With millions of consumers reportedly getting sick each year from foodborne diseases, how do food analysts know the best methods to keep products safe, manage risk and protect the integrity of their brands? With the variety of methods available in the battle of food defense, food safety experts have to carefully hone their choices. A recent article in Lab Manager magazine went into more detail about a few of these methods.
Initial pathogen tests that reveal ingredients and quality are generally followed up by using culturing or molecular methods. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) uses an organism’s genes to uncover hurtful bacteria and viruses. Another PCR tool, GENE-UP, can detect pathogens along the whole business process network—from the basic raw materials to the final product. Instead of using temperature cycling, Neogen employs a DNA amplification technology that uses isothermal reactions.
Because businesses have to check for problems all along the production cycle, food and nutraceuticals producers typically employ quick testing procedures. Food producers are not compelled by law to complete any specific tests once pathogen tests are verified. Generally, once test results are positive, pathogen tests are verified with plates or dry culture media.
Companies self-police their testing because the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration do not require food companies to complete tests. However, the government does designate concentration levels of some adulterants. The first new law in 70 years to attempt to reform food safety laws, the Food Safety Modernization Act, was introduced in 2011. This law devises to build guidance into food production and aspires to thwart contamination rather than uncovering it afterwards.
Another food analysis concern is detecting food fakery—foods packed with things that aren’t supposed to be there. Food fraud is calculated tampering, cutting a primary ingredient, adding mislabeled filler foods, or diluting real products with less costly ingredients. Bogus ingredients and counterfeiting in foods costs an estimated $10 to 15 billion a year. A single adulteration event typically costs a business between two and 15 percent of their yearly bottom-line earnings.
There are varying methods to prove a food is fraudulent. Tests include a full-scan mass spectrometry (MS) (comparable to Q-TOF) to locate and detect for indications of food adulteration. Standalone liquid chromatography can be used to check olive oil or dietary supplements for imposter components.
A budding MS technique that is gaining acceptance is isotope ratio analysis. This testing method uses delicate, pure geographical variances in ratios of unwavering isotope of atoms that are plentiful in foods. These MS profiling tests fuse chemistry and statistics. Inductively coupled plasma MS is utilized to chart a variety of trace minerals. The ratios can function as markers of authenticity. An ICP-MS technology has been cultivated by the Chinese to track the elemental fingerprinting of honey.
Criteria for food safety guidelines are changing. What was once intolerable is now acceptable. Shifting standards complicates the food analysts task to scrutinize foods’ physical, chemical and microbiological characteristics.
“But at the bottom line, successful contaminant detection, identification, and quantitation begin with successful separations. Some contaminant classes are more amenable to separation by gas, liquid, or ion chromatography, while others can be separated using multiple orthogonal methods.”
GC methods necessitate derivatization and LC procedures can be trailed with familiar testing modes such as ultraviolet while mass spectrometry is the detection method of choice when lab managers need the molecular weight or an unknown identification.
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