Food Testing is an Important Aspect for Successful Food Businesses

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Food is a basic need and to ensure the quality and safety of foods, food testing plays a most crucial role. Without food testing, the authenticity of raw materials, ingredients, additives, nutritional values, etc. cannot be established and neither can adulteration and economic fraud be eliminated. In the food industry, food testing and analysis begins at the developmental stage, continues during processing and even after finished food products have entered the market. Moreover, food testing is a regulatory prerequisite to ensure food standards so consumers can be assured of safe and wholesome foods.

All major sectors of the food industry, be they food producers, raw material and ingredient suppliers, packers or manufacturers  use food testing services. The reasons for food testing determine the selection of analytical methods by the food testing laboratory. Different food testing methods are required to

  • Determine the composition of foods
  • Check for contaminants and residues of toxic substances
  • Verify purity and detect adulteration
  • Carry out surveillance and enforcement of food regulations
  • Work on product development and suitability of purpose
  • Analyse flavour, appearance, taste, and shelf life

Composition and Nutritional labels

Food testing detects the important components of foods and provides nutritional values. It ensures nutrients have been used in the right proportion and their levels match the figures on the display label. Nutritional labels state the total calorific value of trans-fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, dietary fibre, sugars, protein, vitamins, calcium, iron, etc. for regulatory purposes and without testing these values cannot be accurately derived at. Correct nutritional labelling allows consumers make informative and correct food choices. Currently there is interest in the health-related properties of foods like functional foods, dietary supplements and nutraceuticals and the role of food testing in determining the nutritional composition of these foods is essential.

Food safety testing

Food is considered unsafe if it contains harmful microorganisms like listeria, Salmonella, toxic chemicals pesticides, heavy metals or extraneous matter like glass, metal pieces, insect matter, hair, etc. Food regulation specified analysis helps detect even very low levels of harmful substances and so confirms these harmful substances are not present in the tested foods. Food manufacturers send samples to reliable, NABL accredited food testing laboratories, which are recognised by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for specific chemical and microbiological food testing. Even food manufacturing facilities are analysed to ensure that they are following Good Manufacturing Practices.

Authenticity and Adulteration

Food testing helps determine that ingredient claims on foods are authentic like verifying if the premium Columbian coffee named on a pack is actually from Columbia and not from Peru or Brazil. Price of products are dependent on their authenticity so consumers do not land up paying more for inferior or inauthentic products. Food testing helps foods remain free of adulteration so manufacturers remain within legal requirements. No food manufacturer would like to sell a product that is adulterated, harmful or toxic as that would lead to loss of reputation and economic ruin.

Regulatory food testing is also carried out to ensure that

  • only the specified type and quantity of ingredients, additives like colours, flavours and preservatives are used
  • contents are exactly as required and matching with the name on the food label
  • quality, as per regulations is maintained, for e.g. fat, sugar and salt content
  • minimum requirements for appearance, defects and texture are met
  • health claims are not contrary so consumers get a nutritious and balanced diet and claimed benefits from that food

Consistent properties

Food testing is useful not only when a problem arises but also helps maintain consistency and desired properties associated with a specific food product. Food analysis helps understand the role of different ingredients and manufacturing processes are controlled to prevent variations. Variations in raw material can lead to changes in the properties of the final product. Analysing raw materials can predict their behaviour during processing and processing conditions can be altered to get the desired properties. For example water is one of the most used ingredients in foods and any deterioration in the quality of water can undermine the final outcome as water affects, texture, flavour and shelf life of food and the final quality. Water testing determines that water used in food processing is consistently of high quality.

Business competiveness

In the competitive food industry manufacturers are continually trying to increase their market-share and profits. To do this they test products of their competitors and ensure that their own products are of highest quality, less expensive, and more desirable than that of their competitors yet safe and nutritious. Food testing helps businesses tweak a food product in a manner that adds value for consumers but keeps prices competitive.a