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Chemicals need to be analyzed in a wide variety of substances. Chemicals in foodstuffs are no different. It is crucial to analyze what goes into foodstuffs, be it chemical additives, nutrients or other substances as they are ingested by humans.
So, to ensure that foodstuffs are safe for human consumption, they are analyzed to see what constituents are contained within the food product that goes out to the public. This also goes for some foodstuffs which are liable to forgery and may not be what they claim to be.
Importance of Food Analysis
Any product that is going to be used by humans needs to be rigorously tested, and because foodstuffs are ingested, the testing is often more crucial to avoid any health issues from occurring. If a company produces bad foodstuffs, then the consumer can not only get ill, but it can also cost the company a lot of money in lawsuits and in reputation (the latter of which often has worse long-term implications compared to short-term financial losses). So, ensuring that foodstuffs contain what they are meant to (in the ratios they are meant to) is crucial and can be performed either in-house or at a contract analysis/research institute.
There are many reasons why companies want to analyze foodstuffs, and there are quite a few general areas of food analysis. In terms of the techniques that are used, the go-to choices are a wide range of analytical characterization instruments that are found in almost all quality control laboratories. For food analyses, the range of instruments used includes nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, gas chromatography (GC), atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), to name a few common examples. Methods which are more ‘wet chemical’ in nature, such as titrations and thin-layer chromatography (TLC), can also be used. The choice of technique(s) varies depending on what foodstuff is being analyzed, what is being analyzed within the foodstuff, and what the reasons for the analysis is.
Analysis of Nutritional Content
The analysis of food can bring about a lot of results. While it can be used to see if there are any constituents that shouldn’t be there (often the presence of excess metals), it is also a process which can be used for various quality control purposes, especially to see if the correct ratios are present in the foodstuff. For example, analyzing the nutritional content of a food sample is a big area. In these processes, an efficient food analysis approach can enable the operator to analyze the fiber, protein, calorie, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and mineral content of the foodstuff.
Analyzing the nutritional content not only helps the company to know what they are selling is correct from an internal perspective, but it also helps them to comply with any external food regulations—such as those set out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA. These requirements also apply to beverages (albeit looking at different constituents, but the same principles), and in the case of alcoholic beverages, the alcoholic content of the beverage can also be determined to ensure that it is at the correct/stated proof. Foodstuffs of an organic nature can also be analyzed to ensure that it meets with the required food legislations and that the food being touted as organic is indeed organic.
Food forgery is another big reason that food analyses take place. One big area of food forgery is honey. Honey can be ultra-filtered to the point where it’s source cannot be traced without advanced analytical methods (and even then, it can be tricky). Moreover, the honey can contain added sugar syrups which make it more processed than it should be, lowering the value and quality of the product. These are often done because all honey needs to have a source and to get around some of the taxes in place for certain countries, the honey is ultra-filtered so that it can be passed off like a honey from a different country. Moreover, lacing the honey with sugar syrup means that larger volumes of lower quality honey can be produced, meaning that the counterfeiters can make larger profits. So, advanced food analysis methods are also in place at government facilities (where imports/exports go through) to prevent these forgeries from reaching the market.
Food Analysis Methods
The other area of food forgery where food analysis methods are key is meat products. There was a big scandal in the UK a few years ago where burgers that were supposed to contain beef, were partially made of horse meat. Food analysis methods are in place to prevent this from happening (although the odd one gets through before being noticed). Food analysis methods can be used to check whether the meats are what they say they are, and to prevent cheaper cuts/types of meat from being passed off as a different, often more expensive, type of meat. Meat that can be analyzed ranges from those you see and buy in the supermarket, such as chicken, pork, lamb, and beef, to those which are likely to be the forgery meats, such as dog and horse meat.
Overall, food analysis is not a single area, but all the methods are used in a quality control capacity. The most common is to check the constituents of a product to ensure that it meets internal and regulatory standards, but the applications are widespread, and all the food analysis areas are an essential component of the food and beverage industry.
Sources and Further Reading