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Food safety has become increasingly important as we gain a deeper understanding of the implications of microbial food contamination. Around the world, companies involved in food production face growing pressures to reduce the risk of food contamination to protect human health. International governments and agencies are taking steps to make food products safer by banning an increasing list of harmful substances in food intended for human consumption.
Reliable and accurate methods to test for these kinds of contamination, whether it be microbial contamination or a banned substance, are becoming indispensable in the food industry. Much research is currently underway to develop platforms suitable for large-scale, instant, and robust tests for food contaminants.
There are several methodologies available to the food industry to perform these analyses. Techniques such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) are used for contaminant detection in the food industry. However, they, along with alternative methods, have their limitations. Many are not suitable for large-scale testing, are expensive, require sample preparation, are slow to produce results, or require a team of skilled experts to run them. This has led to a need to develop an analytical technique adapted to the needs of food safety analysts.
Swiss company Metrohm, a world-renowned manufacturer of high-precision instruments for chemical analysis, has announced its new SERS-based portable food analysis system.
Using Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering in Food Analysis
The solution is the first of its kind that offers users a handheld platform to detect and identify even small traces of contaminants in food products.
The new technology is known as the Metrohm Instant SERS Analyzer (Misa), and produces reliable and accurate results in just seconds and can be used in the field due to its portability. It is expected that the innovation will help to overcome the limitations of previously used methods, advancing the speed and accuracy at which contamination can be detected in food.
The key to Misa’s new SERS-based portable food analysis system combines nanotechnology with Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) to detect trace contaminant molecules even in highly complex samples. The cost and skill requirements to run Misa are low in comparison to other available techniques. Its speed and portability also make it suitable for running inexpensive tests in the field without the need for expensive, well-equipped laboratories.
Metrohm highlights the numerous benefits of using Misa as a food analysis tool. Firstly, the company has developed a mobile app for use in conjunction with the SERS-based portable food analysis system. This allows users to access intuitive, guided workflows and receive immediate readings of analytical results. The system is also built to analyze samples automatically and rapidly, providing a fast and simple platform without extensive training.
The process also eradicates the need for lengthy sample amplification processes. Finally, the dedicated mobile platform that accompanies the hardware is built to be intelligent, allowing for the remote sharing of analytical results, location, and hazard alerts.
Applications of the New SERS-Based Portable Food Analysis System
Overall, the new system will improve food safety, particularly in regions with high incidences of banned substance use and microbial contamination.
The system helps food safety analysts detect the use of prohibited dyes, which are sometimes incorporated into the ingredients of brightly colored candies. In particular, Taiwan is currently facing the issue of monitoring and preventing the use of illegal dyes in its food products.
The Misa detects pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables that can be harmful when consumed by humans. The technology is instrumental in fighting the counterfeit herbal medicine market by detecting the use of illicit pharmaceuticals packaged and marketed as traditional herbal medicines.
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Finally, the system will also help prevent dangerous substances from being added to falsely increase the protein content of diluted milk. In recent years, some markets such as China, have uncovered the addition of dangerous substances (e.g., melamine) to powdered infant milk to increase its apparent protein content. Metrohm’s new system is capable of detecting these additives and preventing contaminated products from entering the market.
With most countries worldwide continually adding substances to their list of products banned for use in food intended for human consumption, the new technology offered by Metrohm will likely have an almost endless list of applications in the food safety space. As more dyes, oils, flavor enhancers, dyes, and other substances are added to lists of banned substances, platforms such as Misa will become increasingly relevant and important in protecting human health.
References and Further Reading
Adley, C., 2014. Past, Present and Future of Sensors in Food Production. Foods, 3(3), pp.491-510. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5302250/
Bouzembrak, Y., Klüche, M., Gavai, A. and Marvin, H., 2019. Internet of Things in food safety: Literature review and a bibliometric analysis. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 94, pp.54-64. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224419303048
Mira and Misa handheld Raman and SERS analyzers. Metrohm. https://www.metrohm.com/en/products-overview/spectroscopy/mira%20handheld%20raman%20spectrometer/
Misa: A SERS-based portable food analysis system. Novus Light. https://www.novuslight.com/misa-a-sers-based-portable-food-analysis-system_N10984.html