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Keeping Our Food Supply Safe

January 17, 2017

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Background

Thanks to the global economy, the old adage “you are what you eat” is taking an ominous turn. Since much of what we consume is imported from all points of the planet, it is difficult to know the growing conditions of our food supply. Is the soil safe, the grain free of mycotoxins, and the fruits and vegetables checked for illegal amounts of pesticides? Okay, so you might have just lost your appetite.  But, we all know too much exposure to toxins can adversely impact our health. We either care not to think about it or remind ourselves that most developed countries have strict rules and regulations to help keep us all safe.

For the most part, the latter is true. Regulators, manufacturers, and food producers do a remarkable job in keeping the global food supply safe. That process, however, is constantly evolving. Rules and regulations are continually changing in different parts of the world. What is good for the U.S. may differ for the EU, while some Asian countries have still another set of regulations pertaining to food, drinks, and raw ingredients.

Then there is the sheer volume of imports, which presents a staggering challenge to regulators and the food industry. In 2014, for example, the U.S. imported over 22 million metric tons of fruits and vegetables. In that same year, it also imported more than $5.5 billion in wine from all points of the globe.1

We selected fruits, vegetables, and wine for a reason. First, they are widely popular. Second, commercial farms usually use pesticides and herbicides to grow these crops. Just how much and what types of chemicals are used, however, vary widely depending on place of origin. To keep up with the complex and constantly changing regulatory environment, food safety analysis needs to keep pace with the expanding number of samples that require laboratory analysis. Everyone knows it needs doing, but the task is becoming increasingly more challenging. Proper food analysis can be labor intensive, often requires trained lab analysts with specialized skills, and can be costly2 – three things no one wants to hear as the global supply line continues to lengthen and the safety margins continue to narrow.

Turning To Technology

Chromatography and mass spectroscopy are ideally suited to the complex task of separating and identifying the chemical composition of hundreds of pesticides in use today. PerkinElmer’s new QSight™ Pesticide Analyzer solution, for example, is based on the QSight’s triple quad LC/MS/MS patented flow-based mass spectrometry. That system enables laboratories to test highly complex samples and experience increased throughput. When paired with the company’s Altus® UPLC® platform, the system offers a complete solution from sample preparation to results and reporting for food, industrial, and environmental applications. For food analysis, in particular, the QSight instrument can detect a wide range of pesticides that are increasingly found in crops. It can also test foods for mycotoxins and antibiotics and can also determine the presence of veterinary drugs and nutritional components. Further enhancing the system’s appeal to today’s busy labs is our instrument’s StayClean™ Source technology and Laminar Flow Ion Guide™.  Not only do they significantly reduce the need for cleanups between sample runs, they also virtually eliminate routine maintenance. That provides analytical labs with an estimated 15% more uptime to analyze more – and more complex samples – to meet rigorous FDA, FSA, EFSA, and FSMA requirements for food safety today and into the future.

We are PerkinElmer… helping the world make better, faster decisions based on scientific analysis and over 75 years of global expertise.

References

  1. Economic Research Service, “U.S. Food Imports 1999 - 2014,” United States Department of Agriculture, accessed November 1, 2016.
  2. Josh Ye, Feng Qin, Frank Kero, Craig Young, Jason Weisenseel, Jamie Foss, and Matteo Maglioli, “No Dilute” Just Shoot: Robustness of a QSight LC-ESI-MS/MS for Low Level Pesticide Residue Analysis in Wine,” Application Note, PerkinElmer, 2016, accessed October 1, 2016.

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