There is a varied and often limited ability to test food and manage foodborne hazards in the Pacific, according to WHO.

The World Health Organization (WHO) looked at the food analysis capacity of Pacific Island countries. These nations are often vulnerable to food safety incidents and emergencies because of their geography and dependence on food imports.

The costs of establishing and operating food laboratories are relatively high. Considering the limited number of food samples tested in most Pacific Island countries, it is not practical for them to have sophisticated labs. Food is rarely tested to protect domestic consumers. It is generally only analyzed after it has become the potential source of a complaint or an illness.

WHO said it was crucial appropriate labs are identified prior to a food safety incident or emergency. A guide lists considerations for selecting referral labs and submitting samples to them.

Several nations have implemented sampling and testing of environmental water and fish and fishery products to facilitate the export of fish products. Fiji and Solomon Islands were among the first to undertake such routine analyses to meet European Union requirements.

Country and pathogen examples
Diarrheal agents are the biggest cause of foodborne illness in the Western Pacific region with norovirus, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli among the most common pathogens, affecting millions of people annually. The region also reports the highest death rate globally as a result of foodborne parasites.

No food testing capacity is available in American Samoa, Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Tonga, Tuvalu, or Wallis and Futuna. Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Vanuatu do have a laboratory developing the capacity for food testing.

Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Solomon Islands have significant lab capacity, being able to test food and water for a range of biological and chemical hazards. However, no labs can detect viral agents or foodborne parasites in food.

Countries associated with the U.S. submit clinical referral samples to the Hawaii State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Palau usually refers to food samples from Korea, the Philippines, and the United States.

Yersinia enterocolitica is detectable in food only in New Caledonia and Vibrio cholerae in food only in Samoa. The most widespread chemical hazard testing capacity is histamine in fish. One lab in French Polynesia said it could detect ciguatoxin.

None of the labs reviewed reported the ability to test for marine toxins such as domoic acid, lipophilic shellfish toxins, lyngbyatoxin, saxitoxin, and tetrodotoxin. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury can be detected in several countries.

The guide covers accreditation, cost, sample collection and transportation requirements, and border control issues. It also supports the implementation of the Regional Framework for Action on Food Safety in the Western Pacific from 2018 to 2025.

Lab capacity on the radar of the Codex committee
Meanwhile, the FAO/WHO Coordinating Committee for North America and the South West Pacific met earlier this year in Nadi, Fiji.

Emerging issues expected to impact food safety in the region in the next five to 10 years included limited support to manage food regulatory systems; climate change; innovative food technologies; risk communication; increased foodborne disease transmission; pesticides residues on food crops; antimicrobial resistance; indigenous foods; and labeling of new and novel foods.

Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga also emphasized the need for capacity building in food safety, including analytical support to food analysis labs.

A lack of lab capacity was highlighted by several members and the need for regional collaboration regarding analytical work was identified. The sustainability of national labs in small island countries was mentioned as a challenge.

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