Advances in Analytical Techniques Enhance Food Safety


Following recent changes in legislation, made to ensure the safety of our food, food manufacturers are now legally responsible for the safety and quality of their products. This includes the need to verify the contents of raw ingredients that are bought in. These must be tested to ensure that there are no unexpected constituents or contaminants. The regulations clearly stipulate who is held responsible for ensuring the purity of foodstuffs at each stage of the manufacturing process. In addition, food manufactures are now required to list all ingredients and highlight any potential allergens on the labels of their products.

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Consequently, there is increasing demand for sensitive and reliable analytical techniques that provide results rapidly and can be easily integrated into routine food screening protocols at each stage of the manufacturing process.

Pittcon 2019 will pick up the themes of Pittcon 2018 to bring details of the latest advances in analytical chemistry for food safety.

Analytical techniques for determining food safety

During the production, transport and storage of food products, there are numerous potential opportunities for them to become contaminated with agents harmful to the health of the consumer. This may be through exposure to pathogens in the environment or from the leaching of chemicals from the packaging designed to keep food fresh.

Mass spectroscopy (MS) has long been the technique of choice for determining the level of known contaminants and continues to play an important role in ensuring food safety.  Most recently, a variety of novel spectroscopic methodologies has been developed to address specific challenging analytical applications. Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and inductively-coupled plasma – optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) effectively quantify trace elements and nanoparticles in food. The differences in elemental composition of meat from different species have been determined using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to enable meat identification.  DART-HRMS has enabled identification of dyes that have leached into food from packaging materials.

Efforts to identify the source of food-borne infections has been aided by increases in the discriminatory capacity of whole genome sequencing (WGS). Data from the genomic analyses of numerous food samples have been compiled to facilitate the identification of pathogens, such as Listeria and Salmonella. This in turn has enabled more focussed epidemiologic investigations, and the solving of more outbreaks.

NMR has also been developed for use in new applications in the food industry. In addition to its role in non-targeted analyses, NMR is proving a valuable tool for determining the amounts of each component in the final product to provide ingredient and allergen information for the label.

Combating food fraud

The rising level of food fraud has prompted several global initiatives to stamp out such dishonest practices. Many forms of deceit have been used to increase profit margins, but most commonly they involve the replacement or bulking out of premium components with cheaper alternatives. It is important that dishonest traders are brought to justice, not only to protect consumers but also to protect the livelihoods of honest producers. With increasingly complicated global food supply chains, fraudsters have found it easier to get away with wide-scale malpractice. This has necessitated routine spot checks to confirm the authenticity of marketed food and drink products. As ever more cunning ways to deceive customers without being discovered are devised, more sophisticated analytical techniques are required to uncover cases of unscrupulous activity.

Pittcon 2018 highlighted the success of the Bruker NMR FoodScreener in effectively determining the authenticity of olive oil, honey, beer and wine. Its use in conjunction with spectral libraries allow the ready identification of adulterated products. The capacity of this instrumentation has now been further extended and details will be available at Pittcon 2019.

The precision elemental analysis provided by LIBS spectrometers has also proved to be useful in the detection of food fraud, such as adulteration of coffee and mis-labelled meat products. The recent addition of handheld LIBS devices provides an easy means for spot-checking food products for signs of fraudulent practices.

Miniaturisation of powerful technologies

The ability to drastically reduce the size of specialist components of sophisticated analytical instrumentations has made it possible to produce a variety of portable and hand-held analytical devices. These have tremendously facilitated both the screening of food for quality during the manufacturing process and also the detection of food fraud. Samples for authenticity and purity screening can now be analysed on site, obviating the need for immediate transportation to a control laboratory.

Handheld compact devices are now available for whole genome sequencing, LIBS spectrometry and Raman spectroscopy.

Project FoodSmartphone is taking this one step further and developing analytical techniques that can be integrated into a smartphone. The results obtained could then be instantly transmitted wirelessly to interested parties. In addition, the technology would enable members of the public to become actively involved in screening food products for authenticity, purity and accurate labelling of allergens. Michel Nielen will be discussing this project at Pittcon 2019.

Find out more at Pittcon 2019

All these topics, and more, will be covered at Pittcon 2019, which is taking place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from 17 to 21 March 2019. A range of talks, symposia and courses will illustrate how researchers are continually developing incredibly more powerful and ingenious technologies to enable food manufacturers to be assured of the quality of the food they send to market and also to increase the abilities of regulators to detect fraudulent practices in the food industry. For more details of these visit the Pittcon 2019 guide.

Numerous market-leading producers of analytical technologies suited to food quality screening, including Applied Spectra, Bruker, Rigaku, and ThermoFisher, will also be present at Pittcon 2019 to discuss the latest additions to their capabilities and address your specific analytical requirements.

About Pittcon

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.

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