Studying food with mass spectrometry

Food safety and authenticity expert, Michele Suman, discusses the advances made in mass spectrometry analysis over the last few years and highlights its benefits.

Today, the importance of food quality and safety and a proper nutrition profile is ever increasing. It is now necessary to evaluate these criteria along the entire chain, from the field/harvesting, to storage, processing and packaging shelf life, from the perspective of both space and time.

Thus, studying the components and functional molecules of food, including their profile and speciation, authentication, traceability and quality, together with the identification and quantification of additives, adulterants, allergens, and chemical and microbiological contaminants, is of great significance. These elements have huge impacts on the economy, agriculture, industry and consumer health.

All the aspects described above can be largely addressed and resolved using mass spectrometry (MS), a discipline in continuous evolution that is finding ever more applications in the agri-food sector.

Modern MS offers multiple ionisation methods for the study of large classes of molecules. For example, non-polar and volatile molecules, such as aromas, can be studied with electronic and chemical ionisation.

Tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) makes it possible to conduct various experiments, including isolation/fragmentation of ions from which it is possible to obtain structural information of relevant food components.