Marking the anniversary of the signing of the Metre Convention on 20th May 1875, World Metrology Day is an annual celebration of the impact of the International System of Units on all aspects of daily life. The theme for this year’s event is Measurements supporting the global food system; chosen to reflect the increasing challenges of distributing food to a growing world population of some 8 billion people, against a backdrop of rising environmental, social and economic pressures.
Accredited measurements in food, from farm to fork
UKAS accreditation underpins the entire food production and distribution process. All aspects of accredited conformity assessment, whether that’s inspection, certification, calibration or testing are performed against the requirements of internationally recognised standards and schemes. In turn these standards and schemes are based on a universally agreed set of parameters which themselves rely on measurements in some shape or form.
Whether it’s relating to size, weight or constituents, accurate measurements enable foodstuffs to be traded with the confidence that purchasers are getting what they expect, regardless of where it was produced. Some accredited food schemes such as Red Tractor have stipulations concerning animal welfare which require accommodation to be measured. Similar food assurance schemes rely on the measurement of different parameters to ensure compliance. Providence marks are geo-location based, whilst the Scottish Farmed Salmon scheme has minimum requirements regarding the colour of the fish flesh, as measured on the Roche scale.
Accredited testing laboratories measure the levels of nutrients, allergens, pathogens and contaminants in food samples. Combined with measuring the composition and use of pesticides, as well as conformity with reference materials schemes, accredited testing laboratories help to determine whether food is fit for consumption.
Beyond the foodstuffs themselves, accredited measurements also play a wider role in the global food network. Pressure and lifting equipment used in food production and packaging must be inspected to ensure it is both safe to use and operating within agreed tolerances, all of which must be measured. Together with measuring the temperature and humidity of transportation and storage facilities, this helps ensure that food reaches consumers in a safe, edible condition. UKAS also accredits manufacturers’ cooking instructions, which have a strong emphasis on measuring the cooking temperature and time necessary to meet Food Standards Agency requirements. As well as the obvious human health benefits, these measurements reduce the risk of food going to waste, lessening the industry’s impact on the environment.
Ensuring measurement accuracy
If the readings of any measuring device are to be trusted then the device must be properly calibrated. ISO/IEC 17025 is the internationally recognised accreditation standard against which calibration laboratories are assessed. Accredited calibration laboratories help provide confidence in the accuracy, traceability and comparability of measurements derived from the devices they accredit. By providing certainty over the quantity and quality of food produced against recognised measurements, accredited calibration helps reduce barriers to trade within the food industry, both nationally and internationally.
Properly calibrated equipment also performs more efficiently, giving food producers better control over production costs. Simultaneously this reduces energy consumption, waste and emissions. These performance factors can themselves be measured and monitored through accredited schemes such as MCERTS and ISO 14001 Environmental Management, further contributing towards the food industry reaching sustainability targets.
World Metrology Day is jointly organised by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML). For further information on the day and how your organisation can participate visit www.worldmetrologyday.org.