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In the past few years, the topic of food analysis and safety have come to the forefront in dramatic fashion.
In the past few years, the topic of food analysis and safety have come to the forefront in dramatic fashion. Scares involving melamine in dog food and baby formula, along with several high-profile scares at North American restaurant chains, have all combined to thrust this issue into the headlines on a regular basis. And with separations laboratories on the front lines of the battlefield, food safety is an ideal topic for this issue’s technical forum.
Joining us for this discussion are Deepali Mohindra of Dionex Corporation; John Waraska of ESA Biosciences; Asha Oroskar of Orochem Technologies; and Atis Chakrabarti of Tosoh Bioscience LLC.
Describe the importance of food analysis/quality assurance in today's society.
Mohindra:In today’s technologically savvy world, food analysis and quality assurance have become very important. Consumers are aware that processed food includes a long list of ingredients that might negatively impact their health. In addition, the regularly breaking news stories on food contamination and adverse effects of additives are resulting in consumers needing to know what is in their food and drink. The food and beverage industries are under increasing scrutiny and regulation to prove that complex foods/food ingredients are safe for consumption.
Waraska: With all the current headlines and news reports it does not come as any surprise that food safety is an issue in the public eye. What is not as clear to the public are the efforts around labeling and quality that agencies, such as the FDA and USDA, are dealing with daily. A safe and consistent food supply is critical to our health and the health of our economy. Just look at the negative impact of mad cow disease on the export of beef. The belief that our beef was contaminated did severe damage to the domestic producers. Equally important is the safety of food coming into the USA from countries without the rigorous standards that we have.
Oroskar: Economic globalization has enhanced sharing of fresh foods in nonindigeneous locations, exporting seasonal foods across seasons and cultures, and the manufacturing of synthetic food ingredients to growing economies. Equivalent quality control standards that span across international country lines is extremely critical for the acceptance and benefits with such a model.
Chakrabarti: The importance of food analysis and the quality control of the food products is enormous. An estimated 76 million cases of food borne diseases occur each year in the U. S., according to the CDC. Now the food iscoming not from domestic sources only, but from all over the world.Public awareness about health hazards is increasing. In modern life,many of us use readymade, semi-cooked, or fast foods. Many chemicals areused in the food to artificially enhance the flavor and taste, to preserveit, or just to give extra energy. Any chemical which is added externally ispotentially toxic to the body. It all depends on concentration and how thebody handles it (metabolism). Even a safe chemical can be metabolized totoxic metabolites through biotransformation. A chemical may not look toxictoday, tomorrow, but in the long run it can pose a serious problem. In thismodern world, we cannot avoid synthetic products. Continuous research onfood safety issues is bringing out these issues every day. Advancement ofdetection technology and an increase in the sensitivity of detection is helping usto detect the chemicals in very low levels such as ppm or ppb. Obesity hasbecome a major problem of our society which is linked also to food habitsand type of foods besides other factors. Phthalates are being phased out ofmany products in the U. S. and European Union due to healthconcerns. Why? Because now we know that it poses health hazards.Bioterrorism has become a very serious concern since 9/11. Because ofglobalization, the food and drink supply chain now spreads all over the world. Sothe risk of this is increasing since we do not have a control on everything.That again poses a threat to us when we think of bioterrorism. Countriesregulate food safety through the use of process, product (performance), orinformation standards. Sometimes we may think that local food does not havefood safety issues but that's not true. Use of precautions at each step,such as a antimicrobial technology, pathogen control, control of propertemperatures while preparing and holding foods or transporting them, etc., arevery important from the point of food safety. We know the melamine scare asit is a current event. The salmonella outbreak is also a recent one. There areso many examples. What we can do is the analysis of the chemicals infood and to control their quality. The food industry has to be willing tocontrol their products using the guidelines without compromising on thedemand for healthier food.
Does it sometimes take an event like the recent melamine scare to reaffirm the necessity of accurate testing?
Mohindra:Adulteration of food and beverages is an important concern because the adulteration techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The melamine scare is one such example where the motivation was purely to reduce overall costs of producing the product by falsely increasing the protein content. The intent of the adulteration may not have been malicious, but it caused very serious health effects including deaths in humans and animals. Such a scare brings to the forefront not just the requirement of testing but the need for fast and accurate testing.
Waraska:Such scares bring public focus to the issues, but the need for accurate testing is something that has never left the focus of the government agencies and analytical chemistry community. The impact of these scares is that the general public becomes more supportive of the need for such testing.
Oroskar:Human nature tends to make us always believe in the “unquestionable” quality of name-branded products. It is easy to blindly believe that companies from developed countries will not allow contaminated products to be released. End-user doubts and vigilantism carry a lot of negativity in growing markets; every country thus needs to continually police the quality of products manufactured by “for-profit” companies that are in business with a view to only gain profitability. A scare like the melamine scare justifies that responsible bodies carry out continuous policing and checkups of food components manufactured for animals or human beings.
Chakrabarti:Well it is true when this tragedy happens momentarily we become veryconcerned, upset, and anxious. We become serious in the necessity of accuratetesting and plugging the loopholes to prevent any more tragedies like thisone. The question is do we need to increase our awareness at the cost of atragedy? We need to be aware and vigilant all the time. But tragedies dobring the issues in forefront. That's why again the strict vigilance andcompliance with strict regulatory guidelines are a necessity to keep thecitizens safe.
What trends have you noticed recently in the food analysis industry? What has become the preferred application of choice?
Mohindra:One trend that is becoming clear is the globalization of food safety concerns. Due to the global food supply chain, one country’s food safety concern now instantly becomes a concern for the rest of the world.
Another trend coming to the forefront is that contaminants identified in water analysis are also being seen in food and beverages. For example, perchlorate found in drinking water is now found in milk, wine, and fruits and vegetables. Other contaminants, such as pesticides and arsenic, are also finding their way into water and also food/beverages.
The preferred application of choice appears to be LC-MS for many food laboratories. I have heard a customer in a small food contract laboratory in a third-world country describe the value of having an LC-MS. The question is not the value but more the affordability.
Waraska:The food industry has been called the next big market for analytical chemistry. However, this has been said for many years. The food community has been very conservative in their choice of methods. We are now seeing more emphasis on modern techniques such as IR, MS, and HPLC with various new detection modalities. The industry is already burdened with considerable regulatory-driven testing. We hear about antibiotics in the food supply and contaminants, but the real drivers need to come from the economic benefits of testing, not just safety or regulation. Take for example the analysis of lactose in milk. Testing for lactose content is driven by an economic benefit rather than a safety issue, such as with melamine. It is not one technique or application, but rather the use of modern techniques across the spectrum to improve the economics that is the coming trend.
Oroskar:Trends for improved quality controls continue to rely upon highly sensitive detection modalities like HPLC and GC where contaminating moieties become quite evident to the trained technicians. LC–MS and GC–MS take these detection limits even further, thus holding safety standards to a much higher value.
Chakrabarti:Many advanced technologies are used for the food analysis such as:fractionation methods for clean up, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry(GC–MS), liquid chromatography with conventional detection methods, liquidchromatography in tandem with mass spectrometry (LC–MS), capillaryelectrophoresis (CE), sensors and biosensors, atomic absorptionspectroscopy, electrochemical stripping analysis of trace and ultra-traceconcentrations of toxics metals and metalloids in foods and beverages,inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), etc. – as requireddepending on the nature and sensitivity of the analyte to be detected.Spectroscopy techniques are used in food analysis. High-performance liquidchromatography (HPLC) methods are also commonly used for the analysis ofadditives in food and beverages. LC–MS is an important technique and verywidely used. Gas chromatography (GC) is used widely in applicationsinvolving food analysis especially to the quantitative and qualitativeanalysis of food additives, flavor, and aroma ingredients. It is also usedfor a variety of contaminants in food. New techniques being developed infood analysis applications, fast-GC/mass spectrometry (MS) is expected tohave the most impact in coming future. Low-pressure GC–MS, GC-time-of-flight(TOF)-MS and GC-supersonic molecular beam (SMB)-MS are three differentapproaches that will have tremendous application in the future.
What does the future hold for food analysis? What are the major roadblocks that must be overcome?
Mohindra:The future is bright for the food analysis sector as there will be a steady increase in the need for food analysis as the global food supply becomes more competitive and regulated.
In my opinion, the area of sample preparation presents a significant challenge as opposed to a roadblock. Analysts would like a matrix that can simply be injected into an analytical instrument without sample preparation. A food matrix can be quite complex due to the flavors, carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and many other components. All of this goes to making sample preparation a long, complicated, and tedious step. The challenge I see is making this step simple, automated, and affordable for the analytical chemist so that the financial burden passed on to the consumer is minimized.
Waraska: The question is will the increased safety and the economic gains provided by advanced analytical methods that we have seen in the pharmaceutical industry actually happen in the food industry or will this continue to be the next big opportunity never realized? For the change to happen, more robust and easy-to-use instruments and methods are needed.
Oroskar:Future tests will continue to tout LC–MS modes for quality control allowing continuous follow ups. This is unrealistic in countries and places where food processing is being farmed out, but QC equipment and procedures cannot become routine. The major roadblock to be overcome is a mind-set of work values where expediency has become the norm. More effective than introducing quality controls will be continuous education of the work force, to make them more sensitized to the outcomes of their (in)actions and follow the quality processes. Prevention is always better than a “cure”.
Chakrabarti:It is a challenging world. The global food and drink market is expected to growin coming years. The credit crunch, economic downturn, and recession mayhave temporary effects on the market and influence consumer purchasinghabits on food and drink, but that is expected to be temporary.
In this era of globalization, I believe the lack of universal food safety regulations and coordination between the different safety standards in different countriesare the major road blocks. As I said previously, since the sourceof food is not only domestic, the problem is serious. Many advancedcountries have a very good database of all raw materials sources and it iseasy to track down the source of the problem in case of any healthhazard. But once it is out of the country, particularly from the other partsof the globe, where such a database is never maintained, poorly maintained,or not properly maintained, it is difficult to dig out the source. Even ifthe source is found, there is a lack of any common regulatory body for foodsafety which will bring in confusion. In the end, it is difficult to enforcethe safety regulations.
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