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Advancements in Technology in Food Safety and Environmental Monitoring: Bringing Innovation to the Table

May 4, 2022 11:30:00 AM / by Holly Young

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Food safety is of paramount importance in a world where the demand for food is increasing rapidly due to a growing population. Food deemed unsafe for consumption poses a hazard to human health, as a result, food production companies responsible for hazardous outbreaks can suffer devastating consequences. There is a need for technology that can effectively monitor food safety and the environment in which food is grown to ensure that it is safe for consumption.

 

Currently, traditional methods such as HPLC or ELISA are used in food safety however they are costly, time-consuming, require large sample volumes, specialist equipment and trained personnel. This is not ideal in limited-resource areas where money is not as readily available to invest in specialist methods. Changes in consumer preferences and therefore trends in food production are another reason further technologies are required for the monitoring of food safety. There is a growing need for more effective, fast, and low-cost methods for food safety and environmental monitoring. The development of technology like electrochemical biosensors shows great promise to revolutionise food safety and environmental monitoring.

 

Different analytical techniques such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), gas chromatography, Raman chromatography and immunological detection including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are some traditional methods used in food safety detection methods. Whilst these have proven successful as they are dependable, sensitive, and specific techniques, they have numerous disadvantages; these methods are time-consuming, expensive, and require specialist equipment and trained personnel to be conducted (1). Another issue is that they are typically conducted at the end of the food production process. This is a significant risk as contaminated products could make it to the consumer if it evades current, dated detection methods (2).

 

HPLC involves the analysis of food samples that are broken down into individual components to detect any additives or contaminants which might be present. It is a highly selective and sensitive process and one of the most successful methods to accurately detect and quantify the majority of food analytes present (3, 4).

 

Electrochemical sensors have become a topic of interest in food safety, with enormous potential to overcome some of the limitations faced by more traditional methods discussed previously. They have been used in the detection of food contaminants such as heavy metals, illegal additives, pesticides, biological toxins, and foodborne pathogens. With a broad application spectrum, they can also be used in the detection of environmental monitoring for example in water quality monitoring.

 

Advantages of electrochemical biosensors over traditional methods include:

  • Low-cost of sensing materials 
  • Rapid results at point of need
  • They do not require specialist expensive equipment or extensive training to use
  • They can be used on-site allowing for analysis in real time, requiring only a low sample preparation
  • Electrochemical sensors can be produced in a miniaturised form

 

Electrochemical biosensors could be used to screen food samples at various stages of food production as they are more affordable providing a more robust solution to food processing and monitoring. As regular screenings would be carried out, any outbreaks can be contained at earlier stages, can help minimise the risk of hazardous effects and improve the quality of food. The main issue faced by electrochemical sensors is their stability (1).

 

One example of an electrochemical sensor is a nanomaterial-based electrochemical sensor which uses gold nanoparticles due to their optical and electrical properties. This sensor was used in the detection of two synthetic dyes, metanil yellow and fast green (FCF). These dyes are banned by the food regulatory authorities as they pose a threat to human health: Metanil is classed as a category II toxin which has been linked to cancer development. Despite this, they are still used in food products as they make the product more appealing to the consumer and are a cheaper alternative to natural dyes. This sensor showed great promise as it illustrated good selectivity for the two food dyes in water and juice samples (5).

 

The food production industry heavily depends on environmental monitoring to ensure the area in which the food is grown is safe for food production and consumption (6). This can help to prevent human illness in both plant-based and animal-derived foods. Monitoring food waste is also a crucial part of environmental monitoring as food waste releases toxic gases into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. An electrochemical sensor was developed which is capable of continually monitoring water quality along with the pH, temperature, and free chlorine present within the water. It proved successful in monitoring water within pools, taps and lakes and there is, therefore, scope for further development into larger areas (8). This is just one example of how electrochemical sensors can be indispensable technologies in the food production and consumption industry.

 

Development of portable, sensitive, specific, low cost and reliable technologies to ensure food safety standards are maintained throughout the food production process is vital in ensuring consumer confidence in products. The development and research into several types of electrochemical sensors have proven popular due to their ability to overcome many of the limitations faced by traditional methods. There is a great deal of scope for further research into more modern technologies such as electrochemical biosensors, they could revolutionise the monitoring of food safety and environmental monitoring. This would prove extremely vital as food waste is a substantial issue too and, a reduction in waste and improvement in food quality could help to tackle this issue. Environmental monitoring would also play a role in­­ improving the quality of the food as well as tackling climate change through the monitoring of various parameters over a period.

 

 

Are you developing a device for food safety monitoring and want to improve sensitivity or lower costs? Contact us today to see how our technology can help you achieve your goals. 

 

 

References

  1. Zeng, L. et al., 2018, 'Electrochemical Sensors for Food Safety', in G. Mózsik, M. Figler (eds.), Nutrition in Health and Disease - Our Challenges Now and Forthcoming Time, IntechOpen, London. 10.5772/intechopen.82501.
  2. Curulli A. Electrochemical Biosensors in Food Safety: Challenges and Perspectives. Molecules. 2021;26(10):2940. Published 2021 May 15. doi:10.3390/molecules26102940
  3. Gratzfeld-Hüsgen, A. and Schuster, R., 2001. [online] Agilent.com. Available at: <https://www.agilent.com/cs/library/primers/Public/59883294.pdf#:~:text=High-performance%20liquid%20chromatography%20%28HPLC%29%20is%20used%20increasingly%20in,quantified%20by%20suitable%20detectors%20and%20data%20handling%20systems.>
  4. Gratzfeld-Huesgen, A. and Schein, A., 2002. | Food Safety. [online] Food-safety.com. Available at: https://www.food-safety.com/articles/2098-the-application-of-hplc-in-food-analysis
  5. Afzal Shah, A Novel Electrochemical Nanosensor for the Simultaneous Sensing of Two Toxic Food Dyes, ACS Omega 2020 5 (11), 6187-6193, DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.0c00354
  6. Shukla, D., 2019. Novel Technologies For Environmental Monitoring And Control. [online] Electronics For You. Available at: <https://www.electronicsforu.com/technology-trends/novel-technologies-environmental-monitoring-control>
  7. Groom, P., 2022. Why water testing is the next big diagnostic challenge - MedCity News. [online] MedCity News. Available at: <https://medcitynews.com/2022/02/why-water-testing-is-the-next-big-diagnostic-challenge/>
  8. Alam AU, Clyne D, Jin H, Hu NX, Deen MJ. Fully Integrated, Simple, and Low-Cost Electrochemical Sensor Array for in Situ Water Quality Monitoring. ACS Sens. 2020 Feb 28;5(2):412-422. doi: 10.1021/acssensors.9b02095. Epub 2020 Feb 18. PMID: 32028771.

 

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Holly Young

Written by Holly Young

Holly Young has background in biochemistry