The global food and agriculture industries are rapidly expanding. Demands for a wider range of products to feed a growing number of consumers continue to escalate. Along with these demands comes the need for advanced food testing technologies and solutions with which to monitor safety and authenticity.

The Food Safety and Testing Interactive Infographic is a living resource, keeping stride with emerging developments in the fast-moving food and beverage industries.

This post serves as a chronology of the infographic, citing ongoing developments in the areas of: Pesticides and Contaminants Testing, Food Profiling and Authenticity, Food Quality Control, Food Borne Illness and Microbial Testing.


Pesticides and Contaminants Testing

Pesticides residue analysis

As food safety regulations change, so do restrictions on the use and maximum residues limits (MRLs) of permissible pesticides. High-resolution LC-MS and GC-MS instrumentation coupled with comprehensive compound profiling and discovery solutions are allowing testing labs to stay ahead of the ever-evolving pesticides residues analysis world.

  • 4/2020 - Agilent has announced a Virtual Food Summit for discussion of Improved LC-MS/MS Pesticide Multiresidue Analysis, Multi-platform screening approaches for pesticides and food contaminants by GC/MSD, GC/TQ, and GC/Q-TOF, routine food classification and authenticity workflows for high-resolution MS, and more.
  • 7/2020 - A modified version of the Quick Polar Pesticides Extraction (QuPPe) method was recently described for extraction and determination of Glyphosate using a compact ion chromatograph coupled with triple quadrupole (QQQ) mass spectrometer (IC-MS/MS)

Biological toxin testing

Toxins originating from fungal growth, food spoilage, food processing, and other sources cause a persistent threat to consumer health and a negative economic impact on the industry. Advanced sample preparation solutions coupled with quadrupole MS technologies are enabling detection of diverse biotoxin markers in complex and varied food matrices.  

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can contaminate foods and beverages, taking the form of dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs), among others. High-resolution exact mass GC and GC-MS/MS instruments and compound databases are enabling sensitive detection and quantification of known and unknown POP compounds.

  • 4/2020 - Sciex has introduced an analytical method for detection and quantitative analyses of 33 Primary Aromatic Amines (PAAs), potentially toxic compounds that migrate from food packaging materials into foodstuffs.

Trace element analysis

Trace elements may be present in foods and beverages such as wines and cheeses as a result of cultivation and processing techniques. Trace detection of metal contaminants including arsenic and excess additives such as sulfites is of critical importance to ensure consumer safety. Technologies employing atomic absorption spectroscopy, ICP-MS, ICP-OES, and associated solutions are instilling confidence and integrity in trace analysis of foods.

  • 1/2020 – Food metal detectors are gaining in complexity and applicability, with the ability to detect a broad range of metals in raw and packaged foods. 
  • 4/2020 - Thermo has announced new metal detection technologies and applications for improved inspection of meat products.


Food Profiling and Authenticity

Next generation food screening and identification

Expanded types and varieties of consumables require a expanded toolset with which to test and screen. Next generation sequencing technologies, including high-throughput digital PCR, are enabling rapid identification of pathogenic bacteria and fungi to ensure food sources are safe before they reach shelves and tables.  

  • 2/2020 – Methods are in development to detect MOSH/MOAH food contamination from packaging products with greater sensitivity and specificity, including GCxGC and NMR, in addition to LC-GC-FID gold standard techniques.
  • 4/2020 - The coronavirus outbreak has stimulated research and development around food screening and contaminant testing.

Organic food confirmation testing

Organic foods are marketed as free from certain plant cultivation and livestock practices and contaminants, including certain fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, etc. These chemicals leave residues which can be screened against using the latest in LC-MS technologies and solutions.

  • 1/2020 - Elemental analysis is proving useful for assessment of organic food practices.  
  • 1/2020 - USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) now requires the use of certified organic flavors in certified organic products whenever they are commercially available.
  • 4/2020 - Food intolerance and allergies are being explored for better diagnosis of immune response using antibody detection by ELISA and other techniques.

Genetically modified organism (GMO) testing

GMO crops represent a growing presence in the food production pipeline. The non-GMO label can represent an area of concern that carries a premium up-charge to consumers. Advanced PCR technologies are being used to confirm the presence of identifying genetic elements which may distinguish GMO from non-GMO foods.

  • 1/2020 – Gene editing CRISPR technologies offer significant advantages over current transgenesis techniques which produce GMO-labeled food products.
  • 2/2020 A recent study examined public perceptions of gene-edited crops and the effects of scientific awareness on attitudes and acceptance.
  • 4/2020 - The FDA hosts a library of resources available to detail and to offer Q&A about GMO products.

Food authenticity testing

Food globalization has meant the presence of authentic commodities, whether they be specialized varietal honey, olive oil, cheese, wine, or others from native or remote locations. The confirmation of such identity represents an emerging challenge. Efforts are being made for development of methods and solutions for high-resolution characterization of authentic species, and systems for comparison between batches and product lots.  

  • 1/2020Elemental analysis of foods is providing important details regarding product quality and authenticity.
  • 2/2020 – Advanced ICP-MS techniques have proven capable to differentiate between greater than 50 unique spices from various countries, and different spices sources from a single country.
  • 4/2020 - New spectroscopic technologies are harnessing near infrared resonance (NIR), fourier transform infrared resonance (FTIR), and nuclear magentic resonance (NMR) for non-destructive analysis of moisture, fats and oils, sugars, seasonings, caffeine and other components, in order verify the presence and concentrations.
  • 5/2020 - Sciex has announced an approved method for testing meat authenticity, "A Selective and Robust LC-MS/MS Method for Multiple Meat Speciation and Authentication on the QTRAP 4500 System"
  • 6/2020 - Scientists at Nestlé Research have evaluated the use of the Thermo Scientific NGS Workflow to test for meat, fish and spices/herbs species detection and identification.
  • 7/2020 - The FDA is being petitioned to regulate and establish standards of identity for virgin and extra-virgin olive oil, partly in response to mislabeling scandals in the past few years.


Food Quality Control


A major concern for the industry is food adulteration, or intentional exchange of high-quality labelled foods for lesser value substitutes. Mass spectrometry has transformed the industry by enabling untargeted analysis of food matrices using high-resolution accurate mass detection of foreign substances.  

  • 1/2020Stable isotope analysis is increasingly being used to measure unique isotope signatures, and to help detect low quality or fraudulent food additives.
  • 2/2020 – FTIR Spectroscopy is proving increasingly capable and economical for remote testing for food additives and adulterants.  
  • 3/2020 – LC-MS and ICP-MS continue to be the gold standard platforms for low level detection and strict regulatory testing for adulterants.

Crop yield analysis

With a growing and aging global population comes the need for advanced approaches towards maximized crop yields and food production. Along these lines, new herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides carry with them the requirement for detection and determination of safe levels. Non-targeted LC-MS detection coupled with compound library analysis and associated solutions offer advanced discovery and identification platforms to this end.

  • 1/2020 – The emerging concept of gene-editing using CRISPR technologies in crop science offers promise in creating higher-yielding, drought-resistant, and pest-resistant, and potentially more nutritious food crops.
  • 2/2020 – A recent study demonstrated CRISPR gene editing technologies can disable begomoviruses and make crop resistant to viral disease, potentially saving billions in annual crop losses.
  • 5/2020 - The USDA has published the 2020/21 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates outlook.
  • 6/2020 - The USDA has issued the Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient (SECURE) rule. updating and modernizing biotechnology regulations designed to increase nutritional value and quality of crops, combat pests and diseases, and enhance food safety.

Nutritional analysis

Factors such as nutritional deficiencies and increased aging populations present challenges to food production and nutrient testing sources. Food research areas such as FOSHU (food for specified health uses) along with advanced LC-MS instruments and informatics solutions are leading the chase towards better nutrition and global health.

  • 1/2020 - DNA Barcoding of food signatures in stool offers promise as a method for more accurately tracking patient dietary information, as an alternative to suboptimal self-reporting methods.
  • 5/2020 - A recent review, "Developing Nano-Delivery Systems for Agriculture and Food Applications with Nature-Derived Polymers", focused on applications of nano-delivery systems in the food sector, such as food fortification and food preservation, as well as in the agricultural sector for controlled release of agrochemicals.
  • 6/2020 - The NIH has released a strategic plan to accelerate nutrition research over next 10 years

Emerging challenges

There is increasing interest and awareness in foods that cater to specialized diets. Gluten-free product demand continues to grow as does lactose, peanut allergen, cholesterol, and other “free” foods. The absence of sugars and the presence of sweeteners presents a further challenge in identification and monitoring. Advanced LC-MS technologies and solutions, including QTRAP, QTOF, and triple quadrupole platforms, are bringing power and depth in screening for widely varying compounds and chemicals.

  • 1/2020Companies are using gene editing to produce new varieties of crops for healthier dietary applications.  
  • 1/2020 – Universal food testing standards, using technologies such as blockchain, may address the past and current food safety scandals affecting the industry.
  • 4/2020 - Labelled as "essential services", food and beveridge processors are working in overdrive to meet demand to ensure the food retail supply chain remains intact.
  • 4/2020 - Automation will take a more prominent rolw in food processing and testing, as the pandemic has increasingly strained current operations and has challenged safety measures.
  • 4/2020 - The US FDA has suspended foreign and domestic inspections
  • 5/2020 - The USDA has intriduced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • 6/2020The FDA issued a guidance document providing temporary flexibility in food labeling requirements when ingredients are substituted for or eliminated entirely due to supply chain disruptions associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.


Food Borne Illness and Microbial Testing

Microbial identification and confirmation

Methods for microbial identification are now designed for fast and cost-effective detection of food pathogens. These include: Bacillus cereus, Campylobacter spp, Enterobacteriaceae, E. coli, and others, which are cultured and detected by advanced colorimetric methods with a faster time to results than traditional methods.

Sample preparation for microbial analysis

Sample preparation is being met with automation solutions, permitting testing for multiple pathogens using specific reagents on a central platform. Testing automation solutions are providing value to high-throughput testing labs, expanding the reach and scope of available services.

  • 2/2020 – Rapid pathogen testing tools, such as the Listeria PatternAlert assay, uses a fully automated workstation with turn-around times of 6 hours. 
  • 2/2020 – The growth of NGS technologies in food testing will allow increased multiplexing for rapid detection and quantification of a expanded range of pathogens.

Microbial DNA analysis and quantification

Real-Time PCR (RT-PCR) instruments and kits are designed for fast, qualitative detection of major food and environmental pathogens. The kits testing a range of pathogens are typically compatible with a central instrument platform, with turn-around times of 12-24 hours.

  • 1/2020High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) is emerging an improved technique for microorganism removal with limited effects on food quality.
  • 2/2020 – Advances in seafood pathogen testing include RT-PCR multiplex assays for the most common causative agents: Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Salmonella spp, and Listeria monocytogenes.
  • 5/2020 - A recent study evaluated performance of the Thermo SureTect STEC PCR Assay solution for the detection of STEC from meats compared to the ISO 13136:2012 reference method.

Environmental monitoring

Environmental factors such as soil and water quality, and an array of chemical organic and inorganic contaminants sometimes found in these backgrounds, can have significant impacts on crop quality through absorption and bioaccumulation. Advanced LC-MS solutions are in use to screen water, soil, and other reservoirs for the presence of trace level contaminants, upstream of crop harvests and food production.

  • 4/2020 - Waters is hosting an online discussion regarding APGC-MS/MS as a novel approach to Trace Level Detection of Dioxins/Furans in Environmental Samples.