Doing your homework is essential in choosing the “right” contract laboratory. In many ways, the lab you choose speaks volumes about your commitment to the safety and quality of your products. The failure to select an organization that can consistently deliver reliable results and services can have a negative rippling effect throughout your supply chain and undermine your safety and quality initiatives.

The following checklist provides some “food for thought” as you deliver over this all important decision.

1. Price
While it is second nature to focus on cost, price should not be given inflated importance over other critical variables. All labs face many of the same operational costs, provided they implement extensive quality systems to ensure the accrual of quality data. If a laboratory is selling its service based on price alone, remember the refrain: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

2. Quality Systems
Ask your prospects to provide you with records detailing the scope of their internal quality systems, performance in reputable proficiency trials, results of internal control standards and results from environmental monitoring tests. Quality implies documentation; the failure of a prospect to deliver requested documents within an acceptable time frame should raise a red flag.

3. Accreditation
Around the world, ISO 17025 is recognized as a benchmark of excellence. Due to the significant investment that is required to attain this certification, accredited labs will readily share this information. If a prospect is not accredited, find out why. If they are in the process of getting accreditation, ask for documentation of their current status. ISO accreditation takes time and can’t be accomplished overnight.

4. Availability
Your testing provider should be available to respond to questions and crises 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We live in increasingly litigious times; determine if your prospects possess the financial and technical resources to support you in regulatory or legal proceedings.

5. Technology
State-of-the-art testing methodologies and technologies can mean cost savings for your company. Inquire about the analytical methodologies and testing equipment your prospects employ, and ask them to formulate a comprehensive testing program specific to your product. Lastly, find out if they have a Laboratory Management Information System (LIMS) that will allow you to access results online.

6. Communication
Productive partnerships are built on trust. Learn if your prospects have a dedicated client services staff that will promptly apprise you of problems and respond to your special needs. Does the lab have systems in place enabling you to contact them after normal work hours in the event of an emergency?

The food industry is large, but in many respects it is a small community. As your search winds down, seek out the opinions of respected colleagues. When two or three contenders remain, conduct on-site GLP audits to validate your research.

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