Dr. Lin Jianhua is the vice-president of TÜV SÜD’s Chemical Centre in Singapore, a full service quality control laboratory whose operation has been qualified by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Having worked with TÜV SÜD since 2009, Dr. Lin has more than 30 years of in-depth experience in almost every aspect of food and chemical testing and safety. She holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Nanjing (China), as well as an MBA from the University of Louisville’s College of Business.
Dr. Lin recently spoke with Food & Health E-ssentials about her experiences in food, pharmaceutical and chemical testing, some of the more interesting challenges she has faced during her career, and how TÜV SÜD’s Chemical Centre in Singapore supports the efforts of manufacturers worldwide to provide their customers with safe products.
Food & Health E-ssentials: Tell us a little about your professional background and your research areas of interest.
Dr. Lin Jianhua : I started my career in chemical research in 1985 when I graduated from the Chemistry Department of Jilin University in China. After pursuing my Masters and Ph.D. degrees at Nanjing University and Hong Kong University, I worked at the National University of Singapore as a Postdoctoral Researcher in 1991, and at both the University of Würzburg and Munich Technical University as a Research Fellow of the Alexandra von Humboldt Foundation during 1992 to 1994. Subsequently, I joined the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR), which later became PSB, and then TÜV SÜD PSB. During my more than 30 years of experience, my interest has been in applying my knowledge of chemistry to support different industries, such as food, pharmaceutical, medical devices and semiconductors.
F&HE: TÜV SÜD’s Chemical Centre in Singapore is a world-class research and testing facility. Can you briefly summarise the various types of work that is conducted there, and what makes the Chemical Centre unique?
LJH: Our Chemical Centre provides chemical, microbiological and biological related testing services to wide range of industries. Specific services we offer include chemical analysis and microbiological evaluation of food, water and related products, pharmaceutical QC testing, biocompatibility testing for medical devices, surface analysis for microelectronics and semiconductors, evaluation of paints and coating products, corrosion testing and weathering evaluations, and environmental monitoring and evaluations.
Our laboratory has been a WHO pre-qualified laboratory for pharmaceutical QC testing since 2008, and was the first laboratory in Singapore to obtain OECD registration in compliance with good laboratory practice (GLP) principles.
F&HE: The Chemical Centre has been involved in a number of interesting projects, including a major assessment of the environmental quality of Singapore. What can you tell us about that research?
LJH: Given Singapore's limited water resources, it is critical that water pollution and quality are carefully monitored. Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) regulates water pollution and quality for Singapore's sewerage system, as well as inland water bodies and coastal areas. Our Chemical Centre has been providing sampling and analytical services for inland and coastal waters to monitor the water quality for more than five years. The services we provided include seawater sampling by ship, inland water sampling by bicycle, and the physical, chemical, and microbiological evaluation of the water samples we collect.
F&HE: Another interesting undertaking in which you’ve been personally involved has been the WHO-sponsored project on long lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs). Why is that project significant?
LJH: Malaria is a difficult disease to control largely due to the highly adaptable nature of the vector and parasites involved. Malaria is transmitted among humans by female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. Female mosquitoes take blood meals to carry out egg production, and such blood meals are the link between the human and the mosquito hosts in the parasite life cycle.
Bed nets form a protective barrier for those who sleep under them, and bed nets treated with an insecticide are much more protective than untreated nets. The insecticides that are used for treating bed nets kill mosquitoes as well as other insects, and also serve to repel mosquitoes, reducing the number that enter the house. Insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) are a form of personal protection that has been shown to reduce malaria illness, severe disease and death due to malaria in endemic regions.
Our laboratory provides the analytical services necessary to evaluate performance of the ITNs, including mechanical strength, active insecticide ingredient content levels, washing retention index and shelf life studies.
F&HE: One of your areas of focus at the Chemical Centre has to do with quality control issues involving pharmaceuticals. What are some of the most important QC issues facing pharmaceutical manufacturers and international or national buyers today?
LJH: Quality of raw material, the inconsistency in manufacturing process and degradation of product due to storage condition are some of the key QC issued faced by pharmaceutical manufacturers today. International buyers also face the challenges of addressing quality variations in drugs and drug materials supplied from different countries.
F&HE: And, in addressing these challenges, can you identify some of the best practices you’ve observed in the area of pharmaceutical quality control?
LJH: Third party testing by an independent, competent laboratory (e.g., a WHO pre-qualified laboratory) is one of the best choices for global or national purchases to ensure that technical specification requirements are being met. Laboratories can also perform routine checks on incoming raw materials and products, and conduct stability studies.
F&HE: Another area of focus for the Chemical Centre is food testing, specifically issues related to food additives and contaminants. What are some of the principle sources of contaminants in food?
LJH: Food contact materials are one of the common contaminants source. For example, phthalates as plasticisers are commonly used for flexible plastic packaging material. Bisphenol A (BPA) is also commonly used in the production of bottles for drinking water. And for seafood and fish products, drug residue is still a big issue faced by the stakeholders.
F&HE: Today, food producers are also concerned about food fraud? How big is the problem of food fraud worldwide, and what steps is the food industry taking to address it?
LJH: Food fraud is gaining interest as an emerging risk given the increasingly global and complex nature of food supply chains. According to the World Customs Organization, food fraud costs $49 billion annually. Different organisations have taken various steps to combat food fraud. For example, the USP has developed a food fraud database as a repository for ingredient fraud reports. And the Commission of the European Union (EU) has recently activated a dedicated network “Food Fraud Contact Points” (FFCP).
F&HE: In looking ahead, what trends do you see in the food industry that are likely to have implications for food safety?
LJH: Due to complex challenges in today’s food supply chain, many of the world’s largest food retailers are now mandating supplier certification to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) schemes. At the same time, national regulatory authorities may implement more specific and stringent requirement on food safety issue. We can also foresee that inspection of food supply chain (such as for organic food) and testing of food products will increase. Public concerns from consumers will be a major force behind this increased oversight.
F&HE: Finally, please share with us your thoughts on how the TÜV SÜD’s Chemical Centre helps its clients address these and other issues?
LJH: As an independent, third-party laboratory, TÜV SÜD’s Chemical Centre offers a full range of services to assist customers in ensuring the safety of their products. We always keep up with industry trends and continue to build our capabilities to be a value adding partner to industrial players. Finally, we work closely with both manufacturers and regulators to monitor and control the quality of food on the market.