November 1, 1999

4 Min Read
How to Handle Unfavorable Analytical Results


How to Handle Unfavorable Analytical Results
by Robert Greens

As a responsible member of the nutritional supplement industry, you sent a sample of aproduct you are handling (be it a raw material or finished product), to an analyticallaboratory for testing and the results are not what you had expected. Now what?

Don't panic. Negative analytical results are expected; that's why products are testedin the first place. If everything was perfect there would be no need for testing. That'swhy Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) anticipate problems by requiring that qualitytesting and procedures are in place to handle them, once discovered.

Negative analytical results are just the start of a quality assurance process; at thispoint you have no way of knowing how it will end. Maybe the material is in factacceptable. Perhaps the material was indeed deficient, in which case you may have savedyour business significant economic and reputation losses. While no one likes bad news, itis better to discover it early and take corrective action rather than blindly walk into amuch bigger problem.

Determine how negative the negative results really are. There is always room forleeway. If your St. John's wort extract should be 0.03 percent Hypericin and theanalytical result says 0.0297 percent, it's safe to assume the material is acceptable.Just how far off the results can be is dependent upon the product and other factors, but a1 percent or 2 percent variance is generally acceptable.

In addition, certain analytical methods are more selective than others. For example, alower result from an HPLC analysis (which is very selective) may not contradict a higherresult from an ultraviolet (UV) analysis (which is less selective).

Let's say your product's deficiency exceeds an acceptable range. The next step is toconfirm that the analysis is correct, and this has two prongs: the sample and theanalytical laboratory. Review where the sample came from and how it was collected. Asdescribed in our "Correct Sampling" article [June 28, 1999 issue of the NaturalProducts Industry Insider], the entire analytical testing process is dependent upon theuse of a correct sample. The sample must be from the same material now at issue, and itmust have been collected in a manner which insures it is representative of the entireproduct batch. If you scooped the sample from the top of a 50-liter drum so that it is notrepresentative of the entire contents of the drum you may now regret that, for it may bethe cause of the problem.

You also must convince yourself that the analysis is correct. Call the laboratory andquiz them on their work. Non-technical folks get intimidated when talking to labs, but youpay good money for an analysis and the lab has an obligation to discuss it with you onterms you understand.

Ask the lab how often they test the product in question; if the answer is "notoften" you have cause for concern. Find out what method they used (e.g. HPLC, GC,LC). Find out where the procedure they followed came from (e.g. published paper,in-house).

Ask if the lab validated the method they used (i.e. ran it many times under controlledconditions to insure it works consistently) and where they obtained the standard (anothersample of the product which is deemed perfect and against which your product is judged).Ask for a copy of the readout made by the instrument that conducted the analysis (asopposed to the product analysis report, which generally only recites the results) and haveit explained to you. As a paying customer, you have a right to this information. All ofthese questions are general and the answers can easily be explained to the lay person. Ifat the end of the conversation, you still don't understand the situation, something iswrong.

If you are convinced that both the sample and analysis are correct, then most likelyit's the old adage: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it must be a duck. Butyou are not finished. Let the party responsible for the deficiency know that you will notstand for inferior material. Whether it is an ingredient supplier who sold low-gradematerial or an encapsulator who missed the correct formulation, the sale of deficientmaterial is never acceptable. It certainly cannot be the case in our industry where theproducts are destined for human consumption.

No doubt one day you will find yourself in a situation where you and the other party inyour transaction have conflicting analytical results. After you go through the aboveexercise with your lab, you then need your lab to go through the exercise with the otherparty's lab. While many labs cooperate in these situations, others may not; they may getdefensive and argumentative. It is in your interest to resolve the dispute; do not fight.In this situation you should instruct your lab to act in your best interest and becooperative, with the goal of resolving the problem.

Negative analytical results should neither be feared nor ignored. They are a fact oflife and should be acted upon in a professional and methodical fashion by both the partywho requested the analysis and the laboratory that conducted it. This is good business forthe concerned parties, the industry as a whole and consumers on whom we are all dependent.

Robert S. Green is the President of Integrated Biomolecule Corporation, whichconducts analytical testing and research and development of nutritional supplements. Hecan be reached at (520) 799-7566 or by fax at (520) 799-7562.

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