Food testing is an important key feature for ensuring the quality of the food products consumed by the common people. It is a set of practices, set by international and national Government food safety controlling organizations like FDA for USA and FSSAI for India. There are specific standards and cut off levels which the under the test must pass, unless it may be labelled as questionable or unfit for earning FSSAI certificate. In India, the regulatory government body FSSAI conducts thousands and lacs of food quality tests at Food testing laboratory affiliated by them. FSSAI recognizes as well as affiliates food testing laboratories accredited by NABL under Section 43 of FSS Act, 2006.
There are three types of food testing laboratories under FSSAI
Primary Food Laboratories
Referral Food Laboratory
National Reference Laboratories
Testing includes a variety of testing for different purposes. Macro and micronutrient testing, food allergy testing, pesticides or insecticide testing, heavy metal testing, adulterant testing, composition testing, texture and shelf-life testing, toxin testing are some of the most commonly executed testing. Each test comprises several physicochemical tests, as formulated and standardized by FSSAI authority.
There are specific food testing methods standardize and regulated by the Government of India via FSSAI to ensure one nation with one law. These standardized methods help to maintain the testing procedure homogenous all around the nation.
Being said all the critical terms, let’s talk about something else. If we set aside the scientific details and think about a common man, in his mind the question may arise that what is the purpose of such testing? What exactly the testing does? The answer is quite simple. The food testing ensures that people of India get safe and secure food to eat. Let’s have some detailed lights upon the purpose of testing.
- Prevention of Adulteration
Food Adulteration is one of the most important food-related problems in India. The buyers prefer cheaper items in larger quantities and sellers prefer to maximizing their profit by adulterating the goods to keep the cost minimal yet the volume same.
Adulteration means intentional or unintentional changing a part of the whole product with something inferior or toxic in quality and nutritional value and not at par the original
product quality. Bacterial, fungal, moulds or insect infestation during production, storage or handling is also considered as adulteration.
To rectify the problem, the Prevention of Adulteration Act was passed by the Government of India in 1954 and it is operational since 1945.
Food Testing is the key tool to detect adulterations. Below is mentioned the type of adulteration and food testing methods of detection of Milk and Ghee to understand how testing works.
Milk (which includes Buffalo milk, cow milk, goat milk, sheep milk, mixed milk, standardized milk, full cream milk, recombined milk, toned milk, double toned milk, and skimmed milk) Cane Sugar Modified Seliwanoff’s Method:
Type of adulteration
Milk does not have Sucrose. Cane Sugar Has Sucrose. Seliwanoff’s method detects the presence of sucrose, hence the presence of cane sugar in milk.
Food Testing Methods
Starch Idoline Test: Milk does not have complex carbohydrate. Starch has Complex carbohydrates. Iodine test detects starch, hence the presence of starch in milk.
Water Thinner drop of mixed milk would be running fast if the surface is tilted.
Chalk Powder When milk mixed with water and left still, chalk powder would settle at the bottom.
Ghee or Butter Vanaspati in Ghee Boudouins Test: it detects sesame oil. Vanaspati contains sesame oil; hence, this test proves the presence of Vanaspati in ghee.
- Nutritional Evaluation
Food testing laboratories play a vital role in determining the nutritional value of the different product for a better understanding of the nutritional profile each food provides.
It helps in diversifying and discovering new ways to meet the national need of the increasing population.
It helps in identifying the nutritional factors of new genetically modified or hybrid produce of agricultural science.
It helps in building a database of indigenous diverse crops resources that were neglected to date.
Food testing laboratories play a vital role in maintaining the standard of nutritional factors of ready to eat or packaged food by doing routine nutritional assessments of the products to ensure customer satisfaction and wellbeing.
- Microbiological Profile of Spoilage
Microbial infestation can occur due to several reasons. It may be bacterial, fungal or moulds infection during production or storage of the product. The affected items can be either highly perishable items like crops, fruits, meat, fish or packaged food products.
Food testing laboratories offer a scope of food testing services for the food sample under question.
Testing various food samples in testing laboratories for microbiological infestations or spoilage is an essential quality checking parameter for controlling borne illness. It ensures the quality guarantee to the customers or consumers.
Food testing also offers a scientific scope of research for better storage or preservation methods which enhances the chance that ensures better quality for the consumer.
Testing can also be done to understand the microbiological profile of a product. Many probiotic items like yoghurt, curd or drink have an active bacterial culture in them as an essential beneficial property and food testing can help the manufacturers to understand whether the required bacterial percentage is present in each batch of the product.
Fermented products like alcoholic beverages need a specific percentage of specific microbial culture present in them. Food testing laboratories ensure the quality assurance of the products.
- Presence of Toxic Chemicals, Pesticides, and Insecticides
Food testing laboratories help in detection of the presence of toxic metals like Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, and Arsenic etc. These metals have severe health hazard and side effects which include nausea, vomiting, kidney problem, cardiac problem, skin lesion, and neurological problem if consumed continuously as a part of the food.
Residual presence of excessive pesticides and insecticides often leads to severe health problems. Regular testing of crops in food testing laboratories ensures pesticides and insecticides remain under permitted levels.
- Food Allergy Testing
The purpose of food allergy testing is to detect any presence of potential food allergen or the percentage of allergen in any given sample.
Declaration of any potential allergen disclaimer on the label of any food product is a mandatory feature of FSSAI.
- Presence and Levels of Food Additives
Preservatives are very commonly used in different items to enhance their shelf life, to retard or reduce enzymatic reactions or microbial action. There are household items like salt sugar oil and spices used as preservatives but in large scale, chemical preservatives are used. These are called Class II Preservatives. They are Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and its related products, Benzoic acid and its salts, Sorbic acid and its salts etc. One or combinations of more than one preservative are used in commercial scale.
PFA has specified the range of the permitted amount of preservatives for each type of products. The chart below is a short example of it.
Food Items Permitted level of SO2 (mg/kg)
Dehydrated vegetable, Dry fruits 2000
Fruit juices 350
Pickle, Chutney 100
Jam, Jelly, Marmalade 40
Food testing laboratories have a regular check on whether the food manufacturers are maintaining the permitted level of preservatives as per the PFA Act by testing the samples from time to time.