The Environmental Microbiology Proficiency Analytical Testing (EMPAT) Program is a performance evaluation program, sponsored by the AIHA Proficiency Analytical Testing Programs (AIHA PAT Programs), for environmental microbiology laboratories. This program was developed for microbiology laboratories specializing in analysis for microorganisms commonly detected in air, fluids and bulk samples collected from schools, offices, hospitals, industrial, agricultural, and other work environments. The AIHA PAT Programs' EMPAT Direct Exam program is targeted towards participants analyzing fungal spores by light microscopy. Participating in the Direct Exam program enables participants primarily performing spore trap analysis to establish proficiency and improve performance in the microscopic analysis of environmental samples. The EMPAT program is open to all interested microbiology laboratories.
Must a laboratory analyze both fungi and bacteria to participate?
Upon enrollment in the EMPAT program, a participant can elect to participate in any combination of fungi, bacteria or fungal direct exam. An EMLAP accredited laboratory must participate and be rated proficient in each of the organism classes for the Fields of Testing for which the laboratory is accredited.
What types of samples are used in the program?
Participants in the EMPAT cultural program analyze pure cultures of fungi and bacteria. Participants in the EMPAT direct exam program identify labeled spores in at least 20 different digital images included each round.
When are the proficiency testing rounds held?
Three EMPAT culture rounds will be held each year, in February, June, and October. The samples are shipped out on the first Monday of the month. Each participant has four weeks to complete the sample analysis.
Four EMPAT direct exam rounds will be held each year, in January, April, July and October. The rounds open on the second Monday of the month. Each participant has one week within which to complete the test. During that week, participants will have one hour to review the images and return results.
How many samples are included in each round?
Each culture round consists of 6 test samples (3 bacteria and 3 fungi) and 2 blank samples. Each direct exam round consists of at least 20 different digital images.
How are proficiency samples sent?
EMPAT direct exam round notifications email will be sent to participants two weeks prior to the commencement of a round. Participants will have 24 hour access to the challenges through the PAT portal for one week beginning the second Monday of the month
EMPAT culture samples are shipped via FedEx Standard Overnight on KWIK-STIK swabs and directions for reconstituting the samples are provided. A PDF of the KWIK-STIK instructions is available online. Upon receipt of the AIHA PT samples, it is the responsibility of the laboratory to inspect the shipment for any damage and to ensure that the correct samples were received. If samples are damaged, then the participant shall notify the AIHA PAT Programs within 24 hours of sample receipt to ensure timely replacement of samples for the participant to meet the deadline for submission of data. Participants requesting special shipping for replacement samples shall assume the cost of express carrier handling.
If the PT samples are not received by the participant in accordance with the predefined schedule, then it shall be the responsibility of the participant to contact the AIHA PAT Programs within one (1) week of the scheduled shipping date to notify us of failure to receive the PT samples. A participant that receives EMPAT samples but does not submit results or contact AIHA PAT Programs by the deadline will receive a "Fail" for the round.
What should I know about import permits?
Participants outside of the Continental United States are responsible for obtaining and maintaining current import permits. Failure to provide current import permits in a timely manner may result in delayed shipment of samples and reduced analysis time. Failing to report results due to late submission of import permits shall result in unacceptable results for the round.
When is the next round of EMPAT and when is the deadline to sign up?
EMPAT culture rounds occur three times in a year. Samples are sent in February, June, and October. Paticipants should enroll by the 15th of the preceding month. For example, to enroll for the June round participants should enroll by May 15.
EMPAT direct exam rounds occur four times a year in January, April, July and October. Participants should enroll by the 15th of the preceding month. For example, to enroll for the January round participants should enroll by December 15.
What is the EMPAT Program Schedule*?
* Please review the AIHA PAT Programs Proficiency Testing Program Schedule for further details.
EMPAT Direct Exam:
* Please review the AIHA PAT Programs Proficiency Testing Program Schedule for further details.
After I obtain EMPAT samples, how long do I have to report results?
EMPAT culture samples are shipped out the first Monday of the month and results are due four weeks after receipt. EMPAT direct exam rounds are open for one week beginning the second Monday of the month and participants will have 24 hour access to the challenges through the AIHA PAT Data portal. Participants have one hour within that week to review the images and return results.
How are EMPAT proficiency samples scored?
EMPAT culture scoring is based on the following point system:
- Correctly identified at the species level (if genus identification correct) +10 points
- Correctly identified at the genus level (if species is not attempted) +9 points
- Correctly identified at the genus level (and species is incorrectly attempted) +8 points
- Incorrect identification at genus level 0 points
- Blanks are not scored
EMPAT direct exam scoring is based on the following:
Results will be summarized and each correct challenge will receive 5 points for a round maximum score of 100 points. Incorrect responses will receive 0 points. Challenges that fail to pass scoring criteria checks will be excluded from scoring and participants will receive 5 points.
Do I have to identify to the species level?
Speciation is optional in the EMPAT culturable program, but it is strongly encouraged. Speciation is weighted but is not necessary in order to achieve and maintain proficiency. Participants that correctly identify the genus and species will receive full credit of 10 points. Participants that correctly identify the genus but do not attempt speciation will receive 9 points. Participants that correctly identify the genus, but incorrectly attempt speciation will receive 8 points.
What scoring acceptance criteria are used for the EMPAT Culture and Direct Exam Programs?
In order for a challenge to be scored for the round it must first pass scoring acceptance criteria. The challenge must have 80% or more agreement among the referee participants at the genus level. Additionally, scoring criteria requires challenge growth from at least 50% of all participants. When a challenge fails to pass any of the above mentioned scoring criteria checks, all program participants receive a full credit score for the challenge. An explanation of which criterion failed is provided on participant results reports if a challenge is not graded for a round. Since referee participants are the top ten performing participants over the last three EMPAT rounds, they change from round to round based on overall performance.
How is proficiency determined?
A participant is rated proficient for the applicable analyte if two (2) of the last three (3) consecutive EMPAT rounds have passing scores. A passing score is achieved when the participant receives a minimum score of eighty -five (85) percent for the associated EMPAT analyte (i.e., fungi, bacteria, fugal direct exam).
What happens if my laboratory is non-proficient?
Participants who become non-proficient in a specific analyte, based on PT sample performance, may choose to purchase the retest PT sample to attempt to regain a proficient status immediately. Retest samples are limited and are available on a first come first serve basis. The retest round results shall replace the original results submitted by the participant and analyte proficiency shall be reevaluated based upon the PT retest results. PT retest samples may be used only to regain a proficient status (i.e., cannot be used to achieve an initial proficient status on an accelerated basis). A retest sample order form is available on AIHA PAT Programs' main page and is also available in the AIHA PAT Programs Fee Schedule.
What are the analytical methods required?
The EMPAT program does not specify a particular analytical method to be used. However, the culture program is based on culturable identification techniques and it is not recommended that participants rely entirely on the results of automated testing systems. Many of these systems are still being developed and the databases used are incomplete and may produce erroneous results. Samples should be processed the same way as samples typically received by the laboratory.
What are suggested reference texts?
Atlas of Clinical Fungi, ASM Manual of Clinical Microbiology, Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology, Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, Bailey and Scott's Diagnostic Microbiology, ASM Manual of Environmental Microbiology, Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastewater, Identification of Unusual Pathogenic Gram-Negative Aerobic and Facultatively Anaerobic Bacteria, Color Atlas and Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology, Compendium of Soil Fungi, Illustrated Genera of Imperfect Fungi, Identification Manual for Fungi from Utility Poles in the Eastern United States, Identification of Common Aspergillus Species, A Laboratory Guide to Common Penicillium Species, Microorganisms in Home and Indoor Work Environments.
Who prepares the proficiency testing samples?
Under contract with AIHA PAT Programs, Applied Environmental, Inc. prepares and ships samples for each EMPAT round. The proficiency testing results for each participant are then compiled and summarized. At the end of each EMPAT round, the contractor will provide written feedback to each participant as well as a summary report to all participants.
Please contact the AIHA PAT Programs at info.PATLLC@aiha.org for more information about the Environmental Microbiology Proficiency Analytical Testing (EMPAT) program.