Food testing laboratories are facing several challenges in food testing because a large variety of toxins and residues in foods are increasing. The increase in toxins is because of industrial development, environmental pollution, newer agricultural practices and climate change. While some contaminants are known there are others that need to be identified in the foods for them to be analysed. Also there are a wide variety of foods like solids, liquids, meats, agricultural produce, raw and read-to eat foods. The compositions and matrices of all these foods require proper sampling preparation and testing strategies which can be challenging for food testing laboratories. Food Testing laboratories need to carry out accurate sampling and analysis to determine the levels of the contaminants and accurate determination will provide safe foods.
Health hazards of metal toxins
Metal toxins can enter all kinds of foods from the environment so the whole range of agricultural raw materials as well as milk, fish, cereals, vegetables, fruit and fruit juices need food testing. It is the responsibility of Food Business Operators (FBOs) to ensure that food products are in compliance with the permitted limits of metal toxins. Metal toxins in foods like mercury, lead, cadmium, tin and arsenic accumulate in the tissues and have a negative effect on human health. Mercury and lead can effect the intellectual development in young children and long term exposure to lead can damage kidneys, reproductive and nervous systems. Cadmium too is toxic and exposure to tin from cans that are improperly manufactured can cause gastrointestinal issues, while inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic. In order to protect human health all food products need to undergo stringent food testing so they do not cross the maximum levels as fixed by food regulators.
Responsibilities of Food Business Operators
Food testing may be challenging but it an important step in food processing as it helps FBOs develop quality and food safety.
- be aware of the health hazards of heavy metals in food and the source of such contamination so as to ensure foods are safe
- get their foods tested in recognised chemical food testing labs only as recognised food testing labs are aware of the permitted levels of these toxins and ensure raw materials and finished products are analysed according to recognised testing methods so food products are safe for consumption
- Identify the critical control points (CCPs) in their processes such as lead in the water supply. Water needs to be regularly tested in a food testing laboratory to ensure it is free of lead contamination. Lead in water can cause lead contamination is foods as it is used as an ingredient in foods
- develop a proper (Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) system so unforeseen metal contaminants do not enter food products
- make sure that they use the services of an accredited food testing laboratory that uses the latest rapid and automated testing methods which can detect toxins in food rapidly and ensure the safety and wholesomeness of foods