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Project Areas

Chemical Contaminants

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A wide variety of potentially harmful compounds may be present in food, including toxic elements, natural toxins, pesticide and veterinary drug residues, environmental and processing contaminants, unapproved additives and adulterants, and migrants from packaging materials. This diversity in target analyte, combined with a similar diversity in matrix across the food industry, equates to a complicated measurement challenge in monitoring chemical contamination in our food. The NIST effort around determination of chemical contaminants in foods is focused on development of relevant reference materials, interlaboratory comparisons, and other measurement services to assist laboratories in assuring quality. Thirty reference materials for chemical contaminants in foods are currently available or are in development. For additional technical information, contact Melissa Phillips (melissa.phillips [at]

Protein Food Allergens

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Food allergen management is an increasingly important economic and public health concern, resulting in half of US food recalls and requiring accurate and reliable allergen measurements. Traditional methods for food allergen detection are based on immunoassay techniques and are linked to a specific commodity (e.g., total milk protein, total egg protein). Current food allergen reference materials include a value for total commodity as determined by non-specific approaches, such as total nitrogen measurement, and contain no direct link between the measured food allergen protein(s) and the reported total commodity value. The emergence of mass spectrometry-based platforms has revealed the need for reference materials that support protein-specific measurements. To support the harmonization of food allergen measurements, the food allergen research effort at NIST is focused on providing reference materials and methods to improve the connection between the measured protein food allergen and the reported total commodity value. For additional technical information, contact the NIST Food Allergens Team at (NISTFoodAllergens [at]


Microbial Contaminants

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Microbial contamination is the leading cause of foodborne illness worldwide. To meet microbial testing needs of the fast-paced food industry, methods must be rapid and thoroughly validated. NIST is interested in working with the food industry to build links between classical compendial approaches and novel test methods for microbe detection, to decrease the time and cost needed to implement higher-throughput technology. Additionally, when microbial contamination is detected, accurate source tracing methods must be implemented to eliminate current consumer risk and reduce likelihood of future risk. To this end, NIST has developed a suite of microbial genomic DNA reference materials for quality control and proficiency testing in whole genome sequencing, the official method for identifying the sources of contaminated foods during foodborne outbreaks. For additional technical information, contact Scott Jackson (scott.jackson [at]

Food Authenticity

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Credit: Daria-Yakovleva - 3938704

Food manufacturers and regulators are challenged to ensure through testing that an ingredient or food is being accurately represented. The scope of the authenticity and adulteration problem ranges from an accidental substitution of one product for another (e.g., two crops physically resemble one another and are mislabeled during or after harvest) to fraud through intentional substitution of one lower-cost commodity for another to downright threats to public health involving addition of components to boost certain attributes of the product (e.g., melamine in milk to increase the measured results of a non-specific protein determination). Addressing these issues requires a suite of testing methods used in concert to understand product characteristics and monitor and respond to changes. The NIST food authenticity effort is exploring solutions that involve advanced methodology, data tools, and reference material suites to assist food manufacturers in ensuring product authenticity. For additional technical information, contact Kate Rimmer (kate.rimmer [at]

Created June 23, 2020, Updated August 17, 2020