In September, Strategic Directions International, IBO’s publisher, released the report, “Testing Before Tasting: Analytical Instrumentation for Food Applications.” The publication details analytical instrument demand, including market size and growth rates, for 12 categories of laboratory instruments, such as mass spectrometers and liquid chromatographs.
In preparing the report, a survey of 135 food laboratories was conducted in July and August 2018. The results of one question, “What could instrument suppliers do better to improve their offerings to adapt to increasingly stringent regulations in the food industry?,” are presented here for the first time.
As shown in the graph below, the free text responses to this question were assigned to eight categories, with some answers classified in multiple categories. Over a third of survey participants’ responses indicated the need for improved support from instrument manufacturers, and updated instrumentation to meet regulations and respond to customer feedback.
Food regulations across the globe are constantly being updated, especially given the introduction of more stringent testing regulations in regions, particularly Asia, as countries aim to modernize their testing regimes and improve consumer safety. In addition, the development and wider adoption of new or more sensitive analytical techniques, for example, LC/MS/MS and PCR, result in new methods, applications and standards for food testing. New testing requirements, techniques and methods are often guided by standards issued by internationally recognized organizations, such as the AOAC, the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which regularly issue updates.
Overall, survey responses suggest that some food labs are struggling to keep up with new food standards and regulations and ensure productivity. To meet these challenges, labs are looking to instrument suppliers for assistance.
Better Customer Support and Training
The survey respondents whose answers are classified in this category specifically commented on service, training, and application and method support. Specific comments addressed the need for better warranties and more white papers and application notes. One specific suggestion was for “updating [the] manual for different test method[s].” Another respondent wrote, “they could demonstrate how their instruments can be used to follow official methods of analysis.”
Many of the responses in this group also related specifically to regulatory demands, and thus were classified in both this category and the category below. Regarding training, one survey respondent wrote, “better training on their [i.e., instrument companies’] systems on how to implement and use their software/instrumentation to meet the updated regulations.” Another participant wrote, “provide guidance on how to develop specific methods so that they are compliant with the appropriate regulations, or sell packages geared towards regulatory compliance.”
Updating Instruments Based on Regulations and Customer Feedback
As noted earlier, almost half of the free text answers classified in the category above were also classified as belonging in this category. Indeed, in many cases, support and training were described as being needed to help labs meet regulatory change and adopt new methods. As one respondent put it, instrument companies could “bring awareness on regulations and provide whole solutions to increase compliance rate.”
The suggestions also addressed instrument hardware. This was in both in a general sense, as one participant indicated, “read regulations and design instruments to help customers comply with them.” But respondents also mentioned specific instrument performance capabilities. As one participant wrote, “to cope with lower regulations for toxins in agricultural products, accuracy and sensitivity [sic]” are important. Another wrote, “Actively understand the needs of customers, and [that] there is no conflict between regulations. Design more reasonable and more accurate instruments.” A need for automation was also noted, as a respondent suggested “designing the instrument enables intelligent automation of the entire analysis process, reducing manual involvement.”
Two respondents specifically noted the possibilities inherent in new software solutions. As one participant wrote, “To consider various regulations, not only of a single county, and embed them in a kind of decision-making software.” Another respondent wrote, “using more advanced and intelligent algorithms for instrument innovation can be more intelligent and autonomous in line with the current regulations as a research point [sic]. Instrument innovation.”