Food safety testing involves the use of various technologies and methods to determine risk factors associated with the consumption of a food item. Food safety testing is often carried out by specific agencies organized by the government of a country to scrutinize and ensure that food products comply with its food safety regulations to protect public health.
With an increasing dependence on global supply chains, food products can become contaminated at virtually any point in the production and distribution cycle, posing increased health risks to consumers. These and other factors are driving national regulators around the globe as well as key participants in the food industry to demand better and more effective monitoring of the safety of food products, as well as increased testing to help reduce health risks to consumers.
A recent data analysis by ESOMAR-certified market research and consulting firm Food Testing Services Market reveals the market size is estimated at US$20 billion at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 8.5% for the 2022-2032 period. It is also estimated the market size will reach US$30 billion by 2032.
Consumers’ rising interest in food safety drives the market
The growing threat of foodborne diseases, adulteration, and toxicity has increased the need for food testing services. One out of every ten people gets sick from foodborne illness each year, with children under the age of 5 being the most vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 450,000 people die each year as a result of eating contaminated food. These factors highlight the need for increased care and the establishment of more food-safety facilities.
The food testing services market in developed countries is being driven by rising consumer interest in food quality and technological advancements. Food processing companies and foodservice organizations are gaining consumer trust through safety certifications and compliance.
Increased consumer interest in food safety and quality issues, as well as the ability to quickly share these issues via social media, combined with expanding regulatory resourcefulness, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), are elevating testing's prominence.
The food testing parameters include testing of meat, dairy products, processed food, cereals, grains, and many more.
Global overview of the food testing market
The United States dominates the global food safety testing market. Stringent regulations imposed by regulatory bodies are a major factor driving the growth of the U.S. food safety testing market. Other factors include increased food production in the U.S., and the number of foodborne disease outbreaks.
Food safety testing is mandatory at all stages of production and processing, ensuring safe food for consumers while also fuelling the market. In the U.S., the most common types of testing are microbial testing and GMO testing. Various players such as Eurofins Scientific, Intertek, NSF International, and others are present in the U.S. food safety market.
In the APAC region, China is the leader. The changing consumer attitude and retailer concerns for safe and quality food, positive structural changes in Chinese food safety regulations, the high occurrence of food safety incidents in China, China's rising food exports, and the globalization of food trade are driving market growth.
The China Food and Drug Administration regulates food safety testing. Regulatory organizations' strict requirements to combat fraud, scams, and food adulteration have led to the closure of a large number of food production and processing companies in China, mainly infant formula and dairy businesses.
Food testing also requires the continuous advancement of technology. With better technology comes better results of the food tested. Japan is one of the largest technologically advanced countries, and the food testing industry is growing here as there is stronger R&D as well as better measures being taken.
Moving into Europe, Spain is currently driving market growth and is expected to do so in the future. This is due to the presence of several market players in the country. The market for food safety testing is hampered by the demand for meeting test requirements (as defined by various regulations) for the trading of food products. In-house testing has been marketed as a viable solution to Spain's food safety testing problems.
Agriculture and food products have long been the foundation of Spain's food safety policy. Superior quality-control procedures in Spanish food products have helped Spain maintain its position in the globalized market.
Current chemical and microbiological testing methods
A wide range of testing methods is available to food producers to assess the safety of their products. For chemical testing, different analytical techniques are commonly used. These include traditional, so-called ‘wet chemical’ techniques, and advanced approaches such as infrared spectroscopy, gas and liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry.
Used in combination with liquid or gas chromatography, mass spectrometry is the most frequently used chemical test since it permits the detection of low concentrations of analyses in highly complex food matrices.
Conventional microbiological testing of food typically encompasses culture-based techniques with selective agars or other biochemical assay techniques. However, DNA-based and bimolecular techniques are increasingly becoming essential analytical tools in the testing of the safety of foods. These techniques can help identify the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms, food allergens, and other substances.
In addition, DNA-based and bimolecular testing are also effective means of validating product claims regarding the source of species of animal or fish-based foods, thereby helping to support efforts to combat food counterfeiting and food fraud worldwide.
Advancements in chemical testing methods
As scientists and researchers discover more efficient and less time-intensive methods and technologies, the number and type of available chemical and microbiological methods applicable to food safety testing continue to expand.
Advancements in chemical contaminants analysis are being furthered by the speed, sensitivity, and selectivity of innovative testing instruments that enable many compounds to be analyzed in a single test run. In addition, methods of sample preparation, such as QuEChERS (Quick, Easy, Cheap, Effective, Rugged, and Safe; pronounced as ‘catchers’) do not involve any pre-concentration steps and require minimum extract clean up.
These qualities make QuEChERS-based preparations easier to automate and have helped to make it the preferred sample preparation technique for the chemical evaluation of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables. And the use of this technique has also rapidly expanded to include testing of other contaminants, including antibiotics and compounds found in a wide variety of food matrices, such as meat, fish, and wine.
At the same time, innovations in gas chromatography high-resolution mass spectrometry instruments, along with the development of related software tools, have shown great potential. This makes it feasible to use in food testing laboratories, for non-targeted testing and identification of known and even unknown chemical contaminants and environmental pollutants that exist in the food supply chain.
Microbiological testing advancements
In preventing and controlling the spread of foodborne pathogens, accuracy and speed in microbiological testing are among the most demanded criteria by the food industry. As a result, these factors are the primary qualities of many scientific techniques for microbiological analysis and represent the focus of continued innovation and improvement.
For example, obtaining real-time results regarding the presence of potentially harmful microbiological contaminants in food matrices has become a reality in recent years, albeit with some limitations. This is in contrast with conventional, culture-based techniques, which often require several days to process, thereby delaying decisions regarding the safety of food products and whether further investigations are required.
Some of the other advances that will continue to have a significant impact on microbiological testing for food safety include:
Culture-based tests: Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) methods and diagnostic test kits for bacterial pathogens and microbial toxins. These immunological assay techniques rely primarily on the antigen-antibody binding which offers a high degree of specificity and accuracy. They have dramatically reduced the time needed to obtain results, especially when compared to conventional enrichment and plating techniques (or ‘culture techniques’).
Biosensor-based techniques: The state of these microbiological testing methods also reflects important achievements in the area of real-time testing. Biosensors are devices for pathogen detection that typically incorporate three essential elements, including a biological capture molecule, a method of converting the captured molecule-target interaction into a signal, and a data output mechanism. Although biosensor-based techniques are currently seeing only limited use in food safety testing, they offer the advantages of real-time detection, portability, and multi-pathogen detection in both laboratory and field environments.
DNA-based fingerprinting techniques: One of the principal advantages of DNA-based assays in the detection of foodborne pathogens is their high degree of specificity; they detect specific nucleic acid sequences in the target microorganism by hybridizing them into short synthetic oligonucleotides that complement the specific nucleic acid-based assay. Automated polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based technology represents one of the fastest developing DNA-based analytical approaches used in the detection of foodborne pathogens. Techniques based on PCR technology offer high specificity and extremely rapid turnaround times, making them potentially more popular as less expensive test methods and instruments are introduced for commercial use.
Continued improvements in PCR and other DNA fingerprinting technologies will add to the pool of scientific techniques which are available to identify foodborne pathogens and microbial toxins. These and other advanced techniques can facilitate the more rapid determination of whether microbiological hazards exist, as well as at what point they may have been introduced into the food supply chain.
Chemical and microbiological testing are essential tools in the effort to combat foodborne illnesses as well as food fraud. Recent technical advances now provide the food industry with a variety of advanced analytical tools that offer more accurate results in less time, helping to speed the movement of safe food to the market.
Nandini Roy Choudhury is an experienced research professional and client research partner at ESOMAR-certified market research and consulting firm Future Market Insights (FMI). FMI is an ESOMAR-certified market research and consulting market research company, and leading provider of market intelligence and consulting services, serving clients in over 150 countries; MarketNgage is a unified market intelligence engine powered by FMI.