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Food-safety milestones: Turbulent times and expanding capabilities

By Philip Taylor, Jason Neo and Vincent Lau

- Last updated on GMT

Food-safety milestones: Turbulent times and expanding capabilities
The past few years have been tumultuous in the food industry, with unfortunate food safety incidents eroding consumer trust in the supply chain and governing bodies stepping up to implement new regulations and update old practices.

Scandals in China especially have inevitably forced the hands of authorities to start implementing changes to protect the economy and people across Asia.

Since 2015, countries including China, Singapore and New Zealand have put in place new legislation to meet the challenges that the food industry faces. In order to meet new standards, food testing laboratories have had to adopt newer technology to ensure faster and more accurate results. 

Product innovation and highlights

Laboratories have been investing in instrumentations and software tools that are able to help them meet new regulations and prepare for the future of food testing. 

It was observed this year that there was an increased adoption of high-resolution mass spectrometry techniques in food and environmental testing deployed for surveillance screening, dispute and crisis management as it expands the scope of labs beyond targeted analysis. This workflow is starting to be adopted throughout the world.

Pesticides and veterinary drugs testing are still trending in most countries, with Australia continuing to invest in instrumentation for routine testing. While some countries are doing their best to maintain food standards, other countries are not faring so well. 

The China Food and Drug Administration has stated that overuse of antibiotics is a prominent problem for the country’s meat industry, and has called for agriculture and meat processors to do more to reduce the use of antibiotics. 

To help existing and new labs accelerate setup, vendors offer a variety of tested methods that can be easily adopted for new parameters and matrices. 

Other trends observed in 2016 include halal testing driven by genetic-based techniques, gas chromatography and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS). 

With 40% of the population in Southeast Asia predominantly Muslim, there is demand for the verification of halal-certified products with orthogonal analytical tools. Similarly suppliers and regulatory agencies are turning to LC-MS to fraud-proof highly commercialised products like bird’s nest and honey products to evaluate their quality and authenticity. 

2017 trends and opportunities

With so many changes this year, the next promises more exciting prospects on the horizon. 

Government labs will continue to adopt high resolution platforms for food and environmental testing, while private labs will also be looking to expand their LC-MS-MS capabilities. 

Classic food-safety testing will continue to be a trend in 2017 as authorities look to tighten up regulations to protect the food chain. With the investments made in instrumentation by Australia, allergen testing looks to be an emerging application both there and in New Zealand.

Laboratories will be faced with challenges to remain abreast of global demand for classic food-safety testing of pesticides, veterinary drugs, mycotoxins and other contaminants, while the need to detect emerging contaminants and to fulfil regulatory requirements will be a constant challenge. This challenge also opens up opportunities for vendors who supply instrumentation to these laboratories.

Strong collaboration among the food industry, regulators and the scientific community will be critical in addressing recurring food-safety issues as well as emerging threats. In order for everyone to better contribute to protecting the global food supply-chain, among the opportunities presented in 2017 is the education of the technical community on the importance and mechanics in testing for food and environmental safety. 

More comprehensive integrated LC-MS solutions will be available in 2017 to enable labs to get up to speed within a shorter amount of time, to achieve accurate routine testing, with ease. 

High resolution MS will be used to routinise the complicated workflow, simplifying data management and maintenance. Triple quadrupole mass spectrometry applications have seen expanded use in food testing and are used routinely in many laboratories. 

This helps streamline better workflows, increases confidence in detecting contaminants, and reduces false positive detection as labs continue to upgrade and update themselves to keep abreast of new food regulations and stay ahead in their fight against food scandals. It enables high-sensitivity full-scan MS, MS/MS with high selectivity from true triple quadrupole precursor ion and neutral loss scans.

Combined with high speed MS/MS data acquisition to improve data quality, it also provides added sensitivity and ensures comprehensive detection of unknown substances. 

While drawing from comprehensive high-resolution MS/MS libraries to enable more reliable and accurate identification, it also enhances mass accuracy to deliver improved selectivity for routine MS quantitation of targeted compounds.

  • Philip Taylor, Jason Neo and Vincent Lau work for SCIEX, an American manufacturer of mass spectrometry systems.

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