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From: The eUpdate, 10.2.2012

Hitting the Road for Food Safety

Mobile demo lab tours the country with new analytical solutions

Fast, effective response to food contamination issues can make the difference between a minor event and a full-blown crisis. Testing methods can avert the spread of contamination as well as minimize the financial impact of panic in consumer markets.



Many analysts in the food industry are not familiar with mass spectrometry, or they have misconceptions about the difficulty and expense of using the technology.


It’s no wonder that analytical instrument and consumable providers are gearing up to provide fast solutions when a new contaminant shows up. Phenomenex (chromatography media, columns, and sample preparation products) and AB SCIEX (mass spectrometry) have developed some creative LC/MS/MS (liquid chromatography/mass spec) analysis solutions by combining their technology and expertise.

This teamwork approach enabled a rapid response to recent orange juice contamination concerns, producing the first verified LC/MS/MS method to test for the suspected contaminant—the chemical fungicide carbendazim—in shipments from Brazil. This fungicide is not approved by the EPA for use on oranges, and its presence in orange juice violates the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The low-level detection capabilities of QTRAP mass spectrometry technology, combined with advanced LC column chemistry, enable quantitation of carbendazim in amounts as low as 0.1 ng/mL (ppb) in orange juice—levels 100 times lower than the 10 ppb limit typically targeted by the FDA for unapproved pesticides.

In order to spread the word and demonstrate their new analytical solutions and workflows, the two companies launched a nationwide tour of a custom-built laboratory on wheels, equipped with a fully functional LC/MS/MS system. Dubbed the “MASS-tastic Voyage,” the tour began at Pittcon (the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy) in March in Orlando. Scientists from both AB SCIEX and Phenomenex traveled with the lab and were on hand to demonstrate new workflows and to answer questions.

The 50-foot-long mobile lab crossed North America three times, visiting 35 cities and welcoming more than 1,200 visitors. Rob Ellis, PhD, research and development director at AB SCIEX, posted updates with photos or videos on Facebook almost daily. “We were pleasantly surprised at how curious people were and how long they stayed to talk with us,” commented Dr. Ellis. “Many were interested in discussing their particularly challenging problems. Some came with their own samples, and, when time allowed, we ran the analyses. Most often, they were looking for unknown contaminants such as pesticides, drugs, or antibiotics, but product authenticity and spoilage were also brought up as concerns.

“Sample preparation is another topic of interest to many in food safety research. Many are looking for new and better ways to prepare complex matrices. Another issue is sensitivity—we see demands moving to lower and lower detection limits, especially in analyses such as pesticide residues,” Dr. Ellis said.

The tour’s Dallas stop was at Frito-Lay North America. Tony Shao, principal scientist at Frito-Lay Inc. Pepsico, part of Pepsico Frito-Lay, was among the visitors that day. “We always want to learn something new and hear about new technology,” said Shao. “Having the mobile demo lab come to us was a great convenience and provided a rare opportunity to see application demonstrations and to have valuable conversations with the vendors. We are already familiar with LC/MS, but we saw new things we can definitely use in the future.”

At the stop at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, a researcher from BASF Corporation’s formulations and analytics department brought a problem she had been trying to solve. “I had struggled for days to develop a solid LC/MS method to analyze seven saccharides, and literature searches had gotten me nowhere,” explained Julia C. Guo of BASF. “Phenomenex’s Dr. Phil Koerner looked at my compounds, pointed out the reasons for the poor separations, and gave me a few suggestions. Following Phil‘s tips, I was able to come up with a robust LC/MS method in just four hours. My biology colleagues were very pleased with the LC separations and mass spec intensities. We were very impressed by what AB SCIEX and Phenomenex are offering for our LC/MS/MS applications.”

Dr. Ellis noted that many analysts in the food industry are not familiar with mass spectrometry or they have misconceptions about the difficulty and expense of using the technology. Many believe that mass spec is difficult to use and have therefore not tried it. “They were surprised at how easy it is and how quickly it could solve analytical challenges like finding unknown contaminants,” said Dr. Ellis.

LC/MS/MS is also very effective in uncovering product dilutions. Visitors to the lab could see an example run on EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), a product that is sometimes diluted prior to sale. The LS/MS/MS method can detect dilutions as small as 1 percent.

“The mobile lab created an excellent opportunity for visitors to see our chromatography columns in action, something which is often challenging because we do not make the instruments themselves,” said Phil Koerner, PhD.

The tour even provided access to college students. The stop in Jacksonville was in the backyard of Florida State College, which has a food safety curriculum. “We met with two professors as well as some of their students,” said Dr. Ellis. “One of the areas they were particularly interested in was sample prep, which can be difficult with many food matrices. We were able to show them some new techniques they had not learned about yet.” The tour also visited the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, where 45 students and staff came to see the lab. “The levels of curiosity and interaction we saw with the students was surprising, inspiring, even heartening,” commented Dr. Ellis. “I feel more confident and optimistic for the future generation of scientists after meeting so many of them on our tour.”

Mass-tastic Voyage travelers Drs. Ellis and Koerner were most surprised by how much they personally enjoyed the tour. “It’s unheard of to get that much interaction with that many different lab analysts in such a short period of time, and everybody learned a lot,” explained Dr. Koerner. “The environment is so much better than a trade show or customer visit, because we actually had systems running analyses.”

For food safety researchers and analysts who were not able to see the tour firsthand, expertise and resources from AB SCIEX and Phenomenex are available online at their rapid response site.

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