Atomic Absorption for Trace Element Analysis in the Food and Beverage Industry

Atomic absorption, an established analytical technique that has been used worldwide for decades, offers many advantages for an extended range of applications across multiple industries. The technique is increasingly being used in the food and beverage industries to ensure compliance with stringent global legislation.

Combining flame, furnace, and vapor techniques, AA facilitates the analysis of a large number of toxic trace elements across a wide analytical range, from parts per million (ppm) down to subparts per billion (ppb). The technique can achieve the required low detection limits, and it offers maximum ease of use, sensitivity, and accuracy. These characteristics make AA an ideal choice for the analysis of trace elements in foodstuffs.

Approximately 72 trace elements are required for the proper functioning of the human body. Phosphorus is needed for muscle and tissue growth, and calcium is critical for normal cell operation. Small amounts of zinc and manganese are also required for hormone production and enzyme function. Unlike most vitamins and minerals, trace elements are needed in extremely low quantities, and deficiency or excess of these elements can have a negative impact on the overall health of the human body.

Certain trace elements are toxic, including arsenic, mercury, and lead, and their consumption has been associated with serious health problems. Exposure to harmful trace elements occurs most commonly through ingestion of food that has been contaminated during production.

Increasing public awareness places pressure on producers and suppliers of food and beverages to ensure product quality and safeguard consumer health. Toward that end, global regulatory bodies have introduced stringent legislation to control trace elements in food products.

AA is a key player in the analysis of trace elements in foodstuffs, and it is the chosen technique for laboratories requiring regular dedicated analysis. Analytical laboratories demand robust and reliable methodologies and instrumentation. AA provides excellent sensitivity, accuracy, and precision.

Regulatory Outlook

Legislation is being imposed worldwide to protect consumer health by controlling contaminants and toxins in foodstuffs. The Codex Alimentarius, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization in 1963, provides internationally recognized standards, guidelines, and codes of practice. The greatest number of standards and controls are aimed at arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and tin. The maximum level of a toxic element in foodstuffs, which is typically set around 0.1 mg/kg, can vary depending on country or region, food type, and typical consumption.

A wide range of trace elements is also covered by regulations and guidelines on labelling and nutritional content. When a nutrient declaration is applied, foodstuffs that provide more than 5% of the nutrient reference value (recommended daily allowance) per 100 grams are usually stated. Nutritional elements include calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, copper, and selenium. Fortified products such as iron-enriched cereals and calcium-enriched yogurts and dairy drinks must also quantify fortification claims on the label.

Sodium content is usually listed with the main nutritional information. Sodium comes not only from salt but also from many other additives and preservatives– monosodium glutamate, sodium saccharin, and sodium bicarbonate–particularly in foods requiring water reconstitution. In fact, more than 75% of the sodium consumed in a typical diet comes from manufactured and processed foods, rather than from salt added during cooking or at the dinner table.

Because food and beverage manufacturers and suppliers are required to regularly monitor the trace element concen- trations in their products, food analysis and testing laboratories need a method to perform rapid and reliable analyses.

Atomic absorption, an established analytical technique that has been used worldwide for decades, offers many advantages for an extended range of applications across multiple industries. The technique is increasingly being used in the food and beverage industries to ensure compliance with stringent global legislation.

Benefits of AA

AA is a key player in the analysis of trace elements in foodstuffs, and it is the chosen technique for laboratories requiring regular dedicated analysis. Analytical laboratories demand robust and reliable methodologies and instrumentation. AA provides excellent sensitivity, accuracy, and precision. Advances in automation through online sample dilution and automated standard preparation simplify routine tasks and offer increased productivity and sample throughput.

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