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Food Safety

Testing in Food Industry

The Food Safety Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides advanced analytical chemistry and quantitative biology to ensure that food is free of contaminants and allergens and is authentic, promoting U.S. manufacturers’ participation in domestic and foreign markets, and safeguarding the health of consumers. Food contaminants can sicken consumers, cause outbreaks of disease, and result in costly investigations and recalls with subsequent loss of trust in manufacturers and suppliers. Consumer confidence and safety depend on sophisticated analysis and underlying metrology to detect both intentional and unintentional adulteration and to confirm the identity of food products. As part of the Department of Commerce, NIST’s mission includes promoting competitiveness of and confidence in the nearly $5.75 trillion U.S. food industry* and other sectors, enhancing economic security, and improving Americans’ quality of life.

Well-characterized food-matrix reference materials are critical to ensure accurate determinations of contaminants in foods. In the same way that macronutrient profiles can impact the analytical determination of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, measurement of contaminants can be equally affected by relative levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrate in the food. Food-matrix reference materials are developed from animal, plant, and mixed-matrix sources to represent common food types with various macronutrient profiles. These reference materials are used by laboratories involved with the characterization of food composition (e.g., food manufacturers and processors, regulators, third-party testing laboratories) to develop and validate new analytical methods, to improve the quality of their analytical measurements, and to support compliance with a number of federal regulations enforced by FDA, USDA, and other regulatory bodies.

*2017 figures for US food industry sales (, accessed 27 April 2020)

Created June 11, 2020, Updated February 18, 2021