Food and fresh water are essential for maintaining wellbeing, yet they are commonly taken for granted.
Image Credit:Shutterstock/Alexander Raths
Interruptions in food supply chains caused by restrictions imposed to control the global coronavirus pandemic have highlighted the fragile balance between supply and demand.
Just as important is the assurance that the food we buy is safe to eat, yet many of us fail to stop and consider how this is achieved beyond safe storage and food preparation practices in our homes.
Fortunately, there is legislation in place to ensure that food manufacturers are confident in the safety and quality of their products.
Suppliers and manufacturers at each stage of the supply chain, be it raw ingredients or manufactured goods, are legally responsible for ensuring that there are no unintended constituents or contaminants present in their products.
There is consequently demand for sensitive and reliable analytical techniques across the food and drink industry.
The analytical requirements will differ according to the type of food or drink to be tested, so there is not an easy one-size-fits-all solution. The design of production lines will further differ for different segments within the industry.
There have been many advances and developments within the field of analytical chemistry designed to provide efficacious and cost-effective analytical solutions that meet a variety of needs and can be easily integrated into routine food screening protocols at each stage of the production and manufacturing processes.
This article covers some of the latest research that promises to enhance food safety.
Chemical Analysis in the Brewing Industry
The storage of crops, such as hops and barley used in the manufacture of beers, provides the ideal environment for fungal growth.
Many fungi produce mycotoxins that are damaging to human health so it is not desirable for these to enter the food chain. However, a recent analysis of marketed beers found that almost half contained mycotoxins.
Advances in analytical technologies have significantly improved the ability to detect such toxins, and it is now possible to screen for multiple mycotoxins in a single analysis using a combination of liquid chromatography and mass spectroscopy (LC-MS).
The technique is also used to monitor the content of alpha- and beta-acids that contribute to beer bitterness and flavor stability.
Similarly, proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) used in conjunction with gas chromatography allows detection of even low concentration volatile organic compounds (VOCs); interaction of these in a particular way produce the distinctive flavors and aromas of different beers.
Analytical techniques are thus becoming increasingly important in the brewing industry for both safety screening and monitoring the brewing process.
Analytical Techniques for Determining Food Safety
During the journey of raw ingredients and food products, from field to factory to fork, there are many opportunities for food to become contaminated with pathogens present in the environment, such as E. coli, or from chemicals used in agricultural practice, such as pesticides.
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. It remains a key player in the detection of harmful chemicals and heavy metals in food.
When used in combination with liquid chromatography it allows detection within ingredients of even the highly polarity herbicide glyphosate. Further increases in sensitivity and selectivity for detecting specific chemical groups were recently achieved with the use of short, single-stranded RNA or DNA fragments in aptasensors.
Most recently, near-infrared analytical technologies have been incorporated into handheld devices that enable on-site screening of fruit and vegetables for chemical contaminants.
Near-infrared spectroscopy does not require any reagents or solvents for sample preparation, which reduces the risk of contamination and saves time and costs. This will be explored in more depth at Pittcon in a presentation by Nanning Cao entitled ‘NIRS in the Contemporary World for Food and Agriculture.’
Portable devices containing biosensor platforms are also in development for the screening of drinking water supplies for the presence of E.coli. This is an indication of fecal contamination and potential risks to human health.
Nanobots created using genetically engineered bacteriophages that include luminescent reporter enzymes are also being developed for incorporation into water purification systems to ensure that E. coli is not present.
It is clear that analytical chemistry plays a vital role in agricultural, food, and brewing industries to ensure both consumer satisfaction and safety.
Novel analytical developments have also extended the possibilities for monitoring food quality once it has left the grower or manufacturer.
The incorporation of sensors and indicator systems in food packaging causes color changes that indicate the presence of bacteria in the package or a change in temperature or air composition to highlight the risk of that food package being unsafe for human consumption.
Find out more at Pittcon
All these topics, and more, will be covered in more detail at Pittcon. 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.
Details of all the sessions can be found on the Pittcon website. Pittcon is committed to supporting technological advancement and showcasing the latest technology developments and is determined to continue its work.
With the ongoing restrictions on travel and human interactions to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, it is using a virtual platform for this year’s conference.