Using Spectral Analysis to Determine Formaldehyde Content in Wet Market Seafood Products

For many individuals, the word “formaldehyde” likely brings back memories of high school biology class and that awful smell of preserved frog carcasses. It is certainly not a word many of us would associate with the foods we eat. Unfortunately, many fresh fish and seafood products may be tainted with this dangerous chemical, but with inspection methods such as spectral analysis, identifying this toxic substance is both easy and effective.

The source of the problem

Fish and other seafood products are a major dietary staple for many people around the world and are appreciated for their nutritional values. However, this food source is also one of the most perishable food products available and many commercial fishermen look for ways to preserve the freshness and quality of their catch. In a recent study from the Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research and the Faculty of Food Science and Technology, University Putra Malaysia, is was determined that “Formaldehyde was used by fishermen and fish vendors to preserve the freshness and quality of fish and seafood.” This report also stated that, “in order to keep the freshness of fish and seafood, fishermen and fish vendors tend to carelessly use formaldehyde as preservation agent.” Due to this concerning discovery, it was determined that formaldehyde content and quality characteristics of fish and seafood from wet markets required evaluation.

sardines spectral analysis
Simple and effective methods are available to monitor the quality and safety of fresh fish and seafood products.
Image Source: Flickr user Jośe Antonio Gil MartÍnez

Methods of determination and evaluation

Several methods have been proven effective in the determination and evaluation of formaldehyde in wet market seafood products. One of the simplest and most effective methods is spectral analysis. This approach provides rapid and quantifiable data that can help determine acceptable levels of formaldehyde in seafood products.

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as a Group 1 carcinogenic to humans (2004) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even specified limitations on maximum daily intake levels for human consumption. UV/VIS spectrophotometry utilizes spectral analysis to quantify these levels in a wide variety of seafood products.

octopus spectral analysis
Spectral analysis can effectively quantify levels of formaldehyde in a variety of wet market seafood products such as fish, squid, octopus, shrimp, and other crustaceous foods.
Image Source: Flickr user Pieterjan Vandaele

Formaldehyde can accumulate in seafood products during the natural deterioration process, but high levels of this toxic substance are uncommon. This compound naturally transitions from its chemical state into other biochemical reactions during the aging and spoilage process. Even with proper handling and efficient ice storage methods, changes in PH levels are normal. Therefore, precise and quantifiable data is needed to determine excess levels on formaldehyde and to ensure product safety in wet market seafood.

fish on ice spectral analysis
Even with proper storage and handling, seafood spoilage can undergo a number of physical and chemical changes. Spectral analysis ensures proper safety evaluation for fresh fish and seafood products.
Image Source: Flickr user Ines Hegedus-Garcia

With the use chemical indicators such as ammonium acetate, spectral analysis can be used to differentiate slight color changes and quantify formaldehyde levels for safety regulation purposes. This highly sensitive method of evaluation is quick, effective, and can repeatedly produce accurate data. Data can then be analyzed to determine the overall safety of wet market seafood products.

Other applications of UV/VIS spectrophotometry

UV/VIS spectrophotometry has many applications in the fish and seafood industry. Not only can spectral analysis be used to monitor the chemical changes, but it is also commonly used to monitor shelf-life and natural degradation in fish and seafood products. From monitoring the degradation effects of lighting on the shelf-life of fresh fish, to developing new preservation methods for quality and freshness in frozen fish products, spectral analysis provides both a simple and effective method of a variety of applications. This information can help commercial fishermen and seafood processors develop new methods for monitoring quality and freshness, as well as determine the best ways to preserve and package their products.

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Spectrophotometry in the food industry

Spectral analysis is used in a variety of applications throughout the food industry, and many major food manufacturers rely on spectrophotometric technology to ensure quality and safety in their products. HunterLab is a leader in the many applications of spectral analysis in the food industry and we have developed many long-standing relationships with industry leaders. We listen to our customers’ needs and develop our instrumentation accordingly. To learn more about the many applications of spectrophotometry in the seafood industry and beyond, please contact HunterLab today.

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