Bureau Veritas invests in new laboratory to facilitate local, regional and export trade.

As the demand for safe food gathers pace in Eastern Africa, Bureau Veritas, one of the leading providers of testing services for the food and agriculture sector in Eastern Africa, has opened a new laboratory in Mombasa, Kenya with the latest technology to serve the region’s needs. Food Safety Africa had a discussion with Cyprian Kabbis, the company’s District Chief Executive, Eastern Africa and his team about the investment.

 The demand for testing services for the food and agriculture sector in Africa is on an upward trend, as changing regulatory and market requirements lead firms in the sector to embrace frequent and more planned testing of their products to match these changes.

In Eastern Africa, one of the leading players in the provision of testing services for the food and agriculture sector, Bureau Veritas, is priming itself to not only take advantage of this wind of change but to take the leadership role in guiding the industry stakeholders towards a new dawn: a future where food products manufacturers, retailers and those in the hotels, restaurants and catering (HORECA) sector ensure that every food product they produce, sell or serve is tested to assure its safety and quality.

Leading the change at the company is Cyprian Kabbis, the District Chief Executive, Eastern Africa, who joined the company early-2020, bringing with him decades of experience in the food and agriculture industry. Cyprian reveals that the company has, over the course of the past year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, invested substantially in boosting the capacity of its laboratory in Mombasa, Kenya, bringing in new equipment and capabilities that will enable the firm to take the lead in the provision on testing of food and agricultural products in the Eastern Africa region.

“This expanded laboratory is one of the many facilities that Bureau Veritas has globally. Bureau Veritas is a world leader in testing, inspection and certification, providing services for a wide range of assets and products to various industries. We are currently operating in140 countries, that makes up more than 1,600 locations, including laboratories.

In terms of staffing, we are 75,000 staff spread all over the globe. We have developed this specific laboratory in Mombasa to support the Eastern Africa region, which is made up of 8 countries. It has enhanced capability to support the region in the agri-food activities,  which entails the whole aspect of food safety testing, soil analysis and any other testing that may be required in the near future,” he informs Food Safety Africa magazine in the interview at their new facility.

Located at Shimanzi area, which is one of the most important business and logistics hubs in the region due to its proximity to the Port of Mombasa, the new laboratory builds upon Bureau Veritas’ experience in the testing of food and agricultural products in Eastern Africa, having opened its first laboratory in 2014.

It is part of the Bureau Veritas’ ecosystem of laboratories in Africa, which includes the other establishments in Agadir and Casablanca, (Morocco); Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa); Lagos (Nigeria); Douala (Cameroon); Tunis (Tunisia) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast).

Covering Eastern Africa and beyond

According to Walter Rono, the Agri, Food & Trade Manager, the laboratory serves a vast geographical area. “With advances in information technology and transportation, we are serving the entire Eastern African region including Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somali, Somaliland, Rwanda, and Burundi. We have also received samples from as far as Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Cameroon.”

He adds that the lab generally covers the entire agriculture value chain from farm to fork, including primary production, trading, manufacturing, hospitality and retail. “We cover a wide scope in the region, with some of our customers coming from the dairy, fresh produce, water, beverages, relief agencies, cereals, vegetable oil, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. We also have large retail and hospitality outlets as some of our key customers, with whom we have several frame agreements and service contracts especially on issues such as hand swabbing and microbiological testing, in line with the hygiene regimes that they have deployed. We also offer soil testing services for the agriculture sector and also do packaging material testing.”

Walter adds that the tea, coffee and cocoa sector is one of their key areas, especially cocoa from eastern DRC and western Uganda. “We also offer testing services for the aquaculture sector for export and local markets. With the devolution of agriculture in Kenya, we have worked with a number of counties in collaboration with the State Department of Fisheries to build capacity of the sector.”

He further elaborates that with the growth of the fast-food sector and the entry of big multinationals, there has been a rise in the companies they are offering testing services to in the sector, as consumer demand for these foods increases, and the need for food safety in the sector becomes paramount. Some of the company’s clients are research and institutions in the region as well.

“Across all these sectors, each has its unique challenges, for example in the aquaculture sector, assessing perishability is key. We therefore have solutions for histamine testing to check on perishability of fish products. In the nuts and grain products category, aflatoxins detection is a major headache that we have solutions for as well.”

New laboratory, new capabilities

According to the Region’s CEO, with the new investment, the company is priming itself to meet the changing needs of customers in the region, by introducing new equipment with better technologies.

“Traditionally, if we look at many other laboratories that we have in the region, they have been more geared towards basic quality and safety characteristics of food products. What we want to do here is to extend this, so this facility will be doing much more than basic food testing. The high-end equipment that you find here will enable us to deliver new capabilities to our customers, from nutritional analysis to supporting labelling claims to other techniques.

We all know that GMO testing is not a very well-established testing solution in this region; we expect to be a centre of excellence in a few years to handle GMO testing in our laboratory. We also hope to work more closely with the government, especially on developing nutritional data for Food Compositions Tables (FCT), not just for Kenya but also for other countries in the region.”

According to Edwin Senengo, the Laboratory Manager, the laboratory has two main sections. The Microbiology Laboratory deals with the testing of micro-organisms such as E. coli, Salmonella, Total Plate Count, Yeasts and Moulds etc. in various products such as water and environmental samples, food products, packaging and hygiene samples. The Microbiology Laboratory, Edwin says, is one of the biggest in the Eastern African region. “We also have the Chemistry Laboratory, which is divided into several sub-sections depending on the techniques employed in each of them,” he states.

Taking his time to explain to us the various sub-sections of the Chemistry Laboratory, Edwin informs us that the laboratory has a sample preparation and extraction sub-section where samples that have been received are prepared and extracted before proceeding into the subsequent sub-sections for analysis.

In the Chromatography room, Bureau Veritas has installed some of the latest equipment such as HPLC-DAD/UV, GC and LC- MSMS to boost their analytical capability in various products. “In the Chromatography room, we test for volatile and non-volatile organic compounds – such as pesticide residues and petroleum hydrocarbons in environmental samples such as soil and water.

Other tests in this room include nutritional compounds such as vitamins in animal feed and food products; various mycotoxins, especially Aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, G2 and critically, M1 which is mainly targeted in milk and milk products. We also test fatty acid profiles in vegetable oil samples and other processed food products in this area,” he explains.

The Spectroscopy sub-section is where the team carries out macro and micro elemental analysis in foods, water, waste water and soil samples to test for soil fertility. Fortification agents are also tested here.

The other sub-section is the Physical Analysis room, where, being an agricultural laboratory, the team carries out physical tests, principally grading, sorting and moisture analysis of cereals, legumes, coffee and cocoa. In the Wet Chemistry Room, which mainly deals with water samples, the team carries out several titrimetric tests.

However, Edwin reveals that they will soon do away with some of the wet chemistry techniques after the installation of the Aquachem Gallery, a new equipment that analyses anions, such as nitrates, fluorides, sulphates, nitrites, ammonia etc. in water, foods and environmental samples.

Food safety has been mainly driven by the
requirements in Europe but locally, I still think
there is an opportunity for different countries to perfect their systems.

Cyprian Kabbis, District Chief Executive, Eastern Africa


Modern lab, well trained people

The modern and well-designed laboratory, which is already ISO/IEC17025 accredited, sits on two floors with the Microbiology Laboratory taking most of the lower ground floor. On the second floor are offices and the Chemistry Laboratory.

The laboratory has adequate lighting and ventilation, with adequate facilities that ensure the safety and well-being of the staff. Sample reception into the laboratory is through a staircase that rises into the back of the second floor, after which the samples are received, coded and are then delivered into the respective holding areas; with a separate room for products that require ambient temperatures, and another room that handles those that require refrigeration.

Edwin informs us that he is proud of the team of analysts that man each of the sections of the laboratory, with all of them being qualified microbiologists, analytical and industrial chemists or food chemists, who understand the manufacturing as well as quality process parameters in the food and agriculture industry. “Each section of our laboratory has technically competent analysts with the right training in local universities. They also undergo regular, rigorous assessments to establish their levels of competence.”

The Laboratory Manager is delighted that the laboratory is ISO/IEC 17025:2017 accredited and is a NEMA designated laboratory for water and effluent testing. “Our customers should trust us since we have a global network and have support globally within the Bureau Veritas Group. We provide a wide range of solutions under one roof for all our customers’ needs. We also offer after-sales support and advisory services. All our equipment are well maintained through a rigorous preventive maintenance schedule and undergo regular calibration. We assure our clients of quality and timely results.”

 Challenges with Covid-19

As the rest of the World was being impacted with the Covid-19 pandemic, Edwin and his team were busy with the contractors to build and commission the new laboratory, a daunting task.

“Covid-19 brought us unique challenges that we could not have foreseen. The main challenge we faced was that the travel restrictions led to delays in the shipment of the equipment into the country from abroad. Further, once the equipment arrived, we had problems with validation of the methods since we couldn’t easily access certified reference sampling materials, as some of the testing methods we were venturing into are not common in the region.”

Future of the lab

The regional CEO says that the future of the company in Eastern Africa and its laboratory business is bright and that more investments are on the way to meet emerging demand and customer requirements.

 I think that in terms of the future, given that the agriculture is still the cornerstone of our GDP in Africa, there is still need and opportunity for testing laboratories to support the growth of the sector. Obviously, food safety has been mainly driven by the requirements in Europe but locally, I still think that there is an opportunity for different countries to perfect their systems, because the food that we eat locally should not be any different from the food that we export into Europe. If you take Kenya for example, and you look at the horticultural products, out of the total production, only 5% is exported while the rest of the 95% is consumed locally. Is it safe? Is it nutritious? If you are asking me what I see in the next 5 years, this is what I am talking about – we still have the 95% that need to be supported by this kind of facility,” advises Cyprian.

The location of the facility in Mombasa has important benefits, according to Cyprian, and has historical links with the port due to the fact that a lot of the agricultural produce exports from Kenya and the region have been handled through the port for decades and this makes it easy for shipping companies and importers to have their products sampled and the quality checked and verified before they are discharged or offloaded  and allowed into the country by regulatory agencies.

“However, as we continue to operate this laboratory as central multi-lab, we are looking to support the companies based inland and our vision is to increase our presence more and more inland. So eventually we plan to have other satellite laboratories inland and the model we plan to adopt is to have mobile laboratories inland, especially soil testing labs, which can do testing within the field and the information can be electronically transmitted to our central management platform, using modern technology without the need to have a big laboratory infrastructure in those locations.”

“In the future, we are looking at covering a broader scope of testing with the building of this new laboratory. We have seen some new opportunities and demand from the aquaculture sector for new testing areas such as antibiotics, contaminants, mineral oils and polyaromatic hydrocarbons in fish tissues. Meanwhile, we are currently building our capacity to test for histamines in fish products, pending the proficiency testing evaluation,” adds Edwin. “We are also looking at investing in new equipment that will enable us to achieve much lower detection limits for heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic and enable much higher levels of accuracy.”

“We are embracing technology by adopting a new LIMS portal where our clients will have access to view the progress of the testing process of their samples – they do not have to call to ask for their report; they just log into the portal, and once the test report has been uploaded onto the portal, they can print the report from anywhere in the world. This advanced system in information transmission will improve our turnaround time and help customers receive faster service from us. Through this system, we are also working with shippers to have prior testing of their samples to ease the approval process at the port.”

Cyprian says that apart from the investments in equipment and other initiatives, they have also launched a new concept for food manufacturing companies in the region which would like to upscale quality control in their in-house laboratories. “We have another solution we have developed; what we call ‘Re-shape your Laboratory.’ Re-shape your Laboratory is the solution we are giving to manufacturers who do not want to have extra-staff, extra-cost of consumables to manage their in-house laboratories, so we actually come and manage that for them at a much lower cost- we have experts, and we manage the facility for the customer just as a we manage our own Bureau Veritas laboratory. That way, the client still gets the same kind of experience and quality work that you would get in an advanced lab like this,” he informs us.

Further, they will be investing in the company’s staff capability. “I think that people would obviously be one critical area, as we continue to invest in high end equipment. These are not equipment that we readily have expertise to run and when we buy them we also have to upgrade the skills of our people; this is what we are currently doing.”

He adds that there is still scope for further expansion of the laboratory in the near future. “We have already seen the possibility for expansion of this lab in future; the expansion process will continue. This establishment is not just for Kenya but is meant to support the whole region of about 8 countries: from Ethiopia to Uganda to Mozambique and DRC. Our vision is to continue expanding the lab and to use the extra space available within the next couple of years.”

The company is also looking at new investments that will reduce the cost of testing. “I think one of the issues has been the cost of testing but again, if you use the traditional equipment, they are quite rudimentary. Obviously, the cost of doing the testing and the time you take to do it is much higher and you won’t be able to do the tests in a cheaper manner. We are changing that narrative and, in this lab, some of the equipment that we have are actually highly automated, which means that the throughput is much faster. In that sense, we are then able to have much lower prices because of the economies of scale. With this kind of approach and investment thinking, we see that the cost of testing is going to go down and for sure, we should then start to capture the 95% of the local produce that fails to get tested.”

This feature appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE