Using APGC to Improve Food
Analysis of contaminants
in the food supply requires
Chemical contaminants may occur in our food from various sources. This is a result of vari- ous stages of production, processing, trans- port, or the environment. As these chemicals can be harmful to human health at higher
concentrations, the use of many contaminants is limited
by the European Union. Therefore, analyses of these
contaminants in food samples are essential to ensure
consumer safety and compliance with regulatory limits.
Contaminants are either man-made or naturally occurring substances that are present in the environment
and bioaccumulate in the food chain. Examples of contaminants that enter the food chain include brominated
flame retardants (BFRs), polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
(see “A Closer Look at Food Contaminants,” p. 10).
BFRs are man-made chemicals that are added to a
wide variety of products, including for industrial use, to
make them less flammable. These harmful compounds
leach into the environment and pollute the air, soil, and
water through waste residues or discharge from the factories that produce them.1 As a result, the use of certain
BFRs is banned or restricted in many countries.
BFRs enter the food chain when they reach the
marine environment, as they are consumed by fish
and shellfish, and cannot be excreted because they are
lipophilic. This means that high levels can be present in
seafood destined for human consumption.
PCBs also had widespread use in a
range of industrial applications until
they were banned in most countries in
the 1980s, but they remain in the environment today as a result of their high
stability. At high levels, they have been
shown to cause health problems including carcinogenesis, endocrine disruption, and neurological problems.
PAHs are generated mainly as a
result of pyrolytic processes, especially
the incomplete combustion of organic
materials such as coal, oil, petroleum,
3 PAH exposure and its effects
on human health have also been the
focus of many studies, and some PAHs
have been shown to be carcinogenic
and mutagenic. The monitoring and
regulation of PAHs are under constant
change by advisory bodies such as the
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health
Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
that stipulate exposure limits for PAH
As a result of the changing regulatory
landscape, there is need for more accurate identification and quantification
of contaminants in environmental and
food-related samples. Modern analytical techniques provide scope to remove
contaminants from the food chain by
obtaining unambiguous and highly accurate quantification of contaminants in
complex food matrices at low concentrations. They can also be used to identify new or unexpected contaminants.
A technique for detection and
quantification of contaminants in food
samples of marine origin has been developed by researchers at the Research
Institute for Pesticides and Water
(IUPA), University Jaume I, in Spain.
The aim was to develop advanced
analytical methodology to improve
the monitoring of compounds in food
samples. Using atmospheric pressure gas
chromatography (APGC), an innovative
method was developed that is very ef-
By Tania Portolés, Ph.D.