“To reduce rejection of exported food products, strengthening testing procedures is crucial”

13 September 2021 | Opinion

Food safety analysis is crucial in providing absolute certainty that products are safe for consumers. For food suppliers, food safety quality assurance is a high priority as the risk of product recalls, or warnings can have a seriously detrimental effect on business, brand and even the bottom line.

A global leader in mass spectrometry (MS), US-based SCIEX offers a range of high-throughput liquid chromatography- tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) solutions that deliver robust and accurate quality assurance and control testing, with reliable results that one can genuinely count upon. To find out more about the recent innovations taking place with the supplier in the food testing space, NuFFooDS Spectrum interacted with Dr Manoj Pillai, Director, Application Support & Market Development (India), SCIEX, Bengaluru. Edited Excerpts;


How is SCIEX helping companies achieve and adhere to new food safety standards in India?

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), in collaboration with regulatory bodies such as the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MOFPI), the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulators, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), has brought significant changes to the implementation of food safety standards. This regulatory thrust has translated to the upgradation of food analysis labs in India, in both government and private spaces, at par with global standards.

The success and growth of any food testing laboratory depends on versatile mass spectrometry solutions that can efficiently support workflows including residue analysis, food authenticity, food safety and quality control. Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) technology can not only quantify pesticides, antibiotic residues and mycotoxins, but also perform targeted screening and find formerly unknown residues, allergens, speciation and toxins using standardised workflows. In India, beyond being a top-notch LC-MS/MS solutions provider, SCIEX is actively engaged in building local expertise on food analysis through LC-MS/MS training programmes at our centre of excellence in Bengaluru. Building an ecosystem of methods for a wide range of important food contaminants forms a critical part of the customer support that SCIEX provides in India.


What are your offerings for residue analysis in the food testing space?

SCIEX offers a range of integrated LC-MS/MS solutions that cover:

  • Residue analysis (pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins and natural toxins)
  • Food safety, quality assurance and quality control (allergen testing, food ingredient analysis and analysis of food contact materials)
  • Food authenticity testing (meat speciation and product adulteration)
  • Non-targeted screening for identification and confirmation of unknown contaminants
  • Foodomics

The types of workflows and mass spectrometry instrumentation vary, depending on the required analysis. The entire SCIEX product portfolio includes software solutions that surpass regulatory requirements. SCIEX Triple Quad systems—such as the SCIEX 7500, SCIEX Triple Quad 6500+, SCIEX 5500+, SCIEX Triple Quad 4500 and SCIEX Triple Quad 3500 systems—are used extensively for targeted compound analysis and are known for their sensitivity and robustness, even in complex matrices. QTRAP systems from SCIEX include unique capabilities that allow for a single workflow to be used for qualitative and quantitative analysis and that helps to reduce false positives and negatives. SCIEX also offers QTOF systems for undertaking qualitative and unknown screening applications, which can also be used for quantitative applications.


How do you plan to empower the Indian food testing market through analytical technologies?

The biggest bottleneck in analytical food testing is the availability of a trained workforce. In India, SCIEX has a centre of excellence in Bengaluru where training programmes are conducted on using LC-MS/MS systems for food residue testing. These training programmes empower scientists to upgrade their skills, knowledge and competencies related to hardware, software, data interpretation and new method development. In addition, the SCIEX application team supports customers on-site to help them make sure that they have the requisite technical capabilities to generate high-quality data with high throughput from their instruments. SCIEX also provides trained workforce for FSSAI labs where SCIEX instruments are installed. The centre of excellence in Bengaluru runs collaborative projects with customers to develop new methods for meeting regulatory requirements, enabling Indian labs to keep pace with evolving frameworks and markets.  It is also engaged in publishing papers in scientific journals to help educate the public.


What are the challenges posed by complex food matrices and how can mass spectrometry help labs overcome them?

As with any analytical method, sample preparation is critical in LC-MS/MS workflows. Current developments in mass spectrometry allow us to routinely monitor several hundred analytes in a single analytical run. The challenge lies in finding a suitable extraction method. In recent years, the number of multiclass methods covering up to 600 compounds has steadily increased. Most applications with more than 600 compounds follow a generic extraction protocol, such as QuEChERS or dilute and shoot in combination with an LC-MS/MS instrument.

Since matrix effects remain the major bottleneck in multiclass method development, and compensation and reduction strategies are somewhat limited, only strong dilutions of crude sample extracts can lead to a significant reduction of these unwanted effects. Using robust, sensitive equipment such as SCIEX Triple Quad systems allows us to significantly dilute the sample before analysis. This considerably reduces the matrix effects and promotes methods with hundreds of analytes in a single run, which in turn expands the scope of analytes monitored within the global food supply chain. False positives and negatives can also be alleviated with QTRAP systems from SCIEX.


As food product exports from India continue to grow, how can LC-MS/MS help reduce the rejection of exports by global regulatory agencies?

There are multiple aspects of rejection, but since the question focuses on the role of LC-MS/MS, I will emphasise the importance of strengthening testing procedures, following global best practices, keeping track of advancements related to banned substances, staying aware of new adulterants in the market and proactively setting up robust analytical methods to identify and quantify these substances and adulterants. In certain cases, the traceability of ingredients, their origin, their storage conditions and their mode of transportation, all must be established. SCIEX LC-MS/MS systems are used worldwide to test food products and routinely monitor the harmful compounds contained in them.


What are your views on food fraud and adulteration taking place in India and how can this be controlled?

The type of adulteration taking place can change periodically, which means that the adulterant must be identified, it must be quantified with a testing method and tolerance levels must be determined. With the right technologies and support, organisations can develop a progressive fraud management system for all ingredients, with traceability to suppliers and defined quality parameters, along with a mechanism for sharing information on newly identified adulterations with the community. 

Real-time data access can help create transparency about the origin of products, and quality checks at various steps through the supply chain can help ensure the authenticity of products. SCIEX plays a crucial role by developing advanced LC-MS analytical methods that are widely used to test commodities in Indian food testing laboratories, such as testing for rice syrup adulteration in honey. SCIEX also helps customers achieve quick turnaround times and high data quality, which are key parameters for success.


How can technology help with setting new benchmarks for food safety in India? What needs to be done to monitor and enhance the quality of food products? 

There is a need to increase awareness and build expertise. Food processing firms and testing labs can help keep pace with global advancements by proactively implementing gold-standard analytical workflows to set benchmarks for the domestic market through a systematic roadmap. The FSSAI and other agencies have expanded their roles in ensuring food safety through regional labs spread throughout the country.


Ankit Kankar



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