While botanical identification and testing is always important to produce safe, efficacious food supplements and functional foods, the supply chain challenges posed by the ongoing novel coronavirus situation have raised some concerns across the industry. With anticipated shortages of popular botanical ingredients such as elderberry and echinacea that have been studied for their impact on immune function, the potential for economically motivated adulteration increases.
Vitafoods Insights checked in with NSF International, one of the leading standards setting and certification organisations globally, about the ongoing importance of botanical identification and how testing procedures can assure customers are receiving high quality products.
VFI: Why is botanical identification the key to producing quality finished products?
NSF: Establishing the identity of botanical ingredients plays several key roles in manufacturing quality food supplements, such as qualifying suppliers, monitoring the supply chain, verifying ingredient authenticity and reducing the risk of adulteration.
VFI: What are some of the GMP (good manufacturing practice) requirements related to botanical identification?
NSF: Supplements are regulated as food in the EU and do not have prescriptive GMP requirements. However, food supplements must not be unsafe as required by those regulations. For example, one can look at a tomato or tangerine at a grocer and know its identity by its appearance. Most botanical supplement ingredients are powders making it unlikely to verify its authenticity on appearance alone. This very fact enables unscrupulous ingredient suppliers to adulterate their ingredients, potentially making them unsafe.
Supplements have their own regulatory category in the United States. Supplements must meet those regulatory requirements when exported to the U.S., of which GMPs are one part. One GMP requirement is to “Conduct at least one appropriate test or examination to verify the identity of any component that is a dietary ingredient”.
VFI: How does the process change when looking at blends or extracts compared to single ingredients?
NSF: Evaluating the identity of a crude botanical ingredient can be challenging. One must select diagnostic features to discriminate between authentic ingredients and potential adulterants. Blends of multiple crude botanicals can mask or interfere with these features. Extracts may not even contain the feature selected for the crude botanical. Blends of extracts combine those challenges. Multiple analytical approaches may be required in many cases, and one must critically assess the results to ensure they are valid.
VFI: Given the current situation with COVID-19, are there concerns related to the potential for economically driven adulteration, and how should this impact steps that purchasers and QC personnel take in testing botanicals?
NSF: The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic may limit the supply of plant materials to manufacture botanical ingredients. Dishonest suppliers may attempt to increase their supply by adding other materials to their ingredients. Purchasers and quality control personnel must be vigilant to the potential for economic adulteration. Purchasers must be wary of abnormal prices of suppliers when compared to others. QC personnel must be aware of historical adulterants for botanicals and anticipate new ones.
While NSF International offers a range of in-person training courses, given the current travel situation, the organization is exploring new ways to deliver critical training to personnel who work with botanical ingredients. As part of Vitafoods Digital Week, NSF is offering a two-part Botanicals Identification and Testing Course, set for 14 and 15 May. This virtual training is designed to provide an overview of the guidance on testing methodology, specifications, and ingredient identification for botanicals. Combining extensive industry experience and real-world case studies with flexible and convenient training, participants in this course will:
- Identify botanical unknowns;
- Investigate the characterisation of botanicals;
- Differentiate between natural and adulterated botanicals;
- Review organoleptic characterisation;
- Learn how high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) can be used for testing adulterated botanical identification; and
- Make sense of complex steps to ensure testing methods are scientifically valid for species identification.
Click here for more information including cost and registration details.