RIKILT – Institute for Food Safety has 160 people in food safety who are divided into two parts, one working on screening assays and the other using analytical equipment.
It has 30 different mass spectrometers in the laboratory from different vendors.
Marco Blokland, researcher at RIKILT, part of Wageningen UR in the Netherlands, said it has a partnership with Agilent which is five months old as the equipment was installed last year.
He was one of the speakers at Agilent’s Environmental and Food MS meeting in Bristol, UK, last month.
“Agilent is looking for people who have interesting applications and we wanted to see if their instruments can help us solving questions in that area,” he told FoodQualityNews.
“So we started some time ago looking at some techniques called LCxLC and at that time it was in a research setting so we built our own instruments.
“Then Agilent entered the market with a commercial version so we had a discussion with them on what can they do for us and from that we said OK lets collaborate and see if that instrument can really help us solve the questions in the food area.”
Changing testing landscape
He added food safety is the biggest part of its work but questions in the area of food fraud are growing.
“When people can earn money and if you can make a profit people will do that, so we pay more and more interest in food fraud.
“Certain milk is it really from where you think it is and honey is a well-known example, so we have a lot of applications in that area, it is growing but it is not a big part yet but it’s definitely an important part of our future work.”
Blokland said they get more questions on more compounds and more matrixes but the budget stays more or less the same.
“So what we try and do is see if compounds fit in current methods, that is the easy way to handle it,” he said.
“Another way is can we combine classes of compounds but then things get more complicated because you really have to develop new methods, so that is something we try to do.
“Also work on the sampling clean-up as if you have more generic detection methods with more compound classes, sample clean-up with the LC is becoming critical in the whole process.
“You want to do less sample clean-up because you will always do sample clean-up but you need specificity somewhere that you can separate all these compounds and analyse them again so there’s a contradiction in there.”
In the last few years it has been looking at how to gain more specificity in the mass spectrometry, said Blokland.
“So what kind of detections will help us in that aspect but also on the LC part and you can think of different LC like micro LC, longer columns, different materials and one of the approaches we chose is the LCxLC.
“So can we use it to decrease the sample clean-up but still analyse at least the same, you really want more, compounds at the same time.”
Sample clean-up balance
Blokland said there are two main reasons to do sample clean-up - to get rid of interfering matrixes and to concentrate on compounds of interest.
“But that is a contradiction there, if you throw away too many interfering compounds you will lose your compounds of interest as well, so you have to play with that,” he said.
“But if you want to increase your number of compounds you need to make your sample clean-up less specific so there is always a trade-off. So sample clean-up is important but it costs a lot of time, and time at the end is money, so you want to reduce as much as possible but you don’t want to reduce compounds as well.”
LCxLC is has been out there a long time but using it in a routine base setting is new, said Blokland.
“[It has been] on the market commercially, so it’s more accessible to all types of technicians and not just university staff, only one and a half to two years so it is relatively new to laboratories all over the world.
“It depends on the question but in general you need some chromatography and if you want to skip sample clean-up you need better separation before your mass spectrometry, you cannot inject even indirectly, that’s why techniques like MALDI won’t work for [all] samples, you measure at really low levels and you won’t see anything.”
Blokland said it is putting projects and effort in making analysis mobile.
“We want to bring part of the lab more to the producers and portable devices to the farm to check what is happening there instead of bringing samples to the laboratory,” he said.
“That is not an easy task but if you can say straight away this is a good piece of something or not.
“Also miniaturisation of all analytical equipment, smaller machines will help us, they will save cost. It is also from an environmental point of view. The number of areas we look at will keep growing – the more you know the less you know at the end.”