Spectral Analysis: A Rapid and Effective Method for Determining Food Contaminants

We all need food to keep us healthy and nourished, but sometimes the very foods we eat can cause severe illness. Trace chemical elements or contaminant are often found in our food supply chain and can cause serious problem in human health, but through the versatile uses of spectral analysis, the detection of many of these toxins have become both rapid and effective.

There are many various sources of food poisoning and contamination, but trying to determine or detect the source of illness can often be a challenge. However, knowing the source of contamination or taking preventative measures to keep dangerous substances out of our food sources is important. There are a variety of methods used for this analytical process, but many are time consuming and expensive. Spectral analysis using UV/VIS spectrophotometry is a simple yet effective method for the determination of food contaminants in many cases.

Spectral analysis of milk

Milk is a major source of nutrition and sustainability around the world. Whether drinking a glass of milk for its nutritive values or adding it to your favorite recipe, the food safety of this product is essential. You may remember the food safety incident in China from 2008, where approximately 300,000 people lay victim to food poisoning from a tainted milk supply. Melamine was the culprit in this case and was used as an additive to increase the perceived protein levels and offer the appearance of a more nutritious dietary supplement. Melamine is a highly toxic industrial chemical that can be found in many plastics and resins. According to the FDA (food and drug administration), unsafe levels of melamine in foods “may put people at risk of conditions such as kidney stones and kidney failure, and of death”.

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milk spectral analysis
Spectrophotometry has become a widely accepted and effective method of food safety analysis in milk products and is used for rapid and continual monitoring in the dairy industry.
Image Source: Flickr user hobvias sudoneighm

During the 2008 outbreak, the dairy product imports from China were banned and food safety analysts began continuously monitoring milk products for unsafe levels of melamine. There are several methods of analysis that effective in melamine monitoring, but most are very time-consuming and costly. This incident sparked research in other methods of melamine determination and researchers found that spectral analysis offered a rapid and effective method of detection. This allowed for continual monitoring of food safety in milk products and resulted in the widespread implementation of this method in the dairy industry.

Spectrophotometric detection of lead             

Another contaminant commonly found in foods is lead. The presence of lead in our environment is widespread from extensive industrial uses, pollutants, and even natural resources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “nearly 1 million children living in the United States in the early 1990s had lead in their blood at levels high enough to cause irreversible damage to their health.” One major source of lead contamination comes from the high levels found in our soil and agricultural products.

broccoli spectral analysis
Many common agricultural food products are susceptible to trace amounts of lead contamination. Close monitoring of lead in soil and produce can help reduce the risk of lead poisoning.
Image Source: Flickr user Isaac Wedin

With such high risks present, determination of lead in food products is of utmost importance. Traditional methods of analysis used atomic absorption or mass spectroscopy for the determination and quantification of lead. However, the instrumentation alone ranges from $250,000 to $750,000 and daily operation can cost up to $1000 per day. This method is also time-consuming and requires extremely clean working conditions to operate effectively.

Spectral analysis through the use of UV/VIS spectrophotometry provides a more cost-effective and rapid analysis of lead. New advancements in spectral analysis have led to more precise and efficient methods of measurement, making spectrophotometry a reliable method for the detection and quantification of lead.

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Food poisoning determination and prevention

Food contamination and poisoning are both genuine concerns in today’s food market. Spectral analysis provides an efficient and effective method for the determination of contaminants and impurities in our food supply. Ongoing research and studies are finding new ways to utilize spectral analysis for both identify potential causes of food poisoning and determining the source of food contamination in affect consumers. From raw meat inspection to clinical analysis, spectrophotometers offer a wide range of analytical methods to help keep consumers safe. Spectrophotometry is an approved method of analysis by both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Spectral analysis is a reliable method that can be used to meet the many safety and health standard regulations in the food industry and offers many applications in these areas.

ground meat spectral analysis
Spectral analysis has many applications in food safety and inspection. From raw meats and poultry products to food storage safety, spectrophotometers provide a rapid and effective method for the detection of contaminants in these products.
Image Source: Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture

HunterLab specializes in color measurement instrumentation and spectral analysis. We are a leader in food safety inspection and analysis and offer a variety of instrumentation options to help meet regulatory standards. Our equipment is highly versatile and cost-effective and our friendly staff works hard to make sure that our clients are able to utilize our products to their full potential. Accuracy and safety are a priority at HunterLab and we want to help keep others safe as well. For more information on spectral analysis and food safety, contact HunterLab today.


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