Researchers develop ‘instant’ food safety test method

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Sep 05, 2013 - Page 3

Researchers have developed a new method for instantly testing harmful chemical substances in food, the National Science Council said yesterday.

The council said that while many cases concerning food safety have been reported in recent years, chemical testing takes some time to produce results.

The research, funded by the council, was led by Shiea Jen-taie (謝建台), a professor at National Sun Yat-Sen University’s chemistry department. The team has so far designed three types of ambient mass spectrometry devices that can test chemical substances — including melamine, plasticizers, maleic acid, triclosan, preservatives and pesticide residues — added into food.

Unlike current testing methods that take at least a few hours and need certain pre-treatment processes before testing can take place, Shiea said that the team’s testing method uses a thin metal probe for sampling the food, and the results are reached within a few seconds.

He said although the sensitivity of their method is not as great as conventional methods, it still has the ability to provide instant results for testing large quantities in a short period of time.

The method has already obtained patents in the US and Taiwan, and the team is now designing a portable device, so that food samples can be tested directly on site, such as at market places, without having to be sent to laboratories.

In addition to hazardous chemicals, Shiea said the method could be used in drug testing by customs at national borders, sensing unknown chemicals in terrorist incidents, identifying fake medicine, or spot checking whether someone has taken drugs.

However, he said as the device is still rather expensive and the method has not obtained certification, it may take at least a decade before the method becomes widely applicable.