Agilent: Contaminant testing driven mass spec demand

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Enhanced matrix removal and nanoparticles were 2 of many subjects raised during our discussion
Enhanced matrix removal and nanoparticles were 2 of many subjects raised during our discussion

Related tags Thermo fisher Laboratory equipment Thermo fisher scientific Agilent

Mass spectrometry has broken through in food more than other sectors primarily because contaminant testing depends on trace analysis, says Agilent.

The firm said in food safety, which is half of the market for the technique, there is a need for GC-MS and LC-MS technology to look for organic contaminants and ICP-MS to look for atomic contaminants or nanoparticles which is a new emerging area.

John Lee, manager of the food segment at Agilent, said the area of nanotechnology is challenging as the regulations don’t exist yet.

He told FoodQualityNews that the goal at the moment is simply to develop methods that allow characterization of nanoparticles in a food substance.

Only when that has been done can people start to come together and discuss regulation, he said.  

Food is challenging to analyse

Lee said associated technology was also really important.

“How you do the data review in the software. There is no doubt for me MassHunter has been a key piece in our portfolio that has attracted customers to Agilent,” ​he said.

“Then we have sample preparation, being the food guy, as far as I am concerned food is the most challenging type of thing you can think of to analyse, not only is it complex and maybe other markets may say we have complex samples but food is extremely diverse.

“So your trying to develop methods for a range of challenges and so sample extraction and sample clean-up is very important and as people try to expand testing to more types of commodity that becomes more challenging.”

Lee said enhanced matrix removal is a new technology designed to remove lipids from fatty foods which some people sometimes shy away from analyzing because it will contaminant equipment.

“This new technology is making contaminant analysis like pesticides, veterinary drugs, pH’s, anything that you might find in fatty foods, we’re making that so much easier. Of course we are talking about food of animal origin, meat, liver but we’re also talking about plant-based products like avocado, nuts and cereals.” ​ 

Policy to collaborate

Lee said it is critical to have reliable methods that it has tested and validated and customers can have confidence the method they are using won’t generate false positives or negatives.

“Our policy is to collaborate with people around the world…They are taking part in ring trial schemes to test their methods so we can work with them and later on, launch systems such as the GC/Q-TOF pesticide screener for the broader scope of pesticide analysis,” ​he said.

“Q-TOF analysis is very exciting as not only can you analyse for a very wide range of compounds but you can also consider new compounds as they come along, it is very easy to add new compounds into a Q-TOF method because it applies non-targeted acquisition.

“When you don’t target the acquisition it is very easy to ask a question about a new compound in the future but also to look at old data files. If you’re concerned about whether some new contaminant has come onto the scene it might have been present in the supply chain previously.

“We work in alignment in new regulation where we can and work with customers to drive new regulations such as creating new approaches to dioxin screening using GC triple quad.”

Agilent said many types of ring trials occur but in Europe for each type of contaminant class there is a laboratory that has a leadership role for all the national reference laboratories around the country and any official testing.

There is a reference lab for dioxin analysis in Frieburg, Germany and a reference lab for pesticide screening in fruit and vegetables in Almeria in Spain.

“We work with these labs and it’s them who will develop new methodology, that’s part of their remit, and when they do that they will then need to ring trial that so those are the sorts of ring trials that are particularly interesting,” ​said Lee.

“They have access to incurred samples and the ring trial may take a few weeks to perform although usually a lot of labs that participate are expected to do those samples as part of routine testing so the turnaround may only be a couple of days or less.”

Lee spoke to us during the Recent Advances in Food Analysis (RAFA) Conference last month.

“RAFA is a great forum for areas of analytical chemistry for food where people are trying to figure out how to do stuff. It is also a forum for people to talk about mature technology like pesticide and veterinary drug analysis,” ​he said.

“We can talk about developments and the standard of the people that come to this meeting is very high which is a great testimony to the organisers of the program.

“For me and for Agilent it is a great opportunity to get more feedback from speaking with those people and understanding where the next set of challenges is that we as a vendor can help with.

“Whether that is in sample preparation, new developments in the hardware or the software when you’re analyzing hundreds and hundreds of compounds, how do you review that data without grinding to a halt so software is going to be a big trend in the future.”  

Agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific

Meanwhile, Agilent has signed an agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific to exchange instrument controls to improve productivity and user experience of customers using software and instruments from both companies.

Agilent and Thermo Fisher are exchanging instrument-control driver documentation and software for liquid chromatographs, gas chromatographs, capillary electrophoresis and ion chromatographs.

The companies are also providing technical assistance to each other’s software development groups for control of Agilent instruments in the Thermo Scientific Chromeleon software and Thermo Scientific instruments in the Agilent OpenLAB CDS software. 

John Sadler, Agilent vice president and general manager of software and informatics, said: “We are collaborating with all major and many smaller analytical instrument manufacturers to support Agilent instruments in their data systems, and to support their instruments in Agilent’s data systems.”

Dan Shine, president, chromatography and mass spectrometry at Thermo Fisher, said: “With agreements such as this, our teams can continue to collaborate toward driving the highest productivity and enhanced user experience.”

The firms said the move reflects the increasing importance of manufacturer collaboration to achieve inter-operability and standardization of multivendor instrument control so analytical labs can increase productivity while minimizing technical and regulatory risks and validation costs. 

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