While the pandemic continued into 2021, ensuring that food safety needs of the population were being met, even in times of crisis, was non-negotiable for the Laboratoire national de Santé’s food monitoring unit. “So long as there are human beings on earth, there will be a need to feed them,” says Dr Sc. Pincemaille, technical officer of the food monitoring service. “The objective is to ensure this by combining safety and pleasure for the consumer”.
The population therefore continued to need the expertise of the service, which is the largest official control laboratory in the field of food and animal feed in Luxembourg. Despite the health crisis, the unit was able to continue its control work for the protection of the consumer and the Luxembourgish population.
Pesticides – a constantly evolving field
In 2021, 62% of the samples analysed were free of pesticides and 38% showed the presence of at least 1 residue in the foods analysed. Although a majority of pesticides remained at concentrations below the maximum residue limits (MRLs), the presence of pesticides in foodstuffs cannot be excluded. Indeed, the field of pesticides is a constantly evolving field that requires adaptation to the various plant protection products that may be used. New restrictions such as the ban on the use of glyphosate in all its forms have been in force since 1 January 2021. However, despite the various restrictions in force, constant monitoring is still required.
Increase from 38 to 256 analysed pesticides
The food monitoring service is, among other things, the national reference laboratory (NRL) for pesticides in cereals, fruits, and vegetables and for simple residue methods (SRM). SRMs require specific methods for the analysis of more complex residues such as glyphosate. In order to maintain its status as a national reference laboratory, the laboratory had to adapt to the demands of the European reference laboratories (EURL). These adaptations were notable on several points. Starting with the significant increase in the number of pesticides analysed at the Laboratoire national de santé (LNS). In 2018, 38 pesticides were routinely analysed, compared to 256 in 2021, 235 of which are accredited.
Reinforced team and optimised equipment
In order to ensure the management of these analyses, the food monitoring service welcomed two new technicians, which made it possible to increase the team dedicated to pesticide analyses to one technical manager and four technicians. In addition, at the analytical level, the laboratory acquired state-of-the-art equipment such as a gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS QQQ) and a liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS QQQ) dedicated solely to the detection and quantification of pesticide residues.
Close collaboration with the competent authorities
All of these improvements led to the analysis of 400 pesticide samples in 2021, compared to only half that number in 2019. This increase in the number of samples can be explained by the almost full participation in the Luxembourg national fruit and vegetable control programme that started in 2020. Thus, the laboratory was able to adapt to seasonal variations and analyse local fruits and vegetables, but also exotic fruits and vegetables from third countries, such as yellow pitayas, tropical avocados or kiwanos. This participation, among others, is part of the close collaboration with the competent authorities and in particular the Food Safety Division of the Government Commissioner for Quality, Fraud and Food Safety or the Administration of Technical Services for Agriculture (ASTA). In order to satisfy these various customers, the focus in 2021 was on reducing analysis times. While an average of 41 days were needed in 2019 for the analysis of pesticide residues, only 11 days were needed in 2021.
Thus, 2021 saw many changes in the field of pesticides within the food monitoring team. Dr. Sc. Claude Schummer, head of the service, points out: “Despite the crisis, we never stopped our activities, except for a very short period in 2020, and the particular challenges posed by the pandemic have rather strengthened the bonds within our team. Our achievements are the result of our teamwork, with the team’s primary objective now and in the future being to best serve the needs and protection of consumers.”