Every incident is different, but examples of product defects and relevant ERS services are:
Rapid identification of product-foreign particles in food
Food manufacturers are regularly confronted with complaints from consumers about foreign particles being found in their products. Identification of the particles is necessary to determine the origin and cause of the complaint, e.g. introduction by raw materials used, introduction in the production facility, or in the client’s premises.
The ERS has access to the following techniques for rapid identification of foreign particles.
Evaluation by experienced persons combined with Stereo Light Microscopy investigations
The shape, dimensions, color, homogeneity and other variables of the particles are determined, recorded and evaluated.
Scanning Electron Microscopy combined with X-Ray Microanalysis (SEM/XRMA)
SEM/XRMA is a technique for investigating solid materials, which establishes both the surface structure (morphology) and the (local) element composition. This technique is most suitable for particles relatively rich in inorganic elements.
Micro-Fourier Transformed Infrared Spectroscopy (µFTIR)
This technique is complementary to SEM/XRMA. By combining µ-FTIR with microscopic examinations it is possible to establish the chemical composition of minute particles (up to approx. 30 µm).
Typical investigations include:
- characterization of glass particles in various matrices, including the type of glass and possible origin
- characterization of metal particles in various matrices
- characterization of synthetic and/or organic material
Possible health risks (toxicological and/or mechanical damage) as result of consumption of a food product contaminated with a foreign particle can be evaluated.
Scientific based statements can be drafted in which the details of the case under consideration and possible consequences for health risks are described.
Odor and/or taste defects
Foods, packaging materials and raw materials may have odor and/or taste defects. Determination of the causes and consequences of such deviations is needed to prevent further escalation.
The ERS has immediate access to a panel of specialists in sensory analysis, which can subject the product material to informal sensory assessment immediately upon sample receipt.
In addition to sensory analysis, compounds responsible for odor and taste defects can be traced and identified by means of gas chromatography in combination with a special sniff technique (GC-Sniff) or in combination with mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Moreover, the ERS has access to the Volatile Compounds in Foods database containing data on the presence of volatile compounds in products and base materials.
With input from toxicological experts, product-foreign compounds responsible for odor and taste defects can be evaluated with respect to the possible health risks.
Contaminants in products
Contamination of food products may occur via several routes, e.g. via deviating raw materials, omissions during production, or deviating storage facilities. Moreover, producers may be threatened by sabotage and criminal activities: companies receive warnings or ultimatums from individuals or groups intending to cause damage to consumers by deliberately contaminating food products.
The ERS has methods for screening food products for the possible presence of contaminants. The methods can be used to screen products in which the presence of contaminants is suspected. The aim of this screening is to rapidly demonstrate the presence or absence of a large number of pre-selected compounds.
The screening includes:
- Visual inspection of products to detect damage to the packaging that could be indicative of contamination of products
- Inspection of samples by means of microscopic techniques to detect foreign particles
- Sensory analysis to detect deviating odors that might provide clues to the source of the contamination
- Broad screening by means of rapid broad-spectrum techniques for the presence of antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, volatile compounds foreign to the product, non-volatile compounds foreign to the product, allergens, medicinal drugs and narcotics
- Screening for the presence of microbiological contaminants and mycotoxins
Comparing suspected and reference products may provide a rapid impression of possible contamination.
With input from toxicological experts, evaluations into the possible health risks due to the presence of contaminating compounds can be conducted.
During the dioxin crisis in 1999 (dioxins in feed and food), the acrylamide crisis in 2002 (acrylamide in fried foods) and the melamine crisis in 2008 (melamine in infant nutrition), the ERS developed analytical methods and established special teams to analyze huge numbers of food and raw material samples to ensure the safety of food and feed products.
During each stage of an unfolding food crisis, ERS maintains close contact with your crisis team to support you with accurate analytical data, toxicological risk evaluations, risk management and advice about legal or communication issues.
The analytical, microbiological, technological and legal expertise available within ERS provides an appropriate platform for carrying out consultancy work. For example, screening investigations of production facilities aimed at quality control, with respect to microbiological or chemical hazards can be conducted.
The ERS will be pleased to inform you further about its capabilities.