Thursday, April 4, 2013

Analytical chemistry and the dinner table

I saw this headline recently on NPR: "Food Fraud Database Lets Us All Play Detective." From the description, I expected some degree of chemophobia (habit):
Spices colored with carcinogens? Milk that "never saw a cow"? A free global database opens the door on the many ways that people adulterate [food]
Though I expected the carcinogen to be simply "chemicals" or something, it turned out to be the (indeed carcinogenic) Sudan dyes. In fact, NPR avoided chemophobia on this one!

The article is worth checking out -- it's a brief read, and it points to a really interesting resource: the USP Food Fraud Database. I'm not going to delve much into what the database is, since the NPR highlight already did that. But it's worth pointing out a feature I found interesting (and perhaps contrary to my experience with the food world, where anecdotal claims are usually key)--the database lists food items (ingredients), what the adulterant was, and the method of detection (PCR, Raman, NMR, etc.). Moreover, the scholarly or other reference in question is listed, for those interested in further clickthroughs. Makes for a nice highlight of how analytical chemistry techniques are used in real-world applications--and how particularly techniques are uniquely suited for different classes of analytes.

But now I'm going to be burning some time searching all the ingredients in my kitchen.


  1. 'Milk that "never saw a cow"?' - That's probably soy milk, available at health food stores everywhere.

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