Color Saturation: Measuring the Concentration of Food Additives with UV-VIS Spectrophotometry

Preservatives are a normal part of food production in the 21st century. These additives are commonly used to extend the shelf life of many food products and to prevent decay and early decomposition of a variety of foods. In order to utilize the benefits of common food preservatives, careful measurement of color saturation must be used to quantify concentration levels of these additives and to help keep them safe for human consumption. Common food additives such as nitrates and sulfites can be easily and effectively measured through the use of UV –VIS spectroscopy. Using a spectrophotometer, the color saturation of food samples can be analyzed to ensure proper levels are achieved and regulatory standards are met.

sausages color saturation
Food additives such as nitrates and sulfites are present in many favorite food items. Proper concentration of these food preservatives is essential for human health and safety and can be measured easily using spectrophotometric technology. Image Source: Flickr’ user Steven Depolo

Despite the common use of additives in modern food production, high levels of preservatives have also been thought to produce harmful effects in humans. Recent studies have alerted consumers to the dangers of these preservatives in their foods, and many seek out natural products or those that contain lower levels of additives. However, omitting the use of food preservatives altogether is simply not an option for all products, especially those targeted for mass consumption or that must be imported or exported in large quantities. Therefore, the use of food additives in moderation is a key element in maintaining food product safety and quality.

Regulatory standards and food additive concentrations

Food additive regulation is required by many governing bodies around the world in order to ensure consumer safety. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has many publications regarding the use of food additives and preservatives in both meats and other agricultural products. The Code of Federal Regulations in the United States of America states that in order to “assure safe use of the additive, the label of the food additive container shall bear in addition to other information required by the act (173.360)…the percentage of the additive present in the case mixture.”

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Spectrophotometers analyze food additives by measuring color in both the ultraviolet (UV) and visible (VIS) range to determine the color saturation of a sample. They are then able to quantify the percentage of a food additive in a sample using this method of determination. Maintaining the proper level of preservatives is imperative in preventing or delaying the spoilage of foods, while still maintaining safe levels of these compounds as intended for human consumption.

sliced bread color saturation
Food additives and preservatives are commonly used to extend the shelf life of common food items. Using proper and exact levels of these additives is required to meet strict regulatory standards and ensure consumer safety. Image Source: Flickr’ user Jessica Spengler

Classification of food preservatives

Color saturation analysis through spectrophotometric determination is not only used to quantify preservative levels in food, but can also be used to identify these additives for classification purposes. One might identify an additive through sample dilution and color saturation measurement of its solution. Accurate identification of food additives and preservatives is required for proper labeling and to ensure the desired results of the compound. When added to foods, the determination of these properties can then be used to inhibit or delay the process of fermentation, acidification, or other decomposition of the food product.

solution beaker color saturation
Determination of food preservatives can be obtained by sample dilution and analysis using color measurement technology. Image Source: Flickr’ user Nick Ward

Food additives are essential to today’s food production and are commonly used to maintain the quality and nature of foods as well as to provide safety to consumers. In order for these substances to be used safely, proper determination and quantification of the additive substance is necessary. With modern spectrophotometric technology, quantification and analysis are fast, easy, and effective, making it commonplace in the food industry. The use of this technology is not only used to quantify food additives and preservatives, but also covers a variety of other analytical methods used in food manufacturing today.

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UV-VIS spectrophotometric technology

UV-VIS spectrophotometric technology has developed rapidly over the past several decades. New advancements in this technology provide both smaller and more portable instrumentation that can be adapted to meet a variety of color measurement needs and applications. Color saturation measurement can provide valuable information about food additives in many various food products and has made spectrophotometric analysis a common practice for these applications. At HunterLab, we develop our instrumentation to meet a variety of needs in both the food industry and beyond. Our spectrophotometers are uniquely designed to meet a variety of application needs through one simple and easy-to-use tool. We offer a variety of instrumentation styles that can be tailored to your specific needs. For more information about the HunterLab methods of color analysis or to learn more about our product options, contact HunterLab today.

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