The Expanding Role of Quality Control for Food and Beverages

In times past, the main concern among those responsible for ensuring the quality of food and beverages was limited to the control of contamination by bacteria and making sure that the weights and volumes displayed on the various cartons and bottles were accurate within certain acceptable limits. Since those days, however, increased demand by a burgeoning population has seen more consumable items subjected to intensive processing. This, in turn, has resulted in potential risks that were not previously present. In order to protect the consumer from such threats, stringent new legislation, to which the nation’s manufacturers and suppliers are now required to conform, has been introduced. Furthermore, these regulations continue to be updated to comply with any additional needs indicated by on-going research.

Apart from ensuring that the weights and measures standards are complied with, routine quality control measures within the food and beverages industry tend to focus mainly on three areas. These are the elimination of bacterial and chemical contaminants, the quantitation of both permitted additives and nutrients and the presence of possible allergens. In each of these areas, the need for manufacturers to maintain adequate rates of production has meant that any analytical procedures used for the purpose of detection and quantitation need to be rapid, specific and accurate.

In any industry, whether it happens to be engaged in the manufacture of vehicle parts, the brewing of beer or the production of processed food, quality control testing is normally carried out on samples chosen randomly from each batch of products at one or more stages in their production. Until these samples have been tested and confirmed as meeting the required standards, the remainder of the batch under test will generally not be released for distribution.

The need to observe this protocol further underlines the need for speedy yet reliable results and the industry’s research and development teams have responded with new technologies designed to achieve this. For instance, modern test kits that are simple to use are now able to confirm the presence or absence of potentially harmful bacterial species in just a couple of hours where once it would have taken a microbiologist, petri dishes of various artificial culture media, an incubator and a bare minimum of 24 hours to arrive at a reliable result.

Another aspect of food quality control that has needed to be upgraded considerably is sensitivity. In the case of allergens, for example, it is important to detect and to measure trace quantities, as, even in very low concentrations, the risk of an uninformed allergic individual succumbing to a fatal anaphylactic reaction is a very real one. Similarly, for labelling purposes, the assay of contents such as colourings, preservatives, stabilisers and similar additives, as well as minerals, saturated and unsaturated fats, sugars, other carbohydrates, proteins and micronutrients all need to conform to the limits of accuracy prescribed by the law. Any assay kits employed for these purposes must therefore meet those same requirements.

cdR FOODLAB is widely recognised as an innovator in the field of food and beverage quality control. Its spectrophotometric instruments and reagents for the analysis of products such as vegetable oils, fats, dairy products, eggs and vegetable purees are available in South Africa from IEPSA.

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