Insights from industry

Rapidly Analyzing Fat Content in Any Food Sample

In this interview, Ian Olmsted, Product Manager, from CEM talks to AZoM about the ORACLE, the latest fat testing instrument from CEM, which requires no calibration or method development.

Previously it proved very difficult for laboratories to run multiple tests on multiple methods. The ORACLE is a universal fat analyzer that eliminates this issue. At the touch of a button, the Oracle can analyze fat in any sample without any prior knowledge of the sample matrix and composition.

Please give a brief background about CEM and the work you do?

CEM is a scientific instrumentation company that provides unique solutions to various testing needs. We were founded in 1978 by a chemist, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer.  The chemist, Dr. Michael Collins, is now the sole proprietor. The company culture is very family oriented and customer focused.

The people that work at CEM are passionate about their work and I think that shows in our products and services that we provide. It’s amazing to think three people started this company in a small storefront and now we have nearly 300 employees and operate in every major country worldwide. Our niche has always been microwave chemistry but in the last fifteen years our expertise has expanded into other areas such as peptide synthesis and NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance).

My role at CEM as Product Manager is focused on ensuring the overall success of my product line.  That means managing a laboratory staff that develops new applications, working with sales and marketing to promote our products, visiting customers to understand their unique needs, and providing input to our engineering team for instrument design, just to name a few. What I love the most is that every day is different, bringing new challenges and the opportunity to solve unique problems that our customers face in their business.

ORACLE Universal Fat Analyzer

Please provide an overview of the ORACLE?

The ORACLE is very unique in that it is the only rapid fat analyzer that can quantify fat in any food product with no method development. The system utilizes low-resolution TD-NMR to selectively isolate fat in any food sample without prior knowledge of the sample. What that means is that a user can walk up the ORACLE and in 30 seconds receive an accurate and precise fat result.

This has never been possible with a rapid fat analyzer, without first completing method development. The technology was two years in the making.  It was verified with over 30 different Certified Reference Materials (CRM’s) and numerous other food matrices that were submitted to third-party laboratories for comparison. The ORACLE has the ability to analyze fat at all levels, including as low as 0.05% and as high as 100% pure oil.

The ORACLE from CEM Coroporation

The ORACLE from CEM Coroporation

What differentiates the ORACLE from other rapid fat testing techniques such as NIR and FT-IR?

The primary difference between the ORACLE and other rapid techniques is the fact that the ORACLE does not require any calibration or method development. One important factor that is often overlooked is the need for users of NIR and FT-IR to regularly re-calibrate the instruments. With the introduction of artificial neural networks (ANN) to achieve useful results, NIR and FT-IR calibration has become increasingly complex, requiring significant time and expense to maintain.

CEM developed a proprietary NMR methodology that completely isolates the fat signal from all other components and accounts for partial fat relaxation. These two factors are what allows the ORACLE to bypass method development and accurately detect fat in any food product. The system is highly stable and does not require recalibration or adjustment.

The ORACLE is a primary detection method that measures the sample directly, so there is no calibration and results are not affected by changes in texture, color, density, or any other physical property.  Another added benefit is that all ORACLEs are normalized to one another so that each system produces the same results for a given sample type.

This is important given the extensive consolidation in the food production market. Large corporations with multiple plants can rest assured knowing that all of their facilities will get the same results when testing their products on the ORACLE.

The ORACLE requires absolutely no method development.

The ORACLE requires absolutely no method development.

Is the ORACLE  more repeatable than other reference techniques such as Soxhlet?

Yes, it is. Wet chemistry reference methods such as Soxhlet extraction were considered the gold standard because they have been around for a long time, some over 100 years. These techniques utilize solvents to extract fat from samples but are prone to accuracy and repeatability errors, require skilled chemists, are hazardous, and often extract non-fat components if not optimized for a specific matrix.

We see time and time again where slight variations in operator technique, or even the dimensions of the extraction thimble, can have a clear impact on results.  The ORACLE removes operator variation entirely. As long as the sample is within the detection zone, the entire sample is analyzed with excellent precision.

In addition to AOAC approval, the ORACLE was recently validated by a third-party laboratory in France called Actalia Cecalait.  Actalia took delivery of one of our instruments and spent months independently evaluating it with a broad range of sample types.  At the end of the evaluation, their conclusion was that the accuracy and precision of the ORACLE was better than reference chemistry methods.

Does the ORACLE open a new market of opportunities where customers in these sectors could not previously use rapid fat analyzers?

Yes, absolutely. In particular, the certified lab testing market. Food manufacturers use these independent laboratories for third-party compositional analysis. These labs test hundreds of different products, sometimes in a single day, so it was not previously possible for them to utilize rapid fat analyzers due to the infinite number of methods to develop and maintain.

Often, these labs do not even know what sample types they are  analyzing if their customer chooses not to disclose that information. As a result, they’ve relied on traditional wet chemistry testing, which as previously discussed is time-consuming, hazardous, requires skilled chemists, and prone to error.

ORACLE provides huge benefit for any lab that tests a wide variety of samples each day.  It dramatically reduces uncertainty anytime a new sample comes in and solves the extremely tedious effort of getting a "reference" result.  Testing labs can now offer same day fat analysis for their customers and eliminate the need for wet chemical extractions altogether

Food manufacturers are able to rapidly analyze samples using the ORACLE.

Food manufacturers are able to rapidly analyze samples using the ORACLE. Image Credit:

Does the ORACLE come in multiple configurations?

The ORACLE can be used as a stand-alone fat analyzer or paired with our SMART 6 moisture/solids analyzer for multi-component analysis.

In order to run it as a fat only analyzer, samples just need to be dried in an oven and conditioned in a heater block prior to ORACLE analysis. If the samples contain less than 10% moisture, then the pre-drying step can be bypassed.

For those customers seeking rapid moisture/solids in addition to fat, the ORACLE can be paired with the newly released SMART 6. The SMART 6 utilizes dual-energy drying, specifically a combination of microwave and infrared, to rapidly analyze moisture/solids in any food sample, wet or dry.

This is a unique technology that is only available through CEM as all other systems are a single energy source, meaning microwave only or infrared only. A customer would run the sample through the SMART 6, then run it through the ORACLE for total moisture/solids and fat in 3 – 5 minutes.

Since the ORACLE does not require any calibration or method development, does that provide time or cost savings?

Yes, it does. For time savings, labs can cut down test times from hours to minutes.  Faster test times allow for faster adjustments in manufacturing, which minimizes waste. The cost savings are realized in a number of different ways. The most obvious cost saving is through the elimination of hazardous solvents that have to be purchased, stored, and properly disposed of. However, the most significant cost savings come with the increased accuracy of the ORACLE.  A good example of this is cream savings in the dairy industry.

Fat is the most expensive component in dairy products. If the fat level is too low, it will be out of spec and will need to be reworked or scrapped. If the fat level is too high, dairy producers are losing money by giving away extra cream for free. With an increased confidence in the results, customers can formulate very precisely and tighten their specification ranges. It is not uncommon for customers to save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year just by optimizing their specification ranges.

The ORACLE can be used for many applications including the dairy industry.

The ORACLE can be used for many applications including the dairy industry. Image Credit:

What is the driving force for a customer wanting to utilize this unique technology?

There are many different reasons why the ORACLE is appealing but the two main factors are the desire to remove calibration development and maintenance associated with IR and other rapid techniques, and/or to get away from antiquated wet chemical techniques. As we’ve discussed throughout this interview, the ORACLE offers significant benefits over both, it really just depends on the customer and his/her particular needs.

Where can our readers go to find out more?

Ian Olmsted

The best place to start would be the ORACLE webpage at There is also a link on our webpage to contact CEM with any questions. I would certainly encourage any reader with interest to do that and a local expert will be in touch with them shortly after.

About Ian Olmsted

Ian Olmsted earned his PhD in analytical chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 2013. While there, he developed analytical instrumentation for a broad range of applications pertaining to human health.

In his spare time, Ian enjoys travelling and restoring classic cars.  


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Mychealla Rice

Written by

Mychealla Rice

Originally from Ireland, Mychealla graduated from Northumbria University in Newcastle with Bachelor's degree in Journalism with English Literature. After spending a year traveling around Asia and Australia she moved to Manchester. In her spare time, Mychealla can be found spending time with family and friends, hiking, going to the gym/doing yoga and like everyone else getting stuck into the latest Netflix series.  


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