Agilent on dietary supplements and arsenic testing

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/Pogonici
Picture: iStock/Pogonici

Related tags: Agilent technologies

Dietary supplements are an area where the food and pharmaceutical industries meet, according to Agilent Technologies.

John Lee, global food market manager at Agilent, said it is a product treated as a food but taken like a drug. 

“When you are taking a drug treatment, the difference between that and food is you take that religiously every day, so it is a constant source of exposure if there is some contamination. Dietary supplements are treated as food but have this property as being something that people will take religiously.”

Work with Aberdeen University

Agilent collaborated with Aberdeen University to look at exposure to metals in dietary supplements.

“Whilst the levels were not too high, when you looked at some of the tolerable daily intake (TDI) values that the pharma industry specifies, you could see some of these dietary supplements where exceeding the TDI for elements such as iron and iodine,” ​said Lee.

“Not dramatically but certainly an area of concern when you consider that dietary supplements are not manufactured at the level of control that would occur in the pharma industry. What is interesting is that iron and iodine are not toxic at low levels, you would think of them as being important nutritional things but…everything is toxic at the appropriate dose.”

The University of Aberdeen, specifically the TESLA (Trace element Speciation Laboratory, Aberdeen) group at the university, is an Agilent partner lab.

They have worked on ‘Element content and daily intake from dietary supplements (nutraceuticals) based on algae, garlic, yeast fish and krill oils’ and the ‘Influence of sulphur fertilization on small water-soluble sulphur and selenium compounds in garlic’.

Growth of arsenic testing

Meanwhile, arsenic testing is another area on the increase – especially in drinks and rice - as regulations come into force.

A method using hydride generation (HG) with ICP-MS was developed for separation and detection of inorganic arsenic (iAs) in foodstuffs by TESLA and Matis​.

Arsenic based regulations/limits for juice and rice (iAs = inorganic Arsenic)

  • US EPA: 10 ppb total arsenic in drinking water
  • China​: 200 ppb total arsenic in juices
  • EU​: 10 ppb total arsenic in drinking water
  • US FDA​: 10 ppb iAs proposed action level for apple juice
  • US FDA: 100 ppb iAs proposed action level or limit in infant rice cereal
  • China: 200 ppb iAs max level in grains of rice
  • China: 100 ppb iAs max level in canned foods for infants
  • EU: 100 ppb iAs max level in rice for infants/children
  • EU: 200 ppb iAs max level in non-parboiled rice
  • EU: 250 ppb iAs max level in parboiled rice

In terms of seafood, there is a group at DTU which have worked on arsenic and found the product showing most levels of note was seaweed.

The group is led by Jens Jørgen Sloth at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, and worked on the ECsafeSEAFOOD project​.

Examples of methods for arsenic analysis can be found in the FDA Elemental Analysis Manual (EAM).

Jenny Nelson, application scientist at Agilent, said she had seen an increase in labs testing for arsenic in juice and wines mainly due to regulations.

“There are increased regulations now, the more we learn about the different species because a lot of them we didn’t know about five to 10 years ago,” ​she said.

“We are still discovering new arsenic species and we still have to do the toxological studies on them and once they do the studies then they can come out with the new regulation to say which one is important.”

Nelson said regulations are worldwide and seem to be following each other.

“The trend has been that the EU has been the most advanced with the regulations and then the US is following closely the EU regulations and China as well,” ​she said.

“For arsenic, rice was the one that everyone heard about first and juice has just started to have regulations and there have been a lot of studies about wine and some lawsuits around the world.

“A lot of these industries that are having regulations now, they might not even have been testing for these things before and they had no idea they needed to test for these things before, specifically for arsenic.

“In the US we had apple juice and fruit juice companies contact us and say ‘now we have to test for arsenic, how do you do that, set the machine up in our lab and show us how to do it’ and I am sure that is happening globally because they’ve never had to do this type of testing. A lot of times these labs didn’t do metals analysis.”

Agilent invests in Memphis

Meanwhile, Agilent Technologies is to invest $600,000 and create 100 jobs in Memphis.

The life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemicals company is expanding its logistics operations in Shelby County.

Agilent is headquartered in Santa Clara, California and employs 13,500 people worldwide. It provides labs with instruments, software, services, consumables, and applications include food, environmental and pharmaceutical.

Henrik Ancher-Jensen, president of Agilent order fulfillment and supply chain, said: “We appreciate the warm welcome and collaboration demonstrated by state and local partners to help Agilent build up this facility, which is vital to delivering to our customers in the Americas.”

The Memphis facility will be the primary American distribution center. It will serve markets in the US, Mexico, Canada and Central America.

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