Effective Tests for Food Contaminants Now A Crucial Quality Requirement

Most of the grandparents alive today were raised to eat fresh produce purchased from farm stalls or from the butchery and greengrocery stores once a familiar sight on the high streets of urban South Africa. In those days, the only thing necessary to rid food of contaminants was to give carrots and the like a quick rinse under the tap to remove the last traces of soil. In the wake of a population explosion that created an insatiable demand for processed foods and fuelled the growth of a multibillion-dollar global industry, the contents of these manufactured products can no longer be ensured without the safeguards provided by a programme of stringent quality-assurance and control measures.

Over the years, there have been numerous reports of unintentional inclusions in packed, tinned, and bottled edibles. Dismayed diners have encountered everything from pieces of glass, screws, and splinters of wood to human hairs, and fingernails in their pre-packaged meals. It is, however, mainly the less visible food contaminants that tend to present the greatest risk to health and, sometimes, even to life. These include microscopic pathogens such as E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and various Salmonella species. Even smaller but potentially far deadlier are some of the molecules naturally present in nuts, dairy products, wheat, and shellfish that have the capacity to provoke an allergic reaction in susceptible subjects.

Whether present by design or as the consequence of the manufacturing process, the law now stipulates that such allergens must be tested for and, if detected, their presence confirmed on the label. Alternatively, the labels on untested items must indicate that the presence of these common food contaminants cannot be ruled out. Base on the preceding observations, it is clear that, if it is to be effective, an internal quality programme must be comprehensive and thus designed to detect inappropriate content, whether it is of a physical, biological, or chemical nature.

While much of the requirement is for quality assurance and the use of techniques and precautions to prevent contamination, quality control of ingredients and finished products is equally important to the safety of those who consume these processed products, as well as the reputation of those who manufacture them. In particular, the importance of eliminating biological contaminants in food was underlined by the outbreak of listeriosis early in 2018. The disease originated in a Polokwane meat-processing plant, infecting more than a thousand South Africans and killing 212. Allergies to various foodstuffs are also on the rise and are believed by some to stem from a weakening of the immune systems brought about by the modern lifestyle.

Such issues aside, the fact remains that, without bulk production and all the handing this involves, we can no longer sustain the world’s burgeoning population on fresh produce alone and so rapid screening methods to test large batches of product for the presence of multiple food contaminants, as well as the concentration of essential nutrients, have become crucial. To help companies in South Africa meet this need and to conform with prevailing food-quality regulations, IEPSA offers a comprehensive range of compact test kits, reagents, and analytical instrumentation, designed to cover every aspect of hygienic and safe food and beverage production.

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