Increasingly, biomolecular testing is an essential element in the production of food and food products. Biomolecular testing can help identify the presence of microorganisms, food allergens and other substances that are potential harmful to sensitive populations. Biomolecular testing is also can also be used to validate product claims regarding the source or species of animal or fish-based foods, thereby supporting efforts to combat food fraud worldwide.
Located near Florence, Italy, TÜV SÜD’s pH Laboratory conducts many types of biomolecular analysis of food and food products. In this article, we offer a brief overview of the more common areas where biomolecular testing is used in the food industry as well as the specific testing techniques that can be employed.
Food and food products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been on the market for decades. But many jurisdictions around the world now impose requirements regarding the labelling of foods containing GMOs, requiring food producers to test their products for the presence of GMOs. In addition, agricultural products containing GMOs can unintentionally mix with non-GMO foods and feeds, further emphasising the need for routine testing of food products throughout the entire supply chain.
As food production becomes more sophisticated and complex, the range and diversity of GMOs is constantly changing, making detection more and more challenging. We utilize unique screening methods that provide a more cost-effective approach to identifying authorised and unauthorised GMOs.
Traces of allergenic substances in food may cause problems for sensitive individuals who have been inadvertently exposed to the offending substance. As part of an overall effort to improve consumer safety, labelling of eight major food allergens became mandatory in the U.S. in 2006. These potential allergens include tree nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, milk, fish, gluten and shellfish.
In addition to these eight allergens, the European Union (EU) Labelling Directive (2000/13/EC) as amended has identified six more ingredients as food allergens. These additional ingredients include celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphites, lupin and mollusks.
To comply with these and other allergen labelling laws and to protect their own reputation and business, food producers must employ analytical methods to monitor the presence of allergens during food production and to minimise the risk of cross-contamination in production lines.
We use two of the most common methods for the detection of allergens, ELISA and PCR. PCR detection methods can be widely used with both raw and cooked food products, since food DNA typically remains intact even after being exposed to cooking temperatures. However, PCR methods cannot be used on all food products, specifically those that do not contain DNA such as refined oils and egg whites. In such instances, ELISA detection methods can be used.
Animal Species Identification
The adulteration or mislabelling of meat, fish and other animal-based food products is a common problem in the retail market, especially as it relates to the identification of specific animal species. Therefore, it is important for food producers and retailers to incorporate biomolecular testing to detect adulteration or fraudulent substitution of food products or ingredients.
DNA-based assays are widely used for the authentication of meat and meat products since DNA is identical in all cell types of an organism, stringently conserved within a given animal species and highly stable under cooking temperatures. Again, real-time PCR analytical methods generally provide precise, rapid and cost-effective detection in most situations.
Rapid analysis of foodborne pathogens
The rapid and precise monitoring and detection of foodborne pathogens are some of the most effective ways to control and prevent human foodborne infections. Traditional microbiological detection and identification methods for foodborne pathogens are well known to be time consuming and labourious as they increasingly are perceived as unable to meet the demands of the market. So-called “rapid methods” can include antibody- and DNA-based testing and assays, some of which can be automated to speed testing and reduce the need for human intervention.
TÜV SÜD’s pH Laboratory offers a full range of biomolecular and other testing services to help food producers achieve a constant and consistent level of safety of their food products. The Laboratory offer innovative instruments and highly qualified technicians that can conduct the necessary testing and analysis to assure compliance with the highest food safety requirements and standards anywhere in the world.