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Atomic Spectroscopy in Food Analysis


  1. Scott A. Baker1,
  2. Nancy J. Miller-Ihli1,
  3. Péter Fodor2,
  4. Ágnes Woller2

Published Online: 17 DEC 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a1003.pub2

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Baker, S. A., Miller-Ihli, N. J., Fodor, P. and Woller, Á. 2012. Atomic Spectroscopy in Food Analysis . Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD, USA

  2. 2

    Corvinus University of Budapest, Budapest, Hungary

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 DEC 2012


There are several reasons that can explain why food analysis is a topic of strong interest for a large number of institutes around the world. Consumer demands have increased toward healthier and safer food products produced in environment-friendly conditions. Food manufacturers and food distribution companies have to improve their quality control (QC) of raw materials, manufacturing processes, and end-products to provide safe, healthy, and high-quality products at reasonable price. Evaluation of element (e.g. essential and toxic) contents is an important part of nutrition and health claims made on foods. The methods best suited to meet this task are atomic spectroscopic methods such as atomic absorption, atomic emission, and elemental mass spectrometry (MS). Methods commonly used in the generation of food composition data include flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS), graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP/AES), and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP/MS). FAAS and ICP/AES offer similar detection limits (DLs) (ng mL−1 levels), whereas GFAAS and ICP/MS can provide sub-ng mL−1 detection capability. The choice of a method often depends on detection capability, but ease of use, speed of analysis, and cost must also be considered. ICP/AES, ICP/MS, and more recently GF/AAS offer the advantage of providing simultaneous multielement measurements, making them well suited for the analysis of large numbers of elements in food samples. If one or a few elements are to be determined, less expensive atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS) methods might be more suitable.

The most critical stage in the development of analytical methods is sample preparation. Samples can be prepared using numerous procedures, but the most useful for a wide range of analytes and sample matrices are based on wet ashing of the sample.

In addition to total element determinations, speciation measurements are important to determine the exact chemical form of the element that is present in the sample. As important properties, such as the bioavailability of an element, are dependent on its chemical form (speciation), the development of reliable methods for identification and quantification of trace element species is critical. The most practical difficulty encountered in speciation is to preserve the integrity of the sample and the species of interest during sampling, storage, and sample preparation. Hyphenated techniques, such as the coupling of chromatographic separation and atomic spectroscopic detection, have proven useful for elemental speciation measurements.