Posted by Sten Westgard, MS
For those watching the European news these first six months of 2013, there have been rapid developments in the area of traceability. Companies have started adding traceability claims prominently to their advertising, in direct appeal to consumers. And the consumers have responded by preferring products that have established chains of traceability.
Do you think we're talking about the laboratory? Or something else?
Of course, it's not hard to understand why. The recent horsemeat scandal - where some "beef" products turned out to actually be 29% or higher horsemeat - has cast a pall on the processed food chain that supplies the major supermarkets. For months, it has not been clear which suppliers, and sub-suppliers, have been at fault. In the meantime, consumers have been worried about what they're eating - and responding to appeals by groceries and restaurants that state, unequivocally, that the food they consume can be traced back to the "truth." In this case, tracing burgers back to the farms where the cattle are raised.
If you had asked me a year ago, which institution was more likely to embrace traceability first: burger joints or laboratories, I would have picked labs. But here's an example where a public scandal shocked consumer sentiment to the extent that major changes are happening rapidly in the food industry.
In the lab, of course, clinicians and patients are shielded from the tracebility, or lack thereof, in their test results. While they assume that their medical tests are of at least the same quality as their hamburgers, they might be surprised to know that some of the tests being run have little to no traceability at all. In other words, some of our tests are worse that hamburgers now. Except luckily it's not horsemeat contaminating the test.
But it's certainly no comfort to know that there might be horse**** in some of our testing numbers. If our patients understood this, they'd be just as outraged about labs as they are about burgers. Woe unto us if we don't fix our methods and our labs before a similar scandal rocks the confidence our patients place in our quality.