A Glimpse Into 2018 Food Safety Trends

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Jason Neo, director, Marketing and Field Applications, Rest of Asia, Sciex, shares his thoughts on food safety trends for 2018.

Jason Neo, Director, Marketing and Field Applications, Rest of Asia, Sciex

The Asia Pacific food industry has seen much evolution in the past few years as consumers are becoming more aware about food-related health issues such as antibiotic resistance. This year, governmental bodies have also started passing more stringent legislations and regulations in line with promoting food safety.

As such, organisations have improved hygiene and animal welfare through better biosecurity practices, and food testing laboratories have revamped their screening methods, to better detect and identify toxic substances in food products.

In January this year, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) imposed a ban after an oil spill in the East Johor Strait affected fish farms in Singapore. AVA took samples from fish farms to determine if the seafood was tainted with petroleum or if they were contaminated with chemicals that can be found in crude or industry oil.

To meet the standards of enforced legislations, food testing laboratories need to continually adopt newer technology to deliver faster and more accurate results. With the heightened focus on food safety, equipment manufacturers should do their part to supply accurate laboratory-based methods and solutions for effective food contaminant detection.

However, food laboratories still face a major roadblock that deters them from effectively detecting and identifying toxins in food products—handling unknown samples is a key challenge that needs to be addressed.

In September this year, blue stains were found on vegetables from a food supplier in Singapore. This incident caused public alarm and quick and accurate testing was necessary to assuage the public’s fear. In less than a day, the AVA tested the vegetables and declared the blue substance on vegetables as undissolved fungicide, which can be easily washed off. 

Challenges And New Technology

Pesticides continue to be the focus for food testing across Asia Pacific countries, with government labs expanding their capabilities to test vegetables and related products. In the latter part of 2017, the Fipronil egg scare that originated in the Netherlands spread to Asia Pacific, with farm eggs in Hong Kong and Korea found to be contaminated with the insecticide. Veterinary drug analysis is the second topmost priority in food testing, especially with the prevalent use of antibiotics in food, hormones and adulterants across Asia Pacific countries.

A certain type of luncheon meat which can be found in Hong Kong and Singapore was thrown into the spotlight after Hong Kong’s consumer watchdogs found a veterinary drug known as sulphonamide antibiotic in the meat sample. However, after completing its own testing, the AVA declared the product, that was imported into Singapore, was safe for consumption and had met food safety standards in Singapore.

To tackle unknown contaminants, government labs across Asia Pacific have increasingly been investing on new technology and instrumentation that comply with regulations and the future of food testing. Taiwan government labs are investing on high-resolution systems for the screening of unknown substances for the next three years. In Australia, global laboratories have started to expand their scope, acquiring smaller testing labs to address the growing demand in food testing there.

Government and private labs alike have started to adopt confirmatory techniques such as Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) to analyse compounds found in food and easily and quickly detect and identify unpredictable toxic substances outside routine lists through the surveillance screening of unknown compounds.

Now regarded as the gold standard for testing, LC-MS delivers unparalleled sensitivity, specificity, and the ability to quantitate a few hundred target compounds in a single analysis.

To better address food testing challenges across Asia Pacific, food safety equipment manufacturers have been innovating testing methods that can be adopted across new parameters and matrices, such as testing for the authenticity of Halal products.

Besides food testing, there is also an increased focus in testing the water supply. In China, water testing is conducted to test and detect for pathogens and contaminants originating from drug, dietary supplements and consumer product residues in the water supply, to ensure a safe drinking supply. 

2018 Trends And Predictions

2018 will continue to bring new challenges and opportunities in the food industry. Governmental bodies will continue to remain vigilant and proactive in the stance against emerging contaminants. Singapore government laboratories have continued to expand their analytical portfolio to meet the increase food testing requirements.

Other government labs across Asia Pacific will continue to invest in Triple Quadruple systems and are also set to purchase more high-resolution systems.

Meanwhile, most private labs across Asia Pacific are still providing services for triple quadruple based applications, but are expected to deliver high-resolution services in the next 1-3 years.

The next few years will continue to see a heightened demand for integrated solutions featuring front-end automation and sample preparation in line with the demands of the food industry. The main challenge will be to better improve response time in food contamination crises and enhance overall food safety, moving forward. The other challenge is to better support the study of unknown substances.

Promoting food safety across Asia Pacific involves the participation of the whole community, including regulatory enforcement agencies, equipment manufacturers and public and private laboratories. And this could only be attained through constant vigilance and adopting solutions and methods that detect contaminants in food and prevent adverse health risks from food consumption.