Effective Food Quality Control Calls for New Tests and Equipment

Quality control testing of food has never been more important than it is today. Much of that need has arisen because our increased global population has made it impractical to restrict one’s diet to those edibles that can be obtained from natural, organically grown or reared sources. The role of the farm stall, where a family could purchase fresh milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables and perhaps a chicken, has been largely usurped by a lengthy retail chain in which a farmer or fisherman is simply the first link, and is often contracted to make his entire crop or catch available to one of the leading brand names.

The widespread use of the pesticides and artificial fertilisers required to boost crops have necessitated food quality control tests to detect their residues, In addition, subsequent treatment of the crop, as well as of slaughtered livestock, often treated with antibiotics and hormones, and of fish, conducted by processing plants gives rise to further sources of contamination, the extent and nature of which must also be accurately monitored.

Many of the substances that may find their way into a can of baked beans, a bottle of ketchup or a frozen fish finger are not universally harmful. However, they can still provoke adverse reactions in certain of those who chance to consume them. In this case, the offending contaminant is neither a toxin nor an infective agent, but rather an allergen. Specific quality control testing of food in which this could be a possibility is therefore desirable, in order to advise consumers of possible allergens, such as nuts and dairy derivatives, and some producers may still provide a warning of their possible presence on the label, even if not detected.

To add to the list of accidental contaminants, processing invariably involves the introduction of artificial additives to colour, sweeten or preserve, and their presence must be documented to comply with new labelling regulations. So how are laboratories in South Africa and around the world dealing with this increased demand for monitoring the presence of contaminants in our meals?

The emphasis among the developers of tests and equipment for food quality control, given the huge demand, has needed to focus on speed, so the ability to handle large batches and a short, preferably automated, test cycle have been a priority. Given the crucial nature of these analyses, equal importance has also been given to the specificity and the sensitivity of the reactions utilised, as well as the precision and reproducibility of the instrumentation designed to quantitate them.

Among the leaders in the design and manufacture of specialised analysis systems is an engineering company based near the Italian city of Florence. CDR supplies precision instrumentation, reagents and accessories for both medical diagnostic purposes and for use in food quality control procedures. The company’s FoodLab range enjoys worldwide acclaim for its ease of use and proven reliability, and includes units that may be applied to the measurement of properties such as total acidity, fatty acid and polyphenol content, Anisidine values and urea nitrogen for a wide range of foodstuffs, to which these may be relevant.

In South Africa these are supplied and professionally supported by us, at IEPSA, through our extensive experience in all aspects of food quality control.

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