Food testing and analysis is a cost-effective method that can guarantee the safety, quality, and traceability of foods and is in compliance with food regulations. There are several other reasons for food testing, like detecting if there has been intentional and unintentional food adulteration or if the food products have been misbranded. Also, consumer interest in improving health has led to testing of health-related properties of certain foods like nutraceuticals and functional foods. Since food testing is a kind of quality assurance it must be carried out as per the official testing methods and procedures that have a scientific base.
One of the key roles that food testing plays in protecting public health is that it ensures that food products are free from disease producing pathogens. Food testing can detect microbiological contamination of food and so prevent foodborne illnesses like diarrhoea, jaundice, etc. There are several emerging diseases which have resulted from changes in food production, processing and environmental hazards. It is import to detect such emerging bacteria, through food testing, so consumers are protected from the ill effects of new diseases. Public health can be secured if food testing and analysis is accurate, so the contaminating agents can be properly detected, especially as some foodborne diseases can be widespread.
Furthermore, food trade is now globalised and this means that food which is contaminated in one country can cause foodborne illness in another. Any lapse in food testing can cause an international issue, especially if the food supply chain crosses multiple international borders. Food exporters can ensure that such a problem does not arise by getting their foods tested and analysed according to international food standards.
There is no doubt that toxic residues reach foods from industrial development, new agricultural practices, environmental pollution, and climate change. Food testing is, therefore, required for quality control at all stages of food processing right from the raw materials to finished products. Evaluating the state of the raw materials, the ingredients and additives used, as well as the finished products helps to detect pollutants, toxins and contaminants. In addition, mycotoxins such as aflatoxin can cause acute health hazards but food testing can prevent such toxins from reaching food products. Food regulators have set permissible levels for these contaminants in foods, so once the food samples have been tested, it means that the foods are in compliance with the recommended limits of pesticide residues, heavy metals, naturally occurring toxic substances (NOTS) and marine biotoxins.
Nowadays nutraceuticals and functional foods have become popular because they contain substances that provide additional health benefits. As new nutraceutical products are being developed, the need for food testing of these products has also increased so as to analyse the composition of these foods and their potential health benefits. Only after through analysis can these foods be brought into the market as aware consumers want to know their exact health benefits. This is especially true of food supplements which consumers take for special needs like reducing lifestyle diseases or foods taken by sports personalities for better performance in sports.
Foods are important as their role in providing the right kind of nutrition is extremely relevant.
If the exact composition of foods and the type of nutrients they contain is known, it becomes easier for the consumer to make the right food choices and avoid foods that can have a negative impact on health. Testing of food products ensures that foods contain nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the right amounts and do not exceed the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or are not below par as that would make them ineffective. It is only after testing the foods that it can be determined if the food contains what the nutritional label displays. Nutritional labels state the total calorific value of the food, as well as total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, dietary fibre, sugars, protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron.
While there are some additives that can cause food allergy but allergenic reactions usually occur from natural foods like nuts, shellfish and soy. It is important to identify and also quantify food allergens through a suitable analytical technique as sometimes even trace amounts of allergenic foods can cause an acute health issue. Since allergies can cause severe health issues food testing laboratories are equipped to detect even trace elements of allergens so these allergens can be clearly labelled. Consumers can protect their health by avoiding allergenic foods mentioned in the ingredients list.
Food additives are used in processed foods as they act as preservatives and processing aids and even provide colour, flavour and nutrients lost during processing. The safety and use of food additives are regulated and foods need to be in compliance with these regulations. However, food additive adulteration is quite prevalent in the food industry and therefore the role of food testing becomes significant. Consumers can become victim of diseases like heart disease, kidney failure, skin diseases, asthma attack and cancer. Food testing is one of the most significant ways to detect non-permitted toxic food additives as these cannot be detected just by visual inspection alone.
Food safety and quality in foods also helps build the brand so economic gains accrue. The food industry can therefore, gain from food testing and analysis in improving existing food products or developing new ones. Even small improvements like increase in shelf life or packaging can make a big difference to the quality of a product. Food testing can ensure that the used packaging material is acting as an effective barrier against microbiological contamination. At the same time analysis of the packaging material can help to detect whether the packaging material is leaching toxins into the packaged food products.
Food producers and processors are the people in the food industry who are responsible to ensure that their products are in compliance with food regulations. However, with an improvement in living standards, consumers have become aware about the need for food testing and have begun to demand quality and safe food products. It is important that the food industry builds consumer confidence by carrying out food testing so that the foods are safe, contain what they claim and have no adverse effects on health.