Researchers Discover New Food Safety Method Resulting From Pet Food Recall

Researchers at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., recently announced they have developed a new method of fine-tuning a mass spectrometer to rapidly identify foreign substances in pet food. The discovery enables scientists to determine in a matter of minutes whether pet food has been contaminated--a process that currently takes several hours or longer.

The idea to use the method came after graduate student Teresa Vail learned that some of the cans of pet food she recently had purchased for her own dogs were part of the recent nationwide recall of contaminated pet food due to the possibility they contained melamine, a chemical used in plastic furniture, cookware, and fertilizers abroad. Under the guidance of Professor O. David Sparkman, she tested the dog food using a mass spectrometer machine and a Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART) device to determine if the cans of dog food contained melamine and found that only one of a dozen cans tested positive for the chemical.

In a recent press release, Sparkman stated that by using mass spectrometry, which is used to weigh and identify molecules in substances, they were able to determine that a sample of dog food contained melamine "because it gave off a computer signal that is specific to the chemical."

He added that the DART device, when connected to the spectrometer machine, allows the food's components to be read as signals on a computer screen. "It took less time [to obtain] the results than to open up the can," said Sparkman, adding that this new method could save federal regulators time and money when testing food imports.

Vail and Sparkman will present their breakthrough method in June at an American Society of Mass Spectrometry conference in Indianapolis. For more information, Sparkman can be reached at 209-946-2604 or osparkma@pacific.edu or contact Rhashad Pittman in the media relations office at University of the Pacific at 209-946-3275 or 408-386-8401 (cell) or rpittman@pacific.edu.

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