Why is Analytical Chemistry Essential for Advancing Food Science?

With a wide range of techniques and methods available, analytical chemistry allows the identification and quantification of various substances in food matrices. Its role is crucial in understanding the composition, quality, and safety of food products and contributes to advancing the field of food science.

​​​​​​​Image Credit: Krisana Antharith/Shutterstock.comImage Credit: Krisana Antharith/Shutterstock.com

Introduction to Analytical Chemistry in Food Science

The application of analytical chemistry in food science enables us to determine the composition, structure, and function of food components, such as nutrients, additives, and contaminants.

This information is crucial for attesting to food safety, developing innovative food products, and ensuring compliance with regulatory standards.

Ensuring Food Safety and Quality

One of the main roles of analytical chemistry in food science is to ensure the safety and quality of products consumed by the public. Rigorous testing and analysis contribute to maintaining the integrity and reliability of the food supply chain and can help prevent foodborne illnesses.

Techniques such as chromatography, spectroscopy, and mass spectrometry are regularly employed for detecting and quantifying contaminants that may pose risks to consumers, including pesticides, heavy metals, and pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.

Mass spectrometry is particularly useful since it has a relatively large dynamic range and can be applied even without prior knowledge of the chemical content. In particular, high-resolution mass spectrometry (HR-MS) is often applied in food analysis, especially in conjunction with a chemical separation step, such as liquid chromatography (LC), to separate species with similar mass and generate molecular formulas.1

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Monitoring Contaminants and Adulterants

Contaminants and impurities compromise the quality and authenticity of food products, with food fraud being a great global problem. Olive oil and milk are the two food items with the highest risk of being degraded, and in 2008, an infamous case of melamine contamination of infant milk products was uncovered.

Different analytical techniques may be used depending on the nature of the pollutants. For instance, liquid chromatography and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) commonly detect foreign proteins in milk. In contrast, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) are used to detect milk from different species as adulterants.2

Techniques such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) can detect the presence of additives, preservatives, and contaminants in food products.

Mass spectrometry and atomic absorption spectroscopy are also used for this purpose. At the same time, isotopic analysis and DNA sequencing techniques allow for the authentication of food origins, tackling the problem of food adulteration and mislabeling.

Characterizing Nutritional Components

Analytical chemistry also provides valuable insights into food products' composition and nutritional value. For instance, vegetable fibers, antioxidant compounds, and some lipids and peptides are known to positively impact the diet and human health.

Nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in food matrices can be quantified via atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Soxhlet extraction and pressurized liquid extraction (PLE) can be used to determine the initial composition of key antioxidants contained in food matrices such as leaves.

Moreover, advances in near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy can rapidly analyze carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. This information can be used to assess nutritional quality, guide dietary recommendations, and develop nutritionally enhanced food products.3

Supporting Product Development and Innovation

Analytical chemistry can help guide the formulation of new products by providing insights into the physicochemical properties of food components, hence playing an integral role in food product development.

Innovation in food texture and flavor is guided by rheology and thermal analysis. Flavor profiling and texture analysis allow the assessment of organoleptic properties, while high-throughput screening and metabolomics enable the rapid evaluation of food formulations and the identification of bioactive compounds with potential health benefits.

Regulatory Compliance and Consumer Protection

Regulatory bodies have set rigorous standards to ensure food safety and quality, safeguarding public health and wellbeing. Analytical chemistry provides reliable methods for testing food products against such regulations and verifying their safety, quality, and authenticity.

This helps prevent foodborne illnesses and protects consumers' interests, contributing to transparency and informed consumer choice.

For instance, genetically modified crops are subject to rigorous safety assessments to be approved for cultivation and consumption as food or feed. Such assessments include bioinformatics analysis of the amino acid sequences of all potential open reading frames (ORFs) encoded in the DNA introduced through genetic modification.

If DNA sequences similar to known or potential toxins and allergens are identified, subsequent assessments of potential hazards for the consumer or the environment are carried out.

A recently developed method, called parallel reaction monitoring (PRM), is based on liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and can target peptides unique to specific amino acid sequences in genetically modified crops.

The method can be used to determine whether potentially hazardous sequences are present and trigger further assessments if needed.4


In conclusion, from detecting contaminants and pollutants to assessing the authenticity of food products, analytical chemistry is fundamental for advancing food science. With continuous technological advances, improved and novel methods will continue to address emerging challenges and drive progress in this area.


  1. Knolhoff, A. M. & Croley, T. R. (2016). Non-targeted screening approaches for contaminants and adulterants in food using liquid chromatography hyphenated to high resolution mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography A, 1428, 86-96.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chroma.2015.08.059. Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021967315012406
  2. Azad, T. & Ahmed, S. (2016). Common milk adulteration and their detection techniques. International Journal of Food Contamination, 3, 22.10.1186/s40550-016-0045-3. Available: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40550-016-0045-3
  3. Naviglio, D. & Gallo, M. (2020). Application of Analytical Chemistry to Foods and Food Technology. Foods, 9, 1296. Available: https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/9/9/1296
  4. Birukou, I., Bailey, K., Sugar, J., Mcclain, S. & Young, S. (2024). The Analysis of unintended open reading frame ORF-130 expression in maize event MZIR098 by LC-MS as part of the allergenicity risk assessment of genetically modified crops. Journal of Regulatory Science, 12.https://doi.org/10.21423/JRS.REGSCI.121269.

Further Reading 

Last Updated: Jun 18, 2024

Dr. Stefano Tommasone

Written by

Dr. Stefano Tommasone

Stefano has a strong background in Organic and Supramolecular Chemistry and has a particular interest in the development of synthetic receptors for applications in drug discovery and diagnostics. Stefano has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Salerno in Italy.


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