A variety of analytical testing methods are used to ensure that the foods and drinks we consume are indeed safe, and accurately represent the ingredients listed. The filtration steps performed during these analytical tests are a crucial yet often overlooked component of the food safety process. Here, Duncan White, product marketing manager at Cytiva, explains the importance of filtration within food safety testing, and how without standardized methods and government regulations, consumer trust and safety would be lost.
Q: Why is lab filtration an important component of overall food/beverage product quality and safety?
A: Analytical testing is undertaken to test our food to confirm it contains what we expect and that it is safe to eat. The test methodology and filtration steps that are undertaken to prepare a test sample are sometimes seen as of minor importance, but they must be done. The truth is that filtration as part of sample prep is an integral stage in analytical testing. The use of an improper/incorrect filter—or worse, not filtering at all—could generate inaccurate results and could also increase maintenance costs of analytical instruments through potential damage.
Overall, I would say that it comes down to safety and trust. There is a lot of trust that is placed by a consumer in the producer, that the product is safe to consume, contains what is on the label, and that it follows all relevant government regulations.
Q: Can you briefly explain some of the most common types of filtration methods used to ensure product quality in the food/bev field?
A: Clarification and degassing of liquid samples is a common use of filtration across the beverage industry and is most commonly performed on large volumes by using folded cellulose filter papers; however, some labs instead use glass fiber filter papers as a faster option. This is an important step before many analytical tests where the removal of particulates and gas bubbles is important. In particular, beverages that are high in particulate content and/or have bubbles present throughout production (for example, beer) rely heavily on filtration.
- Filtering samples for analytical testing instruments such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or ionic chromatography (IC) is a very common and important filtration step that is recommended to undertake. Particulates above a certain size must be removed or they can cause blockages leading to inaccurate results, as well as costly maintenance. Filtering commonly uses syringe filters, which are designed to filter a small sample removing any particles through an appropriate filter media. An example is measuring the vitamin C content in orange juice using HPLC, but there are many more.
- Collecting certain samples onto a filter before analysis is another common method that uses filtration. Samples such as microorganisms or contaminates are filtered onto a filter membrane surface so that they can be analyzed. A very common test type used across the food and beverage industry is in microbiology detection via incubation. Other uses include microplastics and yeast analysis through microscopy.
Q: How does the use of standardized testing methods ensure that food/bev production companies are adhering to government regulations and delivering safe products to consumers?
A: As I mentioned earlier, food standards and methods are very important. Governments, through their relevant food safety agency, will require that food/bev items be safe to consume by showing documentation on the lack of harmful organisms in food items (e.g. E.coli on vegetables), accurate levels of certain chemicals (e.g. alcohol levels in wine), and that the products are authentic (e.g. fake honey).
Global governments will require that any imports also undergo the same test via the same methods as the local products, and vice versa for any exports and other governments. Hence, intergovernmental organizations are integral here where they create various standards and methods for individual tests.
There are other organizations that standardize specific product analytical tests and methods; for example, the American Society of Brewing Chemists for beer standards around the world.
Q: What are some of the most common food and beverage items that rely on filtration technology?
A: It might be faster to say what isn’t! All food or beverage items that ultimately end up in front of a consumer require various analytical tests to be undertaken and documented as required by respective governments. Perhaps the answer to your question would be whatever is on your plate or in your glass.
Q: Can you offer tips on how to ensure you are choosing the best filtration product or system for specific needs?
A: The best way to ensure that you are choosing the right filter is to use a filter with standardized parameters as determined by the standard or method you are following.
Duncan White is a global product marketing manager for laboratory filtration, and has been supporting the Whatman™ filtration portfolio and food & beverage applications for five years. Prior to this role, he has spent time in various sales roles. Duncan holds a degree in biomedical sciences with a major in cancer pathways and workflows from the University of Auckland.