At the Departmental Analysis Laboratory (former departmental veterinary laboratory), 22 agents watch over animal health and wildlife, guarantee our food safety and monitor the quality of the environment, particularly water.
Divided into two sections, on the one hand animal health and water chemistry, and on the other water bacteriology and food hygiene, the Aude laboratory is one of 75 departmental laboratories in France, out of 101 departments (the laboratory, born in 1971 where it is still a State service, joined the General Council of Aude in 1991 then changed location in 1996 in order to meet the quality standards required by the French Accreditation Committee, COFRAC) . “COFRAC is important, many partners would not work with us if we did not have it. We have a control every 15 months to check the competence of the teams, that we respect the constraints and the standards imposed. In June last, we had the renewal for five years”, smiles Nicolas Marchand, the head of the laboratory. Funded two-thirds by the Department, the laboratory (located right next to the Hôtel du Département) is the only one in France where all the analyzes carried out for breeders are free of charge. A very old free policy, so much so that no one in the Department can date it.
Food hygiene and water bacteriology
In their openwork premises, agents decked out in white coats, concentrated and silent, are in full analysis. In their jargon, we use “petri dishes”, “Bunzen mouthpieces” or even “oesses” to carry out food microbiology analyzes in collective or commercial catering, or for catering trades such as butchers or bakers. “We will take a sample of the foodstuffs and check the absence of pathogenic genes such as salmonella, escherichia coli, or listeria; microorganisms that cause food poisoning”, together explain the agents Christelle Poret and Cyril Gillis. These examinations are even carried out, among others, for many cheesemakers in the territory, or for oyster farmers practicing direct sales. “All catering professions have this responsibility and we are part of this chain which promotes short circuits and ensures healthy and sustainable food”adds Sabine Barbié, responsible for external relations, auditing, training and food hygiene advice. “To a producer who decides to make cans, for example, we can offer him aging analyzes to find out the use-by date (DLC) and the minimum durability date (DDM) of his products.” Each week, the laboratory also monitors the absence of trichinae (parasitic worms) potentially present in pigs, wild boars and horses, in conjunction with the slaughterhouses of Quillan and Pézenas or with the Hunting Federation of Aud. “There are two main types of food microbiology analyses: compulsory self-checks and official checks emanating from a request from the State and its representative at departmental level, the Departmental Directorate of Employment, Labor, Solidarity and Protection of Populations (DDETSPP).” Thanks to the analysis of the water of establishments open to the public, such as town halls, hospitals, gymnasiums, campsites or schools, the laboratory also examines the absence of germs such as legionella and carries out analyzes of potability.
Animal health and water chemistry
The laboratory also plays an important role in the health surveillance of herds of cattle, sheep and goats since it carries out the regulatory analyzes (serology and PCR) requested by the Health Defense Group (GDS) in conjunction with breeders. “Free analyzes for breeders guarantee healthy livestock because breeders will be less hampered by the price barrier. We are assured of quality meat and products”, adds Alain Ginies, vice-president of the Aude departmental council, delegate for agriculture and tourism. “The idea is also to make our Aude herds as unscathed as possible by monitoring pathologies from year to year and reducing their presence on the territory”, adds Nicolas Marchand. A desire that prompted the laboratory to recently acquire a new DNA extractor. The laboratory also carries out epidemiological monitoring of animals, and particularly monitoring of avian influenza (avian flu). “The hunting federation or the French Office for Biodiversity may bring us wild animals from suspicious deaths.” Autopsies can therefore be performed on foxes, wild boars, birds, and sometimes even… Carcassonne kangaroos.
Thanks to physico-chemical analyses, the Aude laboratory participates in environmental protection by checking the quality of the water before it enters the treatment plant, then when it leaves, before it is discharged into the natural environment. “We control a large part of the department’s wastewater treatment plants. We also regularly analyze natural bathing waters such as rivers or lakes for the Department’s Water Service”testifies Loïc Buttignol, the deputy manager.
“No white areas”
Nicolas Marchand insists, Alain Ginies supports: “The laboratory operates in all areas of the territory, there is no white area. It is really the concern of public service, we do not look if it is far or if it is close, we go everywhere .” And Sabine Barbie to add: “Our department is rural and has its specificities: we work with oyster farmers on the coast, cheese makers in the Montagne Noire and breeders in the Plateau de Sault. Even for training, we will train people at their workplace.” The laboratory also offers audits, training and advice related to food health control, for different types of audiences, in particular cooks, in order to know the latest regulations and be able to apply them. Following an agreement signed with the Department’s Education Department, the laboratory carries out audits with all the colleges in the territory in order to verify compliance with health regulations. It also sets up health control plans (PMS), which are mandatory for all establishments handling foodstuffs, and participates in the health approval files for structures. The Aude laboratory, for example, assisted the Emile-Alain secondary school in Carcassonne with the filing of an application for health approval following the construction of its new central kitchen, which also serves three satellite restaurants (more than 1,000 meals per day).
“The added value of our laboratory is that our samplers are all qualified senior technicians capable of giving technical advice to our customers during rounds. This allows support, quality of service, follow-up and a real link with partnerstestifies Nicolas Marchand, and this historic choice is really close to my heart.” “Keeping human contact is a will of the department, we want to keep this link”, adds Alain Ginies. At present, the laboratory has other ambitions, such as being able to work on air quality, to develop collaborations with laboratories in the Occitanie region, or to work on plant health, in connection with the wine-growing region of the Aude.