Tasting the Waters: Why Do We Need Food Laboratories?
Think about the last time you ate: Perhaps it was a few minutes ago. Perhaps it was dinner last night. Maybe you’re eating as you read this!
Whenever it was, it can be almost guaranteed that most of the products you ate were tested in a food laboratory at some point or another before they made their way onto your plate. Our bodies are naturally sensitive, so contaminants of all kinds can cause some serious damage if they go undetected in our food and make their way into our systems. These contaminants include everything from pathogens and microorganisms to chemicals to insect body parts to allergens.
Physical analysis involves a range of testing of food, including sensory testing. The food samples are smelled (safely, of course), physically examined, and if flavour is being tested rather than safety, even consumed by a lab worker. In this way, the material can be tested from the same perspective as a consumer would have initially when purchasing the product.
Testing for extraneous material also takes place—this is the disgusting stuff that you’d rather not imagine making its way into what you eat. We’re talking stuff like foreign contaminants such as rat hair. Yep, you heard me correctly. Rat hair. Human hair sometimes makes its way into products too, as well as faeces—yuck! Usually this kind of contamination occurs sporadically, but consistent findings can indicate the need for the company in question to tighten its hygiene standards to prevent disease.
Chemical testing is a very important part of detecting unwanted chemical components in your food, such as pesticides and drug residues. Products that come under suspicion for having substances polluting them are inspected using techniques such as gas chromatography, which can measure the quantity of fatty acids. Chemical testing is also important to make sure that what’s communicated to you on nutrition labels is accurate, such as the amount of sugar in a product. You may not think that a little extra sugar in a piece of food is such a bad thing, but if you’re a diabetic it can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Allergies are unfortunately a prevalent part of society, particularly in children. Food labs play a huge role in testing for allergen such as tree nuts and peanuts, egg and wheat (gluten). Gluten can be tested through tests such as ‘ELISA’ (which stands for R5 enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) which basically use a colour change to indicate if gluten is present due to the chemical reactions that take place.
There is so much more that food laboratories do to protect the health of society—but to detail it all would require a novel!
If you would like to know more about the lab industry and how you can step into it career wise with a nationally certified, award-winning qualification such as LTT’s Certificate III in Laboratory Skills and Certificate IV in Laboratory Techniques, call us on 1300 588 588!