Safe food is something we all take for granted; nobody expects to get sick from the food we eat. We place a great deal of trust in the people and companies that provide our food. In the old days, that trust extended down to the butcher shop or the fruit stand when it was a short ride from there to the source—the farm. In essence, our food chain had few links and was very manageable. Much has changed over the years.
Several times in recent memory, despite routine testing, chemical contamination outbreaks have occurred. The impact of some of these events was severe, but it could have been mitigated if there had been a resource that could rapidly develop an analytical method designed to detect the contaminant in the food matrix.
It was this thinking that led Thermo Fisher Scientific to develop its Global Food Safety Response Center in Dreieich, Germany, near Frankfurt. The key to the center is its ability to respond quickly during a crisis. Workloads do not have to be shuffled and resources do not have to be reallocated, because the center is not a contract-testing lab and will not engage in routine sample testing.
A Clear Need
The need for a center of this kind is clear. Over the course of time, as the world’s population has grown and we have developed greater varieties of food and the efficient means to distribute that food globally, we created a longer food chain with many links. Today, food is created from a variety of ingredients that come from an even wider variety of sources. Trust is still a part of the equation, but because the food chain is long and therefore vulnerable to contamination, whether accidental or deliberate, we have to test to verify the safety of our food.
Government agencies around the world are tasked to test food, inspect food and facilities, set standards, and insure compliance. Manufacturers themselves test the food they produce or process for consumer safety and to ensure the integrity and protection of their brands. Testing is critical and may either be done internally or outsourced to independent testing labs that are experts at high-volume food testing.
Thermo Fisher’s new 600-square-foot facility is staffed with three full-time chemists working with state-of-the-art equipment under the direction of an industry-leading consultant in food safety. The center has a wet lab and an instrument lab equipped with key systems for food analysis, including gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, ultra high-performance liquid chromatography, and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Nearly all of the other instruments, equipment, supplies, and consumables in the lab are sourced from either Thermo Scientific or Fisher Scientific, and many products are self-manufactured.
Even with the right talent and tools in place, method development remains a formidable task. When we speak of methods for chemical analysis, we are talking about a logical, documented process to test a substance. This method has to be verified or validated and must be repeatable and reliable.
The method includes the actions required to prepare a sample for testing and the instruments and settings required to achieve the desired results. It has to be designed to detect the contaminant reliably without false positives or negatives. The method is the key to detection.
Once a chemical contamination of food has occurred and the threat has been identified, this lab will begin to develop a method that can be used to detect that chemical reliably in the suspected food. The center’s staff will take samples through the workflow, from sample prep to data analysis, and work diligently to develop the method. After the method is validated (single-lab validation), it will be made available to the public, along with a training protocol and supply list. Regulators, contract testing labs, and end users will be able to use the method to analyze their food for the specific chemical contaminant.