Food testing laboratories analyse sensory, chemical, microbiological and physical properties of foods and beverages. Since the food industry is large and produces all kinds of foods from solids to beverages, raw foods to read-to-eat products, infant foods and adult foods, traditional foods and nutraceutical foods the scope of laboratory testing is becoming expansive. This is the reason that each food testing laboratory has a defined scope for testing foods.
Food testing is required because it guarantees the quality and traceability of foods and keeps them safe for consumers. Food testing is done for a number of varied reasons like
- suitability for purpose used
- checking shelf-life
- authenticity of raw materials and finished products
- assuring compliance
They analyse the properties of foods as well as the chemical, microbiological and physical contaminants, determine that the food contains what the label claims, evaluate the taste, flavour and appearance of foods to consumer liking.
Food testing laboratories also need to keep up with the increasing number of contaminants so that they can identify and determine the quantity of the residue. A food testing laboratory might be accurate in testing known contaminants but they must be equally accurate in detecting
- emerging contaminants
- industrial pollutants
- pharmaceutical residues and antibiotics
- bio toxins
This is why food testing laboratories use sophisticated instrumentation for accurate analysis so the samples can show correct results for detection of residue limits across the broad spectrum of foods which may be raw or processed.
Food testing method
While it is important to use the correct food testing methodology it is equally important to have a continuous and regular testing schedule for food safety. The analytical techniques used in food testing are significant as they focus on the type of food, compound or process that need analysis. Testing methods have become quite specific because of the complex nature of the foods and the accuracy required in determining the contaminant and residues. In fact some food testing laboratories also develop the testing methods themselves.
Sample preparation has also in the same way been developed to match the new analytical techniques used in food testing. In fact sample preparation procedure has become one of the key areas in food testing. Accurate sample preparation also ensures that there is no production of hazardous laboratory waste and that the use of solvents is minimised and cost reduced without compromising on the effectiveness of the food analysis.
Specialist food testing
With so many areas of food testing, it is important that food testing laboratories are accredited for their areas of specialisation. Testing laboratories undertake analysis in their area of expertise so as to provide an effective analysis. One food lab might test milk and meats for pesticides residue and another might just test vegetables and fruits. Food testing has a number of technical requirements that determine the accuracy and reliability of the analysis so food testing laboratories pay special attention to
- Staff competence
- Methodology and testing procedures
- Test and calibration equipment
- Quality control program