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A far reach from local greengrocers and butchers, food provision is now a global industry. The foods we buy in the supermarket may now be harvested, processed and packaged in several different countries often thousands of miles apart. Aside from the purported benefits, such as cheaper products and wider selection, this poses greater challenges to ensuring food quality and safety. It is now much more difficult for food manufacturers to know the true origins and quality of the ingredients they buy from suppliers. Furthermore, there is greater opportunity for food fraud. Some unscrupulous food manufacturers are intentionally deceiving their customers by replacing the labelled product with cheaper alternatives to achieve higher profit margins.
There has always been the risk of products becoming contaminated during preparation and so regular food analysis has long been a routine part of food manufacture. However, today there are even greater challenges to ensuring food quality. In addition to the presence of unwanted microbes, the increasing use of chemicals to increase yields has introduced the risk of pesticides and veterinary drugs entering food supplies, and fraudsters are using more and more ingenious ways to cover their deception.
Monitoring the safety and quality of food thus requires a battery of sophisticated analytical methodologies capable of discerning the presence of very similar yet inappropriate components, identifying the presence of unexpected unwanted ingredients and detecting pathogens at the lowest concentrations. Since current legislation holds food manufacturers responsible for the safety and quality of the goods they sell, there is growing demand for cost-effective, reliable food testing methods that can be incorporated into production lines. Scientists have responded to these growing challenges to food safety with the development of innovative adaptations of a range of analytical technologies.
Pittcon 2018, taking place in Orlando from 26 February to 1 March 2018, will feature exhibitions from many of the companies currently providing analytical instruments designed for use in food production, and presentations from experts in the field describing the latest techniques developed to support food manufactures in their ongoing battle against contamination and adulteration of their products.
Click here to register for Pittcon 2018
Using NMR spectroscopy to verify authenticity
Recommendations published after the uncovering of the fraudulent incorporation of horse meat in beef supplied to food producers across Europe in 2013 have changed industry attitudes substantially. Food testing and surveillance systems are now an integral part of production lines within the food industry. In addition, the UK government has establishment of the National Food Crime Unit to help protect consumers against similar incidents occurring in the future.
Speakers at Pittcon 2018 will highlight the need for both targeted and non-targeted analysis to confirm the safety of food products and illustrate how this can be satisfied by NMR. NMR analysis is non-destructive and provides the means to screen for both known potential adulterants and unanticipated contaminants in a single process. Recent technological advances have made this sophisticated technology accessible to the food industry by enabling the production of compact NMR spectrometers whose operation can be completely automated and easily executed by non-experts.
The value of NMR analyses in detecting fraudulent activity is exemplified by the progress made in determining the origins and composition of honey. Honey has become a prime target for economically motivated adulteration, being in high demand, and short supply. Unscrupulous practices include mixing honey with cheap sugar syrups and fraudulently claiming a more desirable origin to obtain premium prices.
The Honey Profiling Consortium has complied a library of NMR spectra for honeys of thousands of different varieties and geographic origins, including honeys adulterated with various sugar syrups. Bruker’s 1H-NMR FoodScreener® platform compares results from current analyses with this library and highlights any potential discrepancies so distributers can be confident that their honey is genuine.
Increasing the sensitivity and selectivity of contaminant detection in foodstuffs
It is not only criminal activity that can impact the safety of our food. Technological advances themselves designed to improve food production processes can lead to the contamination of food. The offending compound may be present in very low concentrations, but the risk of potential bioaccumulation and potential health implications makes it important to detect their presence.
The combination of analytical methodologies has facilitated rapid screening for a wide range of food contaminants, such as pesticides, mycotoxins, veterinary drugs and plastics. For example, liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) is a rapidly developing technology being adapted for a wide range of applications in food safety and quality assessments. Using chromatography to physically separate components before analysis by mass spectrometry provides very high sensitivity, high selectivity and mass accuracy.
Examples of LC-MS being used in the food industry to detect bisphenol A in beverages packaged in plastic containers and the presence of residues of chlorine disinfection on lettuce and spinach will be presented at Pittcon 2018.
Using microsystems to enhance food safety
Nanotechnology, which uses microscopic components, is a rapidly growing area of research that has shown significant benefits across a range of industries, including engineering and medicine. Although it is a relative newcomer to the food industry, it holds tremendous potential to positively impact food safety in a variety of ways. Indeed, nanotechnology was identified as a key area of research and development for meeting the world's food needs.
Pittcon 2018 includes a session dedicated to the use of nanosensors to improve food safety. The detection of pathogens and toxins in foods has been an ongoing challenge in food production, yet it appears that microfluidic devices may provide the long-awaited breakthrough allowing single colony forming units of multiple disease-causing bacteria to be detected in foodstuffs in a single analysis. Magnetic nanoparticles conjugated to genetically engineered viruses have facilitated much earlier detection of pathogens in food stuffs.
Nanotechnology also has the potential to monitor the quality of foodstuffs during storage or track them during transit. It appears that nanotechnology is becoming a key player in ensuring food safety at every stage of its production.
Find out more at Pittcon 2018
Researchers, along with representatives from the FDA, the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology and other esteemed institutions will be at Pittcon 2018 to present the latest research and technologies pertaining to food safety.
Numerous market-leading producers of equipment designed to enhance food screening, including Bruker, Phenomenex, Magritek Ltd and Ocean Optics will also be attending Pittcon 2018 to showcase the latest additions to their capabilities.
Pittcon® is a registered trademark of The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, a Pennsylvania non-profit organization. Co-sponsored by the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, Pittcon is the premier annual conference and exposition on laboratory science.
Proceeds from Pittcon fund science education and outreach at all levels, kindergarten through adult. Pittcon donates more than a million dollars a year to provide financial and administrative support for various science outreach activities including science equipment grants, research grants, scholarships and internships for students, awards to teachers and professors, and grants to public science centers, libraries and museums.
Visit pittcon.org for more information.
- Aries E, et al. Scientific support to the implementation of a Coordinated Control Plan with a view to establishing the prevalence of fraudulent practices in the marketing of honey" N° SANTE/2015/E3/JRC/SI2.706828. JRC Technical Report 2016;JRC104749:38. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/oc_control-progs_honey_jrc-tech-report_2016.pdf
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