereby laboratory personnel now have the ability to summarise, search and review BSE test results. The importance of this "drill down" is in allowing the operator to demonstrate the validity of the analytical result. When viewing BSE test results the operator has the ability to display all the QA data associated with each test result.
The data file for each test run is stored in the database and each individual result is attached to the record for each animal tested. This will be of particular importance in any future audit of this work area. It offers a level of control not available in many other laboratories.
When test results meet acceptance criteria they are automatically transferred to the National Heard Database.
(Source: National Livestock Database)
A report with spaces for signatures of those involved in the chain of evidence, of all the animals tested is produced for abattoir use detailing.
Date of slaughter, kill, and ear tag number, BSE test result and instructions to retain or release carcasses.
If a carcass is positive the result is displayed and printed in red thus eliminating the chances of releasing positive carcasses.
A further significant addition is the inclusion of a "drill down" feature whereby laboratory personnel now have the ability to summarize, search and review BSE test results. The importance of this "drill down" is in allowing the operator to demonstrate the validity of the analytical result. When viewing BSE test results the operator has the ability to display all the QA data associated with each test result.
The implementation of this system facilitates and enhances the laboratory audit trail and guarantees traceability and veterinary monitoring of livestock, which are prime requisite that ensure peace of mind and consumer confidence in a Stable to Table approach.