Food Safety at Pittcon


A fundamental goal of the food industry is to provide consumers with quality food that is safe to enjoy. There has always been the risk of products becoming contaminated during preparation and so regular food analysis is a routine part of food manufacturing. However, today there are even greater challenges to ensuring food quality. With chemicals being increasingly used to improve yield in both agriculture and animal husbandry there is greater risk of foods being contaminated with pesticides and veterinary drugs that could pose a risk to human health. Furthermore, food fraud is on the rise as unscrupulous food manufacturers intentionally deceive their customers by replacing the labelled product with cheaper alternatives to achieve higher profit margins. With the food market now being a global trade, it is often very difficult to trace the true origins of purchased ingredients and to ensure their quality. Even more concerning is the realistic risk of terrorism directed at the food industry; pathogens intentionally added to food products destined for mass marketing have the potential to cause widespread devastation.

The prevalence of intentional adulteration of consumables for financial gain has been increasing in recent years. This is highlighted by the addition of the industrial chemical melamine to diluted baby formula milk in China in order to elevate apparent levels of protein, and by the discovery in 2013 that beef products marketed in Europe had been bulked up with cheaper horsemeat. Similar dishonest practices have also been uncovered for honey and for olive oil. These are either being diluted with similar cheaper sugar syrups or vegetable oils, respectively, or being incorrectly labelled as varieties that can be sold at a premium, such as manuka honey and extra virgin olive oil. Such fraudulent practices undermine genuine businesses and must be stopped in order to protect the livelihoods of honest suppliers.

With the increasingly complex food supply chain, legislation regarding food safety has been amended to make food manufacturers responsible for the safety and quality of the goods they sell. Consequently, in addition to needing accurate, reliable and selective food testing methods that can confirm the safety and verify the content of marketed food products, it is important that they are easy to conduct and cost-effective.

Scientists have responded to the growing challenges to food safety with the development of innovative adaptations of a range of analytical technologies. Industry is also striving to facilitate the food testing obligations of food manufactures by developing fully automated systems that provide results rapidly and can easily be incorporated into food processing and production lines. Furthermore, industry and food producers are now collaborating to detect and eliminate food fraud by conducting widespread authenticity testing of target products.

Pittcon 2018 will include a range of symposia, oral presentations, short courses, poster sessions and industry-sponsored demonstrations of cutting-edge technologies. The sessions on food safety will describe ground-breaking technological advances made to meet the challenges of ensuring that food sent to shop floors does not present a risk to consumer health and meets quality standards. Pittcon 2018 will highlight how researchers are constantly adapting and enhancing existing technologies and devising innovative new solutions to detect ever-more complicated attempts to defraud consumers by some unscrupulous food manufacturers.

Chapter 1 – Recent Challenges in Food Safety

The marketing of contaminated food and water can have far-reaching, and potentially devastating consequences. The food industry therefore has to comply with strict quality regulations in order to safeguard the public from the potential contamination or adulteration of its products. In addition, food fraud has become increasingly common, for example the intentional mislabelling of consumables for financial gain. Furthermore, in an age of widespread terrorism there is a real threat of intentional contamination of consumables.

Sensitive analytical methodologies that allow easy and rapid analysis of food and drinks are thus needed to confirm the quality and purity of foodstuffs. Advances in the analytical technologies that are being used to ensure food safety and combat dishonest and deceitful practices were explored at Pittcon 2017 and are summarised in Latest Advances in Food Safety: an Industry Guide.

Pittcon 2018, which will take place in Orlando between 26th February and 1st March, will continue the theme of food safety and present the latest developments in the analysis of food and drink. Pittcon 2018 will feature presentations by leaders in the field of food analysis detailing the most recent advances and industry demonstrations of emerging technologies.

Defending Against Food Fraud

The globalized world of today makes it increasingly easy for food to be sold in geographically distant markets, and increasingly difficult for the origins of food to be determined. A given product may be produced in one country, packaged in another and sold in yet another, often thousands of miles away. The difficulties in fully tracking the history of imported foods has led to some manufacturers adopting unscrupulous tactics to increase their profit margins. For example, using cheap substitutes in place of more expensive products.

The challenges that regulators face is thus substantial and sophisticated technologies are needed to help protect the livelihoods of honest food suppliers. Fortunately, the concerted efforts of scientists and regulators mean that new technologies are continually being developed and improved to provide rapid means of analysis that provide the required sensitivity to detect deceitful practices.

Pittcon 2017 highlighted advances in NMR spectroscopy techniques to verify the authenticity of virgin olive oil and the origins of wine and honey. It also presented novel laser diffraction techniques to confirm the quality of coffee and chocolate and the novel application of ion chromatography to confirm the composition of dairy products. Furthermore, advances in genetic testing have facilitated a stamp-down on the mislabelling of fish.

Food authentication in complex supply chains

Food supply chains today can be incredibly complex, with different raw ingredients being obtained from, and partially processed by a range of suppliers. There are therefore many stages at which there is the potential for contamination.

To ensure consumer safety, sample testing is a key part of any food preparation protocol to ensure that the final marketed product is of suitable quality and poses no threat to the health of customers. Ideally, there would be testing at every stage along the supply chain, and this is often the case among smaller businesses. However, larger manufactures may import their ingredients from a range of different suppliers and producers around the world, including countries with differing food safety legislation. In such cases, sampling at every point in the supply chain is not feasible and may not even be possible. There is therefore the need for an element of trust that the suppliers are conducting adequate quality checks. Reduced sample testing is acceptable as long as the company has shown due diligence in ensuring the safety of their end product, which may be in the form of frequent random testing to monitor suppliers.

In addition to deciding at which points sample testing should be implemented, there is a range of potential analyses available from which manufacturers need to select the most appropriate, for example, shelf-life, microbiological testing, allergen analysis, nutritional evaluation. To help ensure that best food safety practices are adopted, food safety regulations have been introduced to protect the consumer.

A variety of technologies are now available to food processing and manufacturing businesses to help them meet food safety requirements. One such advance to facilitate rapid, easy-to-use, on-site analytical evaluations is the development of the miniaturized mass spectrometer. A miniaturized mass spectrometer used in combination with three ambient ionization methods differentiated different milk types and fish species with 100% accuracy; similar success was achieved with real-time food authentication.

Manufacturers of compact mini spectrometers, including Edinburgh instruments and Hamamatsu, will be in attendance at Pittcon 2018. Edinburgh Instruments produce the StellarNet BLUE-Wave range of miniature spectrometers for measurements in 200-1150nm wavelength ranges. Hamamatsu provides more than 20 types of mini-spectrometers that cover the spectral range from UV to near infrared.

The miniaturisation of mass spectrometry instrumentation also opens up the potential for immediate analysis of clinical samples, for examples in a clinician’s consultation room while the patient is present. Further potential biomedical uses are discussed in Miniature Mass Spectrometry Instruments for Biomedical Applications.

Governing bodies and regulations to ensure food safety

The UK Food Standards Agency recently published plans to amend food regulation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The changes are centred on an enhanced system of registration for all food businesses, which will be used by the department to apply proportionate, risk-based controls. They also include improved inspections process and greater support to help businesses meet the stringent and robust standards needed to ensure food safety. In addition, the Government Chemist Programme was introduced in 2017, which comprises quarterly updates on food safety legislation to ensure consistent and accurate interpretation of chemical measurement data, and labelling of products. Current legislation requires that the methods used for sampling and for laboratory analyses should meet scientific standards, satisfy the specific analytical, testing and diagnostic need of the laboratory concerned, and offer sound and reliable analytical, test and diagnostic results.

Similarly, in the US, the FDA is responsible for enforcing legislation to ensure food safety. Following the introduction of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) , by President Obama in 2011, federal law focuses on preventing contamination. The FDA uses sound analytical practices and methodologies, details of which are publically available, to routinely analyze commercially available food and food supplements to ensure that they are in compliance with applicable regulations. This includes determination of the elements present and the resultant data are used to evaluate the extent and significance of these analytes in the food supply. The FDA produces Small Entity Compliance Guides (SECGs) to help small businesses meet federal standards and ensure compliance with FSMA requirements.

The FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) undergoes ongoing research to identify the best technologies and methodologies for the analysis of foodstuffs to ensure they pose no harm to consumers and are accurately labelled. It also undertakes research to better understand factors that impact food safety and nutrition.


Pittcon Tracks

Bioanalytical & Life Science
Biological molecules and xenobiotics (drugs, toxins) and their metabolites; study of biological systems; biosensors; forensic science and toxicology
Cannabis & Psychedelic
Identification, quantitative measurement, extraction, and quality assurance of cannabis-based and psychedelic products
Environment & Energy
Environmental detection and monitoring; energy production and storage; sustainability, climate, and green chemistry; food science/safety and agriculture
Instrumentation & Nanoscience
Instrumentation, detection, and sensors; laboratory information systems, data analysis, and artificial intelligence; characterization and processing of nanomaterials; art and archeology
Pharmaceutical & Biologic
Evaluating chemical composition and properties/activities of medicinal drugs and biologics; high-throughput screening and process control; drug discovery and design; personal care and consumer products
Professional Development
Leadership and power/soft skills; career navigation, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), communication, and entrepreneurship; education and teaching and more

Chapter 2- Adulteration and Authentication

Intentional adulteration of foodstuffs

The majority of the population are dependent on the food industry for at least some of their nutritional needs. Consequently, should a manufacturer market contaminated products, the effects would be wide-reaching and have potentially devastating consequences.

The food industry has always striven to ensure that its products have not become contaminated during preparation. However, with the increase in global trade ensuring food quality poses an even greater challenge. It is now often very difficult to trace the true origins of purchased ingredients and some unscrupulous manufacturers are taking advantage of this for financial gain. This is achieved by bulking out, or even replacing entirely, the product described on the label with similar cheaper alternatives. Where this occurs in a source material supplied to many different food industries, the deception is often perpetuated unwittingly. Furthermore, with rising levels of terrorism across the world, there is a real risk of products destined for mass marketing being intentionally contaminated with toxic substances or pathogens to cause widespread damage.

New legislations have thus been imposed on the food industry to minimise the risk of contaminated or adulterated foodstuffs reaching the consumer. Food manufacturers are now responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of the goods they sell. Consequently they need access to effective and cost-effective means for routine testing of their products.

Impact of the horsemeat scandal on food legislation

In 2013, it was discovered, through routine proactive monitoring activities, that some beef products contained horse DNA. Consumers across Europe who thought they had bought beef products may therefore have unknowingly been consuming horse meat. Beef mixed with cheaper horse meat was sold as pure beef to several manufacturers of processed meat products, who proceeded to sell it in the form of frozen beef burgers, minced beef and ready meals. The detection of the fraudulent adulteration of beef with horsemeat resulted in widespread recalls of such processed beef products.

The scandal highlighted the complexity of food supply chains and the difficulty manufacturers faced in verifying the origins of foods obtained from their suppliers. Consequently, a range of investigations were instigated in the European Union across both retail and food service markets. An independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks commissioned by the UK government recommended eight pillars of food integrity: consumers first, zero tolerance, intelligence gathering, laboratory services, audit, government support, leadership and crisis management.

Four years after the recommendations were published, industry attitudes have changed substantially. Food testing and surveillance systems are now integrated into normal practice within the food industry. In addition, the UK government has establishment of the National Food Crime Unit to help protect consumers against similar incidents occurring in the future.

Detection of honey adulteration

Honey has become a prime target for food fraud and the adoption of deceitful practices to boost profit margins. The types of adulteration being practiced include mixing honey with cheap sugar syrups to artificially increase the volume of honey that can be marketed, and intentionally mis-labelling the geographic origin of the honey. Honey may be incorrectly labelled as being harvested from countries or areas with particular floral varieties for which consumers are willing to pay a premium. The criminals implementing such dishonest marketing filter pollen out of the honey to try and prevent detection of its true origins.

The sugar syrups most commonly used to adulterate honey are corn syrup, industrial glucose and fructose. A range of analytical methodologies, both existing and novel, have been developed to verify the authenticity of honey and bring an end to such unscrupulous practices. Various chromatography techniques can be used, but these often involve complex and time-consuming methodologies. Consequently, spectroscopy techniques, such as nuclear magnetic resonance, are increasingly being used to screen for honey adulteration.

Most recently, isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) has been shown to be a particularly powerful tool in the analysis of honey. In his presentation at Pittcon 2018 entitled ‘The Use of Stable Carbon Isotope Ratio Measurement to Detect the Adulteration of Honey with Alternative Sweeteners’, Richard Anderson from Siratech Inc will explain how it can be used to detect the presence of corn syrups in honey.

IRMS analysis measures the ratio of a rare isotope to a common isotope. Honey is derived from C3 plants whereas corn syrups are derived from C4 plants. Unfortunately, the natural variability of honey from different regions and floral sources makes it difficult to conclusively determine whether C4 sugars have been added. However, authentic honey contains enzymes produced by the bees to catalyse the inversion of sucrose to fructose and glucose. These proteins provide an internal standard, representing the value close to that of the unadulterated honey.

An European Union report on detecting honey adulteration recommends liquid chromatography-IRMS for adoption as the standard methodology for the analysis of honey. They also propose the establishment of a centralised repository of authentic honey samples to develop purity criteria for EU honeys. In the honey authenticity testing conducted as part of the EU Coordinated Control Plan, 14% of the 893 honeys analysed were suspected of containing sugar syrups from non-honey origins. The analytical methodologies employed included IRMS using a Ultimate 3000 HPLC system linked to a ThermoFisher Scientific LC-ISOLINK.

Representatives from ThermoFisher will be available at Pittcon 2018 to discuss their Ultimate 3000 HPLC series, IRMS high resolution spectrometers and IRMS data processing software.

Elementar will also be attending Pittcon 2018, providing the opportunity to discover more about their CHROM LC IRMS systems.

Wine Authentication

Spectroscopic technologies are also used to verify the grape variety content of a wine and to validate its vintage and country of origin.

At Pittcon 2017, Bruker presented the addition of wine-profiling module to its NMR FoodScreener which is able to assign origin for the major wine-producing countries and can also assign region for several parts of France, Italy and Spain. It is also able to detect 22 different grape varieties and a more recent feature is the addition of vintage validation.

Rapid ultraviolet/visible/near infrared spectroscopy methodologies have also been developed to facilitate the authentication of wine. Spectral fingerprints obtained from genuine wines are used to quickly check that the protected designation of origin stated on the label accurately describes the contents. Using this technique and linear discriminate analysis correctly classified Galicia wines with 100% accuracy in a recent case study.


Chapter 3 – Analytical Techniques for Food Safety

The increasing globalization of food trade has raised new issues for ensuring food safety. Food manufacturers now commonly use ingredients and partly processed products sourced from suppliers all around the world. It is therefore becoming more difficult to be sure of the origins and purity of many food products. Recent scandals, such as the melamine in milk and horsemeat in beef incidents, show how easily food contamination and fraud can go undetected and be perpetuated across wide geographical areas.
Although the technologies historically used to confirm food safety effectively identified the presence of selected known potential contaminants, they did not highlight the presence of unexpected compounds. Consequently, the addition of melamine to milk was not highlighted in tests. It thus became apparent that in order to have confidence in the safety and authenticity of manufactured food products non-targeted screening methods were also needed.

Pittcon 2018 will feature presentations and exhibits from industry leaders, who are working to create novel food safety technologies to provide enhanced protection for food producers and consumers. These include the presentation entitled “Uncovering Economic Adulteration of Foods: A Forensic Approach”, in which Catherine Dasenbrock of FDA will discuss the challenges of determining the presence of a hidden adulterants in foodstuffs and detail the multi-faceted analytical approach used in their laboratory to ensure food safety.

FDA laboratories perform a wide range of sample analyses and they describe sound analytical practices in the Elemental Analysis Manual for Food and Related Products (EAM), which provides a useful reference document when selecting an appropriate analytical methodology.

NMR in food analysis

The inclusion of non-targeted screening into routine quality assurance testing called for cost-effective, broad-scope, easy-to-use analytical technologies. Advances in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has proved particularly valuable in this respect. NMR can combine detection, identification, and quantification of both key known ingredients and unanticipated contaminants and adulterants.

NMR provides non-destructive screening that can identify even trace quantities of adulterants or contaminants. Furthermore, it allows combination of targeted and non-targeted analyses enabling confirmation of the presence of expected ingredients and the absence of undesirable components in a single process. NMR screening of food is now fully automated, operated by the push of a button, and standardized and validated procedures ensure consistency and compliance between different sites.

NMR spectroscopy has been used effectively to analyze olive oil, beer, wine, dairy products and honey.

At Pittcon 2018, Diedrich Harms of Intertek Food Services will be giving a presentation highlighting the value of both non-targeted and targeted analysis authenticity testing—”State-of-the-art Techniques For The Authenticity Testing of Honey, Agave Syrup and Beeswax”.

NMR authentication of honey

Honey has become a prime target for economically motivated adulteration, being in high demand, and short supply. In addition, honeys from certain countries or particular floral varieties are sold at a premium. Unscrupulous practices include mixing honey with cheap sugar syrups and fraudulently claiming a more desirable origin and attempting to disguise the true geographic origin of the honey by filtering out pollen. Historically, such devious food fraud has been difficult to detect, but NMR now provides a non-targeted and sensitive solution. This has been demonstrated by Bruker’s FoodScreener® platform, which analyzes food and drink authenticity using 1H-NMR.

The Honey Profiling Consortium has used the FoodScreener platform to comprehensively profile thousands of different honey varieties and geographic origins. The consortium has also profiled honeys with known levels of adulterant by mixing honeys with various sugar syrups. Data from analyses of honey using the FoodScreener are analysed on Bruker’s server and a report sent that flags any violations against the product’s labelling, such as honey variety, region and country of origin, and glucose and fructose concentrations.

NMR Analysis for Process and Production

NMR is also a valuable tool for determining the precise amounts of a specific component in the final product. This is needed to provide nutritional values to the consumer, such as the fat content of milk and processed foods, and to ensure that the alcohol content of beers and wines is labelled correctly.

Analysis by NMR requires minimal sample preparation with no hazardous solvents or chemicals and does not damage the sample in anyway so allows for repeat measurements to be made or for re-analysis using other techniques. Furthermore, NMR analysis provides data on the whole sample and not just the surface, even if the sample is opaque or comprises mixed consistencies. It is therefore ideally suited for determination of the composition of foodstuffs.

The MQC+® benchtop NMR analyser provides fast, easy measurement of oil, water, fluorine and solid fat in a wide range of foodstuffs. It can determine fat content accurately with almost no effect from sample matrix, granularity or additives such as spices, flavourings, colorants and salt. Oxford Instruments will be present at Pittcon 2018 to discuss the application of the MQC+ benchtop NMR analyser in quality assurance and quality control.

Similarly, the Spinsolve® benchtop NMR spectrometer provides an easy and cost-effective means of analysing commercial liquid food samples. It can be used to quantify the different lipids in dairy products and cooking oils and the alcohol content of beverages, irrespective of whether the sample is cloudy, coloured or bubbly. The samples can be taken straight from their containers and scanned without any further purification, dilution or other treatment. There will be opportunity to explore the Spinsolve range at Pittcon 2018 where representatives from Magritek Ltd will be available to describe their capabilities.

Chromatography techniques for Food Safety

In an attempt to ensure the safety and nutritional quality of our food in an era of increasingly complicated food production chains, a variety of regulations have been introduced that stipulate acceptable levels for individual chemical additives, residues and contaminants in food products. Food manufacturers are responsible for verifying that their products meet the legal requirements. In addition, the packaging of many foods is now required to display the nutritional value, such as the proportions of unsaturated and saturated fat.

Chromatography methodologies can be used at various stages during the production of foodstuffs to either confirm the quality of a product or to detect the presence of adulterants. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), in particular has proven to be an optimal technology for detecting and/or quantifying the vast majority of food analytes. Chromatographic analysis, with boundless options for analytical separation, continues to be developed and adapted to meet a range of detection and quantification needs within the food industry and Pittcon 2018 will be presenting the latest innovations.

An important measure of quality used throughout food processing is vitamin C content. This nutrient is particularly susceptible to the negative effects of food processing. Since it is often added to food to increase their nutritional value, it is commonly used as an indicator for depletion of other important nutrients. To facilitate such analysis in a commercial environment, Bio-Rad, who will be on-site at Pittcon 2018, have developed a fast acid analysis column with electrochemical detection. The Aminex® column provides precise evaluation of vitamin C contents in food and beverages within 3 minutes. It can quantify vitamin C in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh drinks and juices, and powdered drinks. Similarly, the Aminex® column effectively quantifies pyruvic acid, an indicator of spoilage, in milk products.

Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry for Food Safety

Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) is a rapidly developing technology being adapted for a wide range of applications in food safety and quality assessments. This technique combines the physical separation capabilities of liquid chromatography with the mass analysis capabilities of mass spectrometry to provide very high sensitivity, high selectivity and mass accuracy.

It therefore offers a powerful alternative to tandem MS for analysing complex foodstuffs, which can pose sensitivity and selectivity issues as well as the potential for interference from other components within the product being analysed. LC-MS allows rapid screening for a wide range of food contaminants, such as pesticides, mycotoxins, veterinary drugs and plastics, as well as intentional adulteration in food fraud, such as the presence of cheaper meats in beef products.

The use of LC-MS to detect the presence of Bisphenol A (BPA) in commercially packaged ready-to-consume beverages will be described at Pittcon 2018 by Siheng Li in a presentation entitled “Analysis of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Various Food Matrices by LC-MS/MS”.

William Mitch of Stanford University will also be presenting at Pittcon 2018, detailing the use of LC-MS in the detection of residues of chlorine disinfection in a session entitled ” Chlorotyrosines as Byproducts of Disinfection During Washing of Lettuce and Spinach”.

The Orbitrap mass analyzers, which provide high-resolution, accurate-mass analysis, can be connected to liquid chromatography equipment to enhance the separation of unknown compounds and enable high-throughput workflows. Such systems can be designed with various ion traps and quadrupole mass filters, making them suitable for a myriad of food analysis applications. Thermo Scientific will be in attendance at Pittcon 2018 to provide further insight into the capabilities of their wide portfolio of Orbitrap-based LC-MS systems and the ISQ™ QD Single Quadrupole GC-MS System
Phenomenex will also be present at Pittcon 2018 to advise on selecting the best technology for a particular food testing application from their comprehensive product portfolio of chromatography and chromatography-MS systems.


There are many spectroscopic methodologies available to food and drinks manufacturers who need to perform a range of analyses to comply with current regulations.

Ultraviolet to visible (UV-VIS) spectroscopy is one of the most commonly used analytical techniques used in the testing of food as it can provide rapid real-time data. The electromagnetic spectrum includes an array of radiation types differing in wavelength and frequency. Spectroscopy therefore has broad-reaching applications for the identification and quantification of the components of food or potential contaminants. It can be applied to a wide range of sample types, from gases to immiscible liquid mixtures to solid powders and chunks. Spectroscopy can also be used in combination with other analytical methodologies to authenticate food origins.

UV-VIS spectroscopy is most commonly used in the analysis of oils to determine the proportion of saturated and polyunsaturated fats and to confirm that quality oils, such as virgin olive oil, have not been diluted with cheaper alternatives.

There have been numerous advances in spectroscopic techniques for use in food testing, and leaders in the field will be at Pittcon 2018 to communicate the latest areas of research and innovation. A significant development is the use of Raman spectroscopy to rapidly detect pathogens in food samples. It is now possible to obtain high-specificity spectra of single cells within seconds without damaging the sample.

Leading manufacturers of analytical instrumentation tailored to meet the screening and quality testing needs of the food industry will be available at Pittcon 2018 to discuss their products ranges.

Ocean Optics produce spectrometers and accessories for conducting a wide range of spectroscopic analyses in food and beverage processing, authentication and packaging. Ocean Optics will be at Pittcon 2018 to discuss their modular spectroscopy systems, which encompass absorbance, reflectance, fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy, for the effective authentication and safety testing of foods.

Pittcon 2018 will also provide the opportunity to explore the range of chromatography and spectroscopy analytical instrumentation available from Shimadzu, who will have representatives in attendance. The Shimadzu LCMS-8030 LC-MS-MS system used in combination with the high-speed Nexera HPLC makes it possible to rapidly identify aflatoxins in food.


Chapter 4- Nanotechnology in Food Safety

Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology involving individual atoms and molecules. The types of material produced on the nanoscale can be one-dimensional very thin coatings, two-dimensional wires or tubes, or three-dimensional nanoparticles.

Although it is challenging, since the materials used cannot be seen with the naked eye, nanotechnology is becoming big business. The micro scale of nanomaterials gives them enhanced properties such as higher strength, lighter weight, increased control of the light spectrum, and greater chemical reactivity compared with their larger-scale counterparts. They have already been successfully employed in a range of novel applications, including medicine where they have improved the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The small size and versatility of nanomaterials also offers great potential in the food industry. With the increasing responsibility of food manufacturers to ensure the quality and safety of their products, the demand for quick, accurate and cost-effective screening and analytical tools is greater than ever. Custom hybrid bio-inorganic nanomaterials offer potential new tools to address the ever-changing challenges facing food safety.

Microsystems allow the sensitive and cost-effective detection of many biological and chemical cues. As such they could greatly enhance food safety by facilitating more convenient routine food testing. Indeed, the FoodMicro-Systems Project has been established to develop strategies that make analytical microsystems more widely available to the food sector. Representatives of Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, who develop state-of-the-art analyses for the detection of challenging contaminants in food, will be available at Pittcon 2018 to discuss analytical microtechnologies designed to tackle food safety concerns.

The latest advances in nanotechnology relating to food safety will be presented at Pittcon 2018 in the session “IAEAC – Nanobiosensors for Food Safety”.

Nanomaterials in food

Nanotechnology is one of eight sustainable innovations identified as a key area of research and development for meeting the world’s food needs. Nanomaterials occur naturally; many proteins, polysaccharides and lipids are within the nano range and casein micelle nanoparticle have been identified in raw milk. However, there is increasing interest in the addition of engineered nanomaterials to foodstuffs to improve their properties. This may be to incorporate supplements, such as the antioxidant lycopene, increase shelf-life, lower lipid content, or enhance flavour and colour.

Nanotechnology also provides the potential to positively impact food safety in numerous ways. Incorporation of nanomaterials tags to food when harvested will allow the entire journey of a foodstuff to be tracked from farm to fork. Nanotechnology is also providing novel means of food analysis to ensure that the final product is free from contaminants and adulterants and poses no risk to consumer health.

It is anticipated that the incorporation of nanomaterials, with their enhanced properties, into the food industry will reduce the need for natural resources and enable food to be produced, processed and transported more efficiently.

Nanotechnology in food analysis

Various new nanomaterials have been developed in order to facilitate food analysis and purification. Magnetic nanoparticles have proved particularly valuable as they obviate the need for centrifugation and filtration steps to extract minority food components. Their magnetic properties means that once they bind to the target component, they can be separated from the main food matrix using a magnet. A range of magnetic nanoparticles have been designed with a variety of functionalities tailored to the analysis of food for contaminants, such as pesticides, and adulterants.

At Pittcon 2018, in a presentation entitled ” Designing First Generation Nanobots for Food Safety via Phage Engineering” Sam Nugen of Cornell University will describe how genetically engineered viruses conjugated to magnetic nanoparticles can be used to provide early detection of pathogens in food stuffs.

Nanotechnology in the detection of food-borne pathogens

Microorganisms have long been identified as the primary cause of food spoilage and food-borne illness. Their detection is thus fundamental to the food industry. However, despite the importance of not marketing infected food, the detection of pathogenic organisms and their toxins in foodstuffs remains a challenge. Researchers strive to improve such detection in order to ensure the safety and quality of our food supplies.

It appears that nanotechnology may represent the long-awaited breakthrough in pathogen and toxin detection in foods. Conjugation of antibodies to a nanostructure incorporating a fluorescent dye allowed the detection of one colony-forming unit of e-coli per gram of ground beef in less than 20 minutes. Similar techniques have effectively detected listeria in milk samples.

Microfluidic devices designed for conducting nanotechnology screening integrate sample handling, reagent mixing, separation and detection processes. In these systems of sub-millimeter scale, surface tension and fluidic resistance dominate meaning that laminar flow can be used to efficiently separate fluids and cells. Typically, microfluidic systems achieve a higher degree of integration than is usually possible, and this reduces cost and increases reaction efficiency. Idex Health and Science will be present at Pittcon 2018 to discuss their SlipStream™ microfluidic devices.

Microfluidic biosensor modules for the detection of pathogens in food analysis have also been incorporated onto a plastic platform, which essentially condenses all the functions of an analytical laboratory in a micro format. A single chip can be enabled to detect multiple pathogens and toxins. It has been reported that 30 different pathogens were detected in less than an hour using such a system. The so-called Lab-on-a-Chip-system can thus be employed directly on the food production line (obviating the need for samples to be transported to a central laboratory) to rapidly screen for harmful bacteria in food at considerably reduced cost.

This nanotechnology, along with others, will be described in more detail at Pittcon 2018 by Antje Baeumner of University of Regensburg in a presentation entitled “Novel Nanomaterials for Microanalytical Systems”.

Evaluation of nanotechnology used in food

The speed with which nanotechnology directed at the food industry is developing has raised concerns about regulation of the use of nanoparticles in foodstuffs. The possibility of adding manufactured nanoparticles to food, either as variants of existing ingredients or as completely novel chemical structures, is becoming reality.

Currently there is no legislation relating to the use of nanomaterials in foodstuffs and a lack of regulation regarding the inclusion of added nanoparticles to the labelling of foodstuffs. One of the obstacles to introducing such legislation is that a clear definition of nanotechnology has yet to be agreed and the distinction between natural and engineered nanomaterials remains to be clarified.

There is the potential for toxicity and bioaccumulation of nanoparticles ingested in food. With the steady increase in the uptake of nanotechnology by the food industry, these are factors that must be explored. There is a need for risk assessment of engineered nanomaterials to gain consumer confidence and safeguard human and environmental health.

The European Food Safety Authority and the FDA have stated that nanomaterials proposed for inclusion in food stuffs will be assessed individually on a case-by-case basis.

The Food Standards Agency in the UK, has commissioned a range of research projects investigating the impact of adding nanomaterials to food. These include investigating what happens to nanomaterials once they enter the human body and characterizing, detecting and measuring nanoparticles in food.

Nanotechnology in food packaging

Nanotechnology can also help improve the storage and transport of food. Inclusion of nanoparticles in the packaging of food could help reduce food spoilage whilst maintaining food safety. For example, they could strengthen the barrier with the environment and control the release of gases. Furthermore, they could incorporate antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. It is also feasible that nanomaterials included in food packaging could monitor the gas levels, microbe count and temperature and change colour if any level that could affect the quality of the food is reached. The consumer would then instantly know how fresh the food was and whether it was safe to be eaten. Finally, improving the composition of food packaging could also increase its biodegradability.

It appears that nanotechnology has the potential to benefit the food industry at every stage; production, processing, packaging, transport, storage and disposal.



The increasing globalization of the food industry and the great lengths to which fraudsters will go in an attempt to cover their deception mean that increasingly sophisticated analytical methodologies and equipment are needed to ensure the safety and quality of food. Pittcon 2018 will feature exhibitions from many of the companies currently providing analytical instruments designed for use in food production, and presentations from experts in the field describing the latest techniques developed to support food manufactures in their ongoing battle against contamination and adulteration of their products.

It is evident that scientists have responded to the growing challenges to food safety with a continuous cycle of innovation to meet requirements. Once again Pittcon will be communicating more novel techniques and technologies developed to enhance the detection of food contamination or adulteration or to provide evidence of mis-selling.

Recent food scandals exposed failings in traditional food testing protocols. Although they effectively identified the presence of known contaminants, the targeted analyses did not highlight the presence of unexpected adulterants. Consequently, there is now a greater emphasis on broad-scoped, non-targeted food screening methods. At Pitton 2018, Catherine Dasenbrock of FDA will be detailing the multi-faceted analytical approach needed to ensure food safety.

Nuclear magnetic resonance allows for non-destructive screening and quantification of both known ingredients and unanticipated contaminants and adulterants. Fully automated NMR systems along with standardized procedures permit the routine use of such sophisticated analyses in the food industry. At Pittcon 2018 we will hear how NMR has been effectively applied to determine the authenticity of honey, agave syrup and beeswax.

The combination of spectroscopy and chromatography also provides a powerful tool for rapid screening for a wide range of food contaminants as well as intentional adulteration. Presentations at Pittcon 2018 will illustrate the efficacy of liquid chromatography mass spectrometry in detecting contamination of beverages with bisphenol A from their containers and the presence of disinfectant residues in lettuce and spinach.

Spoilage of foodstuffs by pathogens is costly to the food industry, yet detection of such contamination has always been challenging. Nanotechnology has provided a long-awaited breakthrough in detecting pathogens in foodstuffs, allowing the rapid and sensitive detection of bacteria, including e-coli and listeria. At Pitton 2018, Sam Nugen of Cornell University will describe how genetically engineered viruses conjugated to magnetic nanoparticles can be used to provide early detection of pathogens in foodstuffs. In addition, nanotechnology has a vast array of further potential application throughout the various stages of food processing. For example, the inclusion of nanomaterial tags in food and food labels opens up the possibility of tracking food components from their various origins to the final product and for enhancing and monitoring the freshness of food during transport and storage.

The highlights from the Pittcon 2018 food safety symposium reported here clearly indicate that researchers continue to develop new methodologies and novel uses of existing technologies to meet the growing challenges in food safety. This together with the continuing sophistication of instrumentation provide an impressive armament in the battle to ensure food quality and stamp out food fraud. Pittcon 2018 promises to provide an informative food safety symposium that will communicate the very latest developments to enhance food screening and monitoring procedures and raise consumer confidence in food safety and quality.