The increased interest in functional foods has given rise to a growing number of players entering into its global supply chain. While many of these products contain novel and complex substances, not all industry players have the willingness, capability and resources to employ sound science to support health claims associated with their products.
Of chief importance to the USP, according to Dr. Lipp, will be a focus on the challenges in describing the identity of complex functional food ingredients; quantitative and qualitative tests that support product quality; and the tools needed to demonstrate and verify that the product in commerce is in fact identical to the product that has been employed to demonstrate the alleged health benefits. “This symposium will focus on where knowledge gaps exist for industry with regard to quality testing of functional food ingredients and how USP can best support stakeholders in creating a stable supply chain for this arena,” he said.
When asked to expand upon the types of knowledge gaps observed by USP, Dr. Lipp pointed to gray areas in not just the supply chain, but also the manufacturing process. “Many food products are transformed in various ways to provide the necessary stability for shipping, to extract the most valuable components, to take out less desirable or unpalatable parts or to make them more useful for incorporation into desired applications,” he said. “As food ingredients transform, the amount and the kind of information available to determine their identity, quality and purity change dramatically.”
For example, most people are easily able to identify an apple hanging on the apple tree. But if that apple is turned into apple juice, it becomes less possible for consumers to know whether the beverage is 100% apple juice or if it’s been modified with water, sugar or other components. This holds true for most—if not all—functional foods throughout the supply chain, Dr. Lipp said. “Açaì berries are very delicate and are generally not available as a whole berry, but rather in a freeze-dried form for which only suitable laboratory results would be able to identify its quality, identity and purity,” he explained. “It is not possible to make a blanket statement about the types of tests necessary to provide comprehensive quality testing as they will depend on the ingredient under consideration. These tests have to be developed using a case-by-case approach.
“Through its compendium of internationally-recognized quality standards for food ingredients—Food Chemicals Codex—USP is able and willing to assist industry and regulators with the development of suitable quality standards that include the necessary test methodologies, but is dependent on collaborations with industry to help characterize such food ingredients.”
The crux of the challenge to scientists tasked with identifying and validating the benefits of functional ingredients is rooted in the ever-evolving consumer penchant for wellness, coupled with an aging population and the growing popularity of globally-sourced products. “Some popular examples are goji berries originating from the Himalaya region, or açaì berries from the jungles of Brazil,” Dr. Lipp said. “Common to all of these new ingredients are, of course, alleged health benefits that are part of the attraction for consumers and industry. However, the supply chains needed to source these products and ultimately get them on domestic dining tables are often intricate and lengthy. Unless one has a clear understanding of the composition of a product and can guarantee the identity and quality of its naturally-occurring components associated with a purported health claim, one is at risk of purchasing a product that, in fact, is not what it claims to be.”
Supply chain vulnerabilities, he said, are a result of “long, complicated supply chains combined with a limited understanding of the exact components needed to unequivocally identify these ingredients…and present less ethical players with opportunities for intentional adulteration (i.e., adding, subtracting or otherwise deceivingly manipulating an ingredient without the knowledge of the purchaser).”
Looking forward, Dr. Lipp expounded upon USPs current priorities, as they related to providing guidance to manufacturers, and acknowledged the need for reliable public standards to help protect and safeguard the identity, purity and quality of food ingredients as they move through the supply chain. “Intentional adulteration poses incalculable risks to industry and consumers,” he remarked. “In such cases, only the adulterer will know the new composition and any risks related to the altered identity and quality of an intentionally adulterated ingredient.
“USP’s mission is to help protect public health, and USP fulfills part of this mission by providing quality standards to all stakeholders in the supply chain that help make food ingredients safer,” he continued. “At its Symposium on Functional Foods and Dietary Supplements, USP will focus on the very vibrant and dynamic area of functional foods, most of which are complex in their composition and are sourced through complex and long supply chains, making them potentially more vulnerable to intentional adulteration.”
He concluded by affirming USP’s belief that industry, regulators, consumers and standard-setting organizations all play a vital role in helping safeguard food supply chains, and ultimately protect consumers from the risks of intentional adulteration. “To do its part, USP recently has engaged in the development of quality standards for several functional food ingredients (e.g., probiotics, krill oil and many more) and will continue to devote resources to this important area,” he said.
For more details about USP’s upcoming Symposium, follow this link.