By Dhel Nazario
The food industry has come a long way with its continued innovation after it recently discovered an answer to stop and prevent massive product recalls through a tool called Reference Materials (RMs).
The Department of Science and Technology – Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI) said that RMs and the process of referencing are means to confirm methods and to assess accuracy of measurement results. These are developed through rigorous R&D (research and development).
Generally, these materials provide measurement laboratories a range of matrix combinations to analyze, say, content of properties in foodstuffs.
However, RMs are not only useful in proving what makes up a particular food, its micronutrients, or the extent of its authenticity. What makes it valuable is how it supports results of measurement laboratories to ensure that commodities can pass stringent international trade standards on food quality and control.
This is because product recalls pose significant economic burdens. When these recalls are traced, for example, to high histamine levels (a chemical indication of food spoilage) in canned tuna fish, a public health scare can lead to epidemiological tracking of determinants of the disease conditions.
Now, this is not only scary, it is also time consuming, expensive, and damaging to the canned tuna manufacturer. When the scare happens overseas to a Philippine product, it does not only mean refused entry. It can also put the country name in the list of barred exporters of unsafe products.
Currently, most Philippine food manufacturers rely on RMs purchased overseas like the US, UK, Japan, China, and Thailand. RMs are fairly pricey; one material per food product may cost from P15,000 to P30,000. Further, these are updated continually.
While use of highly characterized, authenticated control materials, such as RMs, is vital in food testing, the Philippines took time to develop these.
“Referencing is time consuming, requiring skills that need to be learned and honed through the years. Their [RMs] development has to be matched with appropriate, state of the art – that means very expensive — equipment. Staff who will be using the equipment and devices have to be trained on how to use, maintain, and trouble-shoot the same,” said Dr. Benilda S. Ebarvia, Assistant Scientist and head of the Metrology in Chemistry (MiC) Laboratory of the National Metrology Laboratory at the Industrial Technology Development Institute (NML-ITDI).