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Food quality – it starts in the soil

By Andrew Fussell, Product Manager XRF

Safe, high-quality food is something that many of us take for granted. Occasionally though, a scandal occurs that shocks the world. Whether it is plastic in chocolate, melamine in milk powder, lead in noodles or lead in water, the consequences can be devastating for the people and businesses involved. Consequences can be health-related for consumers but also affect the profitability and reputation of the brands of the companies involved. Governments around the world have responded to these liabilities with increased oversight and regulations – for example, the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States.

With this increase in scrutiny, food manufacturers need to control their processes all the way from raw materials to final products. While it might seem like a costly solution to the problem, the benefits are many. For example, more quality control – for most food products this means starting from square one with soil analysis.

Soil analysis can include monitoring nutrient levels as well as controlling for the presence of heavy metal contaminants. Insufficient nutrients or an excess of contaminants can negatively affect crop growth leading to a poor harvest. Come harvesting time, the exact moment when to harvest can make a difference to the quality of the final food product and for that reason it is important to be able to gain a good understanding of plant ripeness. For a number of fruits color and sugar content can be strong indicators for ripeness. Again this is where analysis - preferably non-destructive - can be beneficial to ensure that the plant is picked precisely at the right time.

Between harvesting and final production of processed food there are a number of processing steps including grinding, mixing, drying, filtration, among others which can all have an influence on the final product quality. Many processed foods these days are fortified with essential nutrients while others are formulated with reduced salt and reduced sugar. Analysis is required to make sure the product fits the label claim. Additionally, depending on the products involved, microbial and toxin contamination as well as the presence of foreign particles can all lead to nasty surprises for the consumer. Once again analysis is paramount to the quality system. Not only do you need to identify the contaminant but steps need to be taken to localize the source and to prevent reoccurrence.

Food quality analysis begins by soil analysis and continues through all stages of production. The result is increased yield, higher overall quality, and a safer product. More quality control can lead to business success. There are a number of methods to effectively and precisely analyze food. The upcoming IFT16 Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago enables PANalytical to present our food quality solutions to food professionals from all over the world. Visit booth 844 at IFT16, July 16-19 in Chicago.

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