April 21, 2021
Food safety remains a high priority for industry stakeholders, regulatory agencies, and consumers. New safety challenges and issues are pushing companies to establish and upgrade programs to reduce risk factors associated with microbial and chemical contamination in food. It is essential to continuously monitor these programs for reliability and effectiveness. For example, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an internationally recognized program. It focuses on reducing the risk of safety hazards in food products. The objective of the HACCP system is to ensure that all biological, chemical and physical hazards are eliminated during the manufacturing of a product to maintain the health and safety of consumers. With increasing health and safety risks posed by chemical, microbiological, and environmental contaminants, high-precision analytical methods are increasingly becoming a center of attraction for food safety programs. A quality control check identifies contaminants in raw materials, during post-production, and also before the product is placed on the market.
Laboratory testing is important to assure the quality, expiration date, and safety of food products. Laboratory testing helps determine the composition of a new product, helps conduct shelf-life studies, and perform sensory evaluation of products. This information is also useful for food scientists in developing new products.
A host of analytical methods have been developed in recent years for difficult-to-detect contaminants and detection of contaminants in new matrix classes. These advances have been a result of changing regulations, more rigorous method-validation standards, and increasing demand for safe, quality products. More accurate analytical methods are likely to ensure the safety of the global food supply chain in the future.
1. Microbiology Testing
Microbiology testing involves analytical tests to determine the presence or absence of pathogenic microorganisms that contaminate food products. Food manufacturers must leverage in-house testing or third-party testing to ensure that no contaminants are present in raw materials, ingredients, and final products, thus guaranteeing the safety of food products. Hazardous food poisoning outbreaks could also be avoided if testing for spoilage organisms and pathogens is carefully done. Microbiological testing plays an essential role as unwanted microorganisms are likely to contaminate the whole food supply chain which could be a major risk to the well-being of people.
2. Nutrition Analysis
The nutritional content value such as values for all mandatory and voluntary measures including calorie, carbohydrate, fat, protein, and fiber content, as well as vitamins and minerals in food products. Manufacturers are required to include nutrition labelling on food packaging to meet the labelling regulations of the countries to which they are exporting their products.
3. Allergen Testing
Allergens are recognized as a primary cause of disruptive recalls in the food industry. These are the proteins in food products that may cause a deadly reaction in an allergic individual. It is essential to test allergens in raw materials as well as finished products. For example, gluten is tested as an allergen in grains, peanuts, eggs, nuts, milk, and soybeans.
4. Sensory Testing
Sensory testing involves the use of human senses, such as sight, smell, taste, and touch to identify and evaluate the properties of food products. For example, the intensity of sweetness in a food product could be identified by the sensory organs on the tongue. These tests are relatively cost-efficient and take a short time to evaluate food products.
Various analytical techniques have been introduced in chemical food safety testing. These range from bioassays, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), to advanced state-of-the-art instrumental techniques including infrared (IR) spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and mass spectrometry. Mass Spectrometry allows the detection of low concentrations of analytes in complex matrices. Various technologies are also being explored for non-targeted screening. For example, LC-MS/MS coupled with principal component analysis (PCA) is employed to distinguish adulterated and unadulterated foods. Technologies such as nuclear magnetic resonance and near-infrared analysis with chemometric data analysis are being used in the food industry as quality assurance tools, and have been expanded to monitor for food adulteration.
A food testing laboratory analyzes a variety of samples every day to ensure consumer safety. A food testing laboratory needs to provide accurate results to assure the quality and composition of the products. This calls for rapid and cost-effective analytical methods that utilize streamlined workflows. To carry out these analytical methods, a food testing laboratory requires following established protocols, advanced instrumentation, such as mass spectrometry and hyphenated chromatographic techniques, and competent staff.
Food recalls and tragedies weaken the trust of consumers in food safety. The introduction of more sensitive, accurate and rapid testing methods has resulted in enhanced testing accuracy and precision, improved food safety programs, and helped create a safer food supply. Advancements in technology are allowing the industry to meet many analytical challenges in food testing, raising the bar for industry stakeholders to stay abreast of these new technologies. Food testing laboratories must be accredited to standards such as ISO 17025:2017 which addresses a range of food safety challenges and helps assure high-quality, valid results. A Food and Beverage LIMS can provide an ideal framework as it ensures complete traceability from raw materials to finished products.