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Analysis of VOCs in food has long been important in order to evaluate composition, monitor changes upon processing, cooking and those occurring during shelf life, and to identify the components causing desirable (or undesirable) characteristics.

What are the challenges facing food analysts?

Profiling the VOCs giving rise to food aromas is a challenge for the analyst for two main reasons:

  • Food aromas often contain many VOCs at a wide range of concentrations, making it difficult to get a complete picture of the VOC profile in a single analytical run.
  • The distinctive aroma of a particular foodstuff frequently results from one or two trace-level compounds with a disproportionately high odour activity, which can be difficult to detect amongst much more abundant components.

Recent trends in food analysis

In recent years, however, improvements in analytical techniques have helped to address these challenges. Current activity – both in research and industry – is focused on three main areas:

  • Aroma profiling – Understanding the factors that give rise to the aroma differences between similar foods, including how these are governed by genetic differences.
  • Food safety – Understanding the origin of VOCs causing off-odours, as well those indicating food deterioration or contamination from packaging.
  • Food consistency and quality – Ensuring production-line consistency of products from batch to batch.

Sampling techniques for food VOC profiling


The variety of sample types investigated by food analysts can make selecting suitable analytical system(s) challenging. However, the ideal system would be able to:

  • Preconcentrate samples, to maximise the response from trace-level aroma compounds.
  • Handle a variety of sampling techniques.
  • Reduce labour-intensive sample preparation.
  • Analyse a wide analyte range in a single run.
  • Automate processing of a large number of samples.
  • Selectively remove high-concentration interferents such as water, ethanol and acetic acid.
  • Have an option for off-site sampling, with samples sent to other labs for analysis.
  • Be suitable for users without extensive training.

Markes International's equipment for VOC profiling of foods

Markes' UNITY-xr and TD100-xr are commonly used by analysts using workflows based on sorbent tubes, often in conjunction with sampling using Easy-VOC, ACTI-VOC or µ-CTE.

Alternatively, food laboratories requiring a wider range of sampling options are increasingly turning to Markes' Centri sample automation and preconcentration platform. Centri incorporates all the capabilities of tube-based TD systems, while also offering automated sampling and trap-based analyte focusing using headspace, SPME and HiSorb high-capacity sorptive extraction.

Find out more by browsing the content below.

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