Have you ever wondered how the food we eat every day is tested to ensure its safety? We’ll answer that question and more in our guide explaining how food safety analysis labs ensure the safety of the food we eat.
What Is Food Safety Analysis?
Most of the food we consume comes from grocery stores or restaurants, which get their food and ingredients from food processing plants and farms. These facilities produce tons of food, and if there’s unsafe contamination of their crops or processes, it could mean injury or illness to many people. Food safety analysis uses scientific methods to evaluate your food and ensure it’s safe for consumption.
Areas of Food Safety Analysis Testing
There are three areas of food safety analysis: microbiological, chemical, and physical food testing.
Microbiological food safety analysis is where researchers test and analyze food looking for potentially harmful microorganisms. Most microbiological contaminants and foodborne illnesses are completely unnoticeable on food, so sensitive food analysis is required to ensure food safety.
The most common microbiological contaminants that food labs test for include:
- E. coli
- Staphylococcus aureus
Growing, harvesting, or packaging, food can come across various chemicals that could harm people if consumed. Chemicals from cleaning agents and by-products or pesticides are necessary for the food process but are dangerous for consumption, thus requiring chemical food analysis.
Lastly, food safety analysis involves examining the food products for any physical contaminants. Sometimes sharp objects, raw materials, or even animal contaminants like pests can find their way into food, so physical X-rays, metal detectors, and sifters ensure no physically contaminated food can reach grocery store shelves.
Methods of Food Safety Analysis
How do researchers and labs test our food for these contaminants and dangers? Two of the most common methods for food safety analysis are high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)
Food labs and chemical researchers typically use the HPLC method to determine what additives and if there are any contaminants within the sample. Essentially, food safety analysis labs use liquid chromatography equipment to inject a liquid sample into a solvent flowing through a column packed with a separation medium.
The sample flows through the separation medium and column deliberately, separating the sample components for detection, analysis, and qualification. Food labs can determine if pesticides and other chemical contaminants are in the sample through this method.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)
Another standard method for food safety analysis is NMR. NMR uses the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei to identify molecules and components in a sample. NMR examines how the atomic nuclei of a sample absorb and re-release electromagnetic energy along characteristic frequencies. Scientists can identify molecules from these frequencies, deduce nearby electrons’ environmental influences, and more.