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Public Analyst

In the United Kingdom, Public Analysts are highly skilled scientists working to protect the public, particularly in relation to food safety, but also in respect of other aspects of consumer protection and environmental matters.

Public Analysts direct and carry out the analysis of materials that the public come into contact with. The results may be used for comparative purposes, to formulate new legislation or guidelines, or to check compliance with existing legislation.

Enforcement of food law in the UK is by local authorities, principally their Environmental Health Officers and Trading Standards Officers. Whilst these officers are empowered to take samples of food, the actual assessment in terms of chemical analysis or microbiological examination and subsequent interpretation that are necessary to determine whether a food complies with legislation is carried out by Public Analysts and Food Examiners respectively, scientists whose qualifications and experience are specified by regulations.

Every local authority (food authority) in the United Kingdom must appoint a Public Analyst. Those appointed must be chemists qualified as defined in the Food Safety Act 1990.

Each local authority will appoint at least one Public Analyst who will work in a laboratory run by that authority, a consortium of authorities or an independent consultancy. There are presently just over 40 Public Analysts serving the whole of the UK, working from 23 laboratories, in a mix of public and private ownership.

The Public Analyst is a key person in the UK’s food law enforcement system, being the person ultimately responsible for determining whether or not a food that has been sent for analysis is safe and legal. To do this the Public Analyst will:

  • Analyse food:
    • for composition: many foods have legally defined, customary or expected compositions
    • for additives: which must be legally permitted and within prescribed concentrations
    • for contamination: chemical, microbiological
    • to assess the accuracy of labelling
    • to investigate whether complaints by the public are justified
  • Interpret relevant law passed by the EU and UK:
    • act as expert witness in prosecutions

In addition to their central rôle in relation to food law enforcement, Public Analysts provide expert scientific support to local authorities and the private sector in various other areas, for example they:

  • analyse drinking and other waters
  • investigate land contamination from in chemicals and waste
  • advise on waste management
  • investigate and monitor air pollution
  • advise on consumer safety
  • monitor asbestos and other hazards

It is important that persons charged with the responsibility of determining whether food is safe and legal are competent to do so. For this reason there is a statutory qualification requirement for Public Analysts, known as the Mastership in Chemical Analysis (M.Chem.A.), awarded by the Royal Society of Chemistry. This postgraduate qualification is the foremost qualification in applied chemistry in the UK and the only qualification that attests knowledge, ability, interpretational skills and legal report writing in respect of food and related subjects.

The M.Chem.A. qualification complements the requirement that Public Analysts’ laboratories must be third-party accredited to ISO 17025, in effect being an accreditation of the individual responsible for determining whether a food is safe and complies with relevant food law. This combination creates a very robust system.

The Public Analyst profession dates back to the 1870s when the need for specialists was identified in support of the first laws governing the adulteration of food. The statutory qualification that was the forerunner to the M.Chem.A. was introduced in 1898. The original scientific society set up by the very first appointees evolved to become the Analytical Division of today’s Royal Society of Chemistry, with the journal that they started in 1876, The Analyst, continuing to this day. All Public Analysts are Chartered Chemists and Members or Fellows of the Royal Society of Chemistry, however their own specific professional interests are served by the Association of Public Analysts.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Public_Analyst". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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