About My Food Safety Internship
By Duo G.
This summer, I am interning at Mars Global Food Safety Center located in my hometown in Beijing, China. I am working in the analytical lab together with the scientists here. The lab focuses on solving the food safety issues, which include aflatoxin mitigation and food adulteration. My internship basically consists of three research projects.
From week 1 to week 3, I am working on a mycotoxin detoxifier project with Dr. Peng. Mycotoxin detoxifiers are the substances that can suppress or reduce the absorption of mycotoxins, promote the secretion of mycotoxins, or modify their mode of action. The goal of this project is to quantitively analyze the amount of mycotoxin in corn after being treated by different detoxifiers under different concentrations. The tasks include corn grinding, pipette handling, solution preparation for sample preparation & sample analysis, aflatoxin purification with immunoaffinity column (IAC), HPLC detection, and quantitative analysis.
From week 4 to week 7, I am doing a rice adulteration project. This project aims to develop an accurate and precise fingerprinting method using multivariate tools to build a robust model to distinguish possibly adulterated rice from authentic rice in China. The goal is to focus on one key tool and develop his competence on it for adulteration identification. There are two instruments of vibrational spectroscopy used in parallel in this project for collecting the spectra: SCiO (NIR) and FTIR. For NIR, it is a handheld portable device that requires little sample preparation and is very easy to use. The tasks include scanning each rice sample poured in the petri dish and then analyze the spectra. For FTIR, it requires sample preparation: I need to grind and sieve each rice sample to get the smallest layer of rice particles less than 100 microns to do the FTIR scanning, in order to maintain the accuracy and the consistency of the results. After collecting two set of spectra using two different methods for our 136 Chinese rice samples, I conduct data analysis using computer software, which includes two different computer programs: SCiO and Simca. For data analysis using each program, the tasks include data processing, model building, model testing, etc. This project is the focus of my internship.
From week 8 to week 10, I am doing a final aflatoxin mitigation project (ozone project) with Dr. Li. Chemical destruction is one way to destroy aflatoxin and with great advantage for bulky grain, like peanut kernel. The goal of this project is to operate one chemical method using ozone on degradation of aflatoxins and learn the aflatoxin detection capabilities in peanuts. The tasks include experimental design, generating ozone (ozone water) using ozone generator, determining ozone concentration in water by iodometric titration, performing ozone-aflatoxin reaction experiment, instrumental analysis using QTOF LC/MS and QQQ LC/MS. Many types of wet chemistry reaction and instrumentation are operated for this project.
These research projects at Mars Global Food Safety Center have very strong connections to environmental health. Aflatoxin contamination is responsible for huge economic loss, not only in peanuts, but also in corn and other tree nuts. Sorting systems during processing are quite effective at separating out highly contaminated materials. But this creates a waste stream which today is either destroyed, repurposed through unregulated routes, or consumed by local farmers and their families and fed to the animals. Therefore, it will cause huge environmental consequence that is harmful to our environmental health and human health. Through the study in GFSC, we are exploring potential solutions that could reduce the toxicity level of highly contaminated peanuts and open up opportunities for safely repurposing and reducing food waste, e.g. safe animal feed.
Food fraud is another key issue among food safety risks. Adulterated substances might be added into the food product to substitute the original raw material. These adulterated substances are very likely to cause negative health outcome to human. Many food fraud cases in China have caused a lot of severe health outcomes, including fatality, of the consumers, which have already become China’s public health crisis in terms of food safety. GFSC has long-term blueprint and driving ambition on raw material integrity. GFSC focuses on identifying vulnerable raw material value streams, fingerprinting technologies and prevention frameworks to aid in food fraud prevention.
Besides these three main research projects on my timeline, I am also learning about routine laboratory functioning, chemical inventory and equipment storage, and also environmental health and safety management. I am also studying a lot from the Environmental Health & Safety team at Mars Global Food Safety Center about the laboratory safety management and environmental health practices.
My solid chemistry knowledge and laboratory skills are the most important skills I need to make my internship awesome. Other basic laboratory knowledge and skills in terms of laboratory management and environmental health & safety are also very important. Many “soft skills” like interpersonal communication and time management are also needed.
I will need the support from the research scientists of analytical team, especially the scientists who act as my mentors and are in charge of the projects that I am working on. I will also need a lot of support from the lab assistants I work with over summer.