Technology Brings a New Age in Food Safety and Analysis

Published on January 9, 2017 at 7:05 AM

Protecting consumers has long been a priority for the food industry, but modern times have changed the specific challenges producers and regulators face when it comes to food safety. Increasing globalization presents new opportunities for food fraud with the potential for billion-dollar payoffs.

Logistic and legal hurdles can also limit the ability of regulators to inspect food and impose standards when it is traveling 1000s of miles and crossing multiple borders before reaching us. In the 21st century, consumers need to be protected from accidental contamination of food and drinks, but also from deliberate economically motivated food adulteration and even bioterrorism.

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As a result, international regulators are taking steps to face up to these challenges. The US FDA recently introduced its first regulation to oppose deliberate food adulteration, requiring large food manufacturers to be much more thorough in prevention. And the EU has implemented more stringent measures to overcome fish mislabeling – a common practice that endangers consumer health and fishermen’s livelihoods.

But regulators cannot address issues in food safety by policy alone: advances in analytic technologies are helping them to combat these challenges. At Pittcon, taking place in Chicago from 5-9 March, 2017, we will hear about some of the latest advances allowing them to do just that.

What Pittcon Can do for You from AZoNetwork on Vimeo.

Food adulteration

As a product that consumers are willing to pay a premium for, olive oil has become one of the world’s most adulterated products. Products labeled olive oil are frequently diluted or substituted with other types of oils, such as hazelnut, sunflower or soybean. The problem is widespread: a recent study that tested five leading brands of extra-virgin olive oil sold in the USA found evidence of poor-quality or adulterated products in 73% of samples.

Fortunately, technologies are emerging that can deliver rapid and cost-effective methods for testing olive oil. For example, a team from PerkinElmer, who will be presenting at Pittcon 2017, have shown that the AxION 2 time-of-flight (TOF) mass spectrometer (MS) integrated with the company’s AxION Direct Sample Analysis (DSA) system can be used to detect soybean oil contamination in olive oil samples by determining the relative quantities of fatty acids in oil samples within 30 seconds.

Another product whose contents don’t always match the label is honey. Honey can be adulterated in a number of ways, including diluting it with cheap sugar syrups or attempting to disguise its true geographic origin.

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Recent research has shown how NMR profiling can be used to detect fraud in honey samples, offering a sensitive and non-targeted way to pick up adulterants. Bruker, who will be presenting their devices at this year’s Pittcon exposition, have been involved in a project called the Honey Profiling Consortium. Using the company’s FoodScreener platform, the project has brought together NMR data on 1000s of honey varieties and adulterated honeys to create a comprehensive database. Bruker offers remote data analysis of honey spectra, and will provide labs with automatically generated reports that will flag any violation of the product from its labeling.

Beverage analysis

As well as food, drinks are also subject to important regulation to protect consumer health. In particular, drinking water undergoes stringent routine testing for contamination and impurities in many countries. Ion chromatography is an ideal method for analyzing water samples as it can identify multiple components in one run from the same sample including at trace concentrations.

A team from Metrohm, another exhibitor at Pittcon 2017, developed an ion chromatographic method that is able to detect chromate contamination in water at concentration of less than 0.02 µg/L, a level well below that recommended by the EU and World Health Organization of 50 µg/L. This ability to detect such low concentrations could become very important in future as it looks likely that acceptable chromate levels will be lowered by regulators. This has already happened in the state of California, which has set a chromate limit in drinking water to 10 µg/L.

Food safety advances at Pittcon 2017

At this year’s Pittcon, taking place in Chicago March 5-7 2017, you can hear about the latest developments to for combating current challenges in food safety. Solutions presented range from the use of RF-based sensors for monitoring food quality, Raman spectroscopy to detect pathogens, and NMR for verifying food authenticity.

The conference will hear from the manufacturers who have been developing these new applications and technologies, as well as from the scientists and regulators who are putting them to use in the field.

A team from GE will discuss the development of RF sensors for food quality sensing while Steven Zbylut of General Mills will highlight the advantages of Raman spectroscopy, a technique that has undergone substantial development in recent years. The conference will also hear from the FDA on the use of NMR spectroscopy in food analysis, as well as from the UK-government affiliate FERA Science Ltd, on how recent developments in DNA sequencing are being applied to detecting and tracking food pathogens.

Furthermore, all of the major spectroscopy and analytic science companies will be in attendance at this year’s exposition, including PerkinElmer, Bruker, Renishaw, Metrohm and Wyatt Technology, making Pittcon an unmissable opportunity to see and hear the latest trends and advances in food analysis.

To find out more about food safety analytics and what’s on offer at Pittcon 2017, check out the free industry guide: “Latest Advances in Food Safety”, available to download from the Pittcon website.

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Last updated: Jan 11, 2017 at 10:11 PM

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