Must a laboratory analyze both bacteria and fungi to participate?
Upon enrollment in the EMPAT Culture Program, participants can elect which organisms they wish to analyze; bacteria, fungi, or both. Additionally, laboratories are welcome to enroll in the EMPAT Direct Exam Program.
What types of samples are used in the program?
Participants in the EMPAT Culture Program analyze pure cultures of fungi and bacteria. Participants in the EMPAT Direct Exam Program identify labeled airborne particulates in 20 digital images each round.
How many samples are included in each round?
Bacteria or Fungi (per program)
- 3 unknown samples
- 1 blank
- 20 digital images
How are proficiency samples sent?
Direct Exam round notification emails will be sent to participants two weeks prior to the round open date. Participants will have 24-hour access to the images through the PAT Portal for one week beginning on the round open date. Participants will have 60 minutes to complete the exam once started.
Culture samples are shipped via FedEx on KWIK-STIK swabs. A PDF of the KWIK-STIK instructions is available online. Upon receipt of the culture 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 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 culture 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 PAT Programs within one (1) week of the scheduled shipping date to notify us of failure to receive the samples. A participant that receives EMPAT Culture samples but does not submit results or contact 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 "Fail” for the round.
When is the next round of EMPAT and when is the deadline to sign up?
Please see the Program Schedule for important program dates and deadlines.
When are the proficiency testing rounds held?
Three EMPAT Culture rounds will be held each year: February, June, and October. Each participant has four weeks to complete the sample analysis.
Four EMPAT Direct Exam rounds will be held each year: January, April, July, and October.
How are EMPAT Program samples scored?
Culture scoring is based on the following point system:
Correct identification at the genus level [9 points]
Correct identification at the species level (and genus identification correct) [10 points]
Incorrect identification at the species level (and genus identification correct) [8 points]
Incorrect identification at genus level [0 points]
Direct Exam scoring is based on the following:
Results will be summarized, and each correctly identified image will receive 5 points for a round maximum score of 100 points. Incorrect responses will receive 0 points. Images that fail to pass scoring criteria checks will be excluded from scoring and participants will receive 5 points.
How is proficiency determined?
A participant is rated proficient for the applicable analyte if two of the last three 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., Bacteria, Fungi, Direct Exam).
Do I have to identify to the species level?
Identification at the species level is optional in the EMPAT Culture Program, but is strongly encouraged.
What scoring acceptance criteria are used for the EMPAT Culture and Direct Exam Programs?
For a sample to be scored for the round it must first pass scoring acceptance criteria.
The challenge must have 80% or more agreement among the reference participants at the genus level (Culture) or 80% agreement on the identification (Direct Exam). Additionally, scoring criteria require growth from at least 50% of all participants (Culture) and 50% population agreement with the expected identification (Direct Exam).
When a challenge fails to pass any of the above-mentioned scoring criteria checks, all program participants receive a full credit score for the sample. An explanation of which criterion failed is provided on participant results reports if a sample is not graded for a round.
What should I do if I am unable to recover and culture a sample?
A participant has approximately two weeks to report non-growth to the PAT Programs. Replacement samples can be purchased and sent overnight to the laboratory. In the event that a sample fails scoring acceptance criteria, as outlined above, the cost of the replacement samples will be returned to the organization. If the replacement sample does not grow, participants must check the no-growth option on the data submission page for the sample.
What happens if my laboratory is non-proficient?
If non-proficient, a laboratory may choose to participate in a retest round to attempt to regain proficient status. The retest results will replace the original results submitted by the laboratory and proficiency will be evaluated based upon the retest round pass/fail determination. Retest samples may also be used to expedite initial proficiency for a new program or when adding an analyte to an existing program. A retest sample order form is available on the PAT Programs website.
What are the analytical methods required?
The EMPAT Program does not specify an analytical method. 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.
Who prepares the proficiency testing samples?
Microbiologics supplies the samples for the EMPAT Culture Program.
May we keep the organisms we received as part of our participation in EMPAT Culture?
Unfortunately, no. AIHA PAT Programs maintains a license agreement with the ATCC (American Type Culture Collection) for the use of their organisms in this PT scheme. The license limits the use of the strains to proficiency testing purposes only and does not permit participants to incorporate these strains into their culture collections for any reason; including but not limited to internal PT, internal QC, and inclusion into other culture collections.
At the completion of the EMPAT Culture round, participants shall destroy all biological material received or propagated from the proficiency testing organisms. We appreciate your understanding and application of this license agreement requirement.
What are the 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
Recognition, Evaluation, and Control of Indoor Mold (2nd Edition)
What are the suggested online taxonomy sources?
Participants are strongly encouraged to review taxonomy information sources to find the most recent scientifically accepted name for the organism they identified.
- GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) https://www.gbif.org
- LPSN https://bacterio.net
- NCBI www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov