Mass spectrometry has assumed an essential role in ensuring food quality and safety—so much so that last year’s Asilomar Conference, hosted by the American Society for Mass Spectrometry, focused its agenda on mass spec in food safety and quality. Topics included LC/Q-TOF Mass Spectrometry in detection of peanut and tree nut allergens in processed and unprocessed foods; UHPLC/high resolution MS in analysis of food contaminants; and the use of LC/QTOF-MS for identification of unknown contaminants for food defense.
Many of the contract laboratories working with the food industry today are focusing on doing as much as possible with combined liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) for its lightning-fast speed combined with powerful sensitivity, says Christie Brewe, laboratory and quality manager with Romer Labs, which operates four fully accredited laboratories in the U.S., Austria, Singapore, and the U.K.
“A lot of what we do is mycotoxin-based, and we are trying to go beyond what’s regulated worldwide to look at other mycotoxins with synergistic effects, and getting those to mass spec,” says Brewe.
As the Asilomar conference demonstrated, many labs are working to move food allergen testing into LC/MS as well, although most food allergen testing remains PCR- and ELISA-based at the moment.
GMO (genetically modified organism) detection and quantification is also in high demand. ELISA assays and strip tests are sometimes used in GMO detection, but the current gold standard for industry worldwide is PCR-based GMO detection. Mass spectrometry could dramatically enhance a lab’s ability to quantify minute concentrations of GMO proteins, and it’s currently under investigation for this purpose but it’s not yet in common use at most contract labs.
For more information on contract labs, see “Handy Contract Labs: Not Just for Testing Anymore.” It explores how today’s contract labs are offering a wide variety of collaborative options to ensure the safety and quality of the foods manufacturers produce.
Shaw is a writer for Food Quality & Safety’s eUpdate enewsletter. She also writes frequently about science, medicine, and health while serving as a regular contributor on notable medical publications.
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