We all know food samples are tricky. There are a lot of different matrices, analytes, contaminants and sample preparation methods to consider in food analysis, making this field very challenging.
Since the pandemic hit food labs, challenges have only increased; labor is now a major concern. Manual preparation methods like QuEChERS and solid-phase-extraction (SPE) are labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Pre-pandemic concerns were more focused on sources of error in a lab that can lead to out-of-specification results. This is still a common problem. However, the pandemic challenged a lot of labs. People are working in shifts; social distancing reduces the numbers allowed in the lab at the same time; and many lab workers may need to stay home to take care of personal commitments. But the number of samples in the lab stays the same. What is the solution?
This is where we introduce the holy grail — automation of sample preparation!
Automation offers the following benefits:
Reduces human error and, therefore, repeat analysis
The potential to reduce costs
More reliable results
Automation also has been known to reduce the amount of pain killers lab managers must take against their continuous headache.
Which sample preparation methods can be automated in a food testing lab?
This is a question of:
sample preparation used
can it be fully or partially automated
availability of money to invest
There are well-established, simple methods that might already be in place like Accelerated-Solvent-Extraction (ASE) for the analysis of dioxins, pesticides and fats, amongst others which can be extracted from solid and semi-solid matrices such as fish, meat and honey. See if your extraction is suitable to automate with ASE. Not only does ASE automate the process of extraction from challenging matrices, it also reduces the amount of solvent used, saving money as well as time, allowing you to get on with other jobs while the extraction takes place.
Most of the methods that are dedicated to volatiles such as static Headspace (HSS) and solid-phase-micro-extraction (SPME) are automated through autosamplers.
But what about liquid-liquid-extraction? Some methods can be automated using a Thermo Scientific™ TriPlus™ RSH autosampler. However, this depends on the matrix and the detection limits. In case of a high sample amount used for extraction and especially for solid samples, it might not be possible to run this on an RSH autosampler. Check with one of our specialists, if you have an applicable matrix and related analytes.
For liquid matrices this is a good option and there are fully automated methods available.
Today, we already have automated methods and workflows for the analysis of MCPDe in oil matrices. This is a plug-and-play method that is already widely used in different parts of the world. Watch to this interesting webinar to see a sample-to-result workflow.
The most challenging sample preparation to automate is QuEChERS. This preparation can be automated, giving you a simple choice of GC-MS or LC-MS analysis afterwards.
Sometimes life can be easy. By automating this process, a lab can even save money in the long run, since the methods are easy, completely developed, more robust and only one µ-SPE cartridge is required for use with either GC or LC.
Did we gain your interest? Please listen to an on-demand webinar about this new method. It has been proven in professional food testing labs all over the world to work with difficult matrices such as salmon, grape leaves and spices, to name a few.