Submit a referee sample to the Government Chemist

Guidance for local authorities, port health authorities and food traders on how to submit a sample for referee analysis.

The Government Chemist analyses samples for referee analysis under the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Agriculture Act 1970.

You may need to submit a referee sample if you are a local authority/port health authority or a food trader.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and referee cases

We are closely monitoring the situation regarding the outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 and have established a senior group to direct the Government Chemist’s response. Our priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our staff, but also to continue to provide a responsive referee service. We are following all government advice, including health advice from Public Health England.

The current advice is for people to work from home if possible. Based on this expert advice, we have ensured that a core laboratory provision exists and is supported by on site senior staff. All desk based GC operations are being conducted by working from home until further notice.

Before you send a referee sample

You must contact the Government Chemist Project Manager, based at LGC, before you send a sample.

Government Chemist Project Manager

Kirstin Gray
LGC Limited
Queens Road
TW11 0LY


Telephone 020 8943 7309

Fax 020 8943 2767

How much it costs

A referee sample usually costs £250 + VAT.

A quote will be provided when you contact LGC. Owing to the rigour of referee analysis the cost is much higher than a routine analysis but the bulk of the cost is met by the National Measurement Office provided that it is in the public interest to do so.

Costs can vary depending on the complexity of the analysis required.

What you need to submit a sample

When you submit a referee sample you’ll need to state:

  • the Act that the sample has been taken under
  • what you want the sample analysed for
  • whether the sample is being submitted at the request of the owner (trader), the local or port health authority or a court
  • how much of the statutory time remains
  • dates of any court case pending
  • that you agree to pay the administrative fee

You’ll also need to supply:

  • a brief background to the case
  • details of any sample treatment prior to analysis
  • the address, telephone number and email address of the enforcement agency and the owner
  • Public Analyst Certificate of Analysis (optional)

When you contact LGC

You will be provided with:

  • a quotation for the analysis (typically only 5% of the overall cost)
  • an estimated date of issue of the certificate of analysis. The nature, complexity and rigour of analysis required for a referee case, along with existing case workload, determines turnaround time from sample receipt to certificate of analysis. Whilst such times are kept as low as possible, the process necessarily takes significantly longer than that for routine analysis. The estimated time for analysis will be indicated upon enquiry; typically, this can be a couple of weeks upwards. This should be considered before submitting a sample for referee analysis
  • a case manager, who will be your point of contact for any enquiries.

Referee analysis samples

Referee analysis covers a wide range of analytes and sample types, including:

  • mycotoxins
  • food contact materials
  • genetically modified organisms
  • veterinary and pesticides residues
  • meat products testing for meat and added water content
  • spirit drinks analysis for alleged adulteration
  • alleged irradiation of food

Obtaining samples for analysis

When food or feed samples are taken for official control analysis in the UK, 3 samples must be taken by law. One sample is provided to the owner so they can carry out their own analysis, if they wish. The control authority takes a sample to be tested and the third sample is the referee sample, which is sent to the Government Chemist if there is a dispute.

Samples may be sent for referee analysis:

  • at the request of the control authority
  • at the request of the food business owner (trader, or importer) if a dispute has arisen after analysis of their portion of the sample
  • by order of a court, if legal proceedings have begun

Samples can only be accepted for analysis if they have been formally taken and submitted according to the provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 or the Agriculture Act 1970.

Example of referee analysis

This example outlines the process for analysis of an imported consignment of nuts alleged to contain aflatoxins:

  1. request for analysis – advice is provided on how to submit the sample
  2. sample receipt and storage – the chain of custody of the sample is forensically important, for example, samples should be sent by courier or tracked post
  3. case meeting held to consider:

    • allocation of resource

    • administrative matters, for example, ensuring all necessary information has been received

    • consideration of critical points – method, sample homogeneity etc

    • food owner is contacted to check quantitative ingredients and processing

  4. analysis – statisticians are consulted on the analytical work plan to ensure data will be fit for purpose and a robust uncertainty value can be estimated
  5. a typical work plan will consist of:

    • triplicate analysis of case sample on each of three days

    • analysis of blank material to discover any interferences

    • analysis of overnight spikes of blank material on each of three days to determine recovery

    • analysis of certified reference material where available

  6. calculation checks by the case team, taking into account any slurrying of the product after sampling and, for example, the amount of nuts in a compound product
  7. results and statistical evaluation including expanded uncertainty
  8. interpretation in terms of legislation
  9. evaluation of fitness for purpose – have we answered the question?
  10. second evaluation
  11. certificate signed, peer reviewed and countersigned by Government Chemist.
  12. signed certificate sent to the food owner and the official control authority.
  13. after the certificate has been issued, both parties are formally asked to comment on the service received from the Government Chemist, including whether they perceive the function to be independent.
Published 10 July 2014
Last updated 12 March 2020 + show all updates
  1. Added note regarding provision of services during outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 (12 March 2020)

  2. First published.