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By Katrina Emmel, Ph.D. and Andrea Champagne, B.S.
Recently, news stories and other media reports have identified increasing concerns about adulteration of foods and dietary supplements. Some products have been withdrawn or recalled from the market, and have caused a high level of concern for consumers. NOW Foods shares these concerns and takes appropriate measures to ensure the safety and integrity of our products.
NOW Foods’ mission is to provide value in products and services that empower people to lead healthier lives. We are committed to providing the highest quality ingredients, and part of this commitment includes screening incoming materials for adulterants. Many of the current analytical methods used to identify adulterants are time-consuming and complex. In addition, each adulterant of concern requires a specific test for identification.
Under current U.S. law, all active ingredients must be disclosed on dietary supplement product labels. It is illegal to add undeclared ingredients, pharmaceutical drugs or toxic substances to these products. When the law is violated, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power to act in order to protect public health.
Perhaps the most memorable adulteration concern in recent history involved the contamination of Chinese pet foods and infant formulas with melamine. Melamine is fairly inexpensive and has a high nitrogen content. Nitrogen tests are often used as a very basic quality measure to determine the level of protein in foods; unfortunately, nitrogen tests are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between protein and melamine, as both are nitrogen-based compounds. Certain deceptive manufacturers realized that replacing protein with melamine allowed them to save money and continue to have their products test high for “protein” as long as their customers relied only on the simple nitrogen assay. Naturally, NOW utilizes more sophisticated testing to properly screen proteins for adulteration by melamine.
Other products have been found to be adulterated by substances that are thought to “boost” their desired effect. Some athletes have been implicated in the use of steroids to enhance their performance. Certain athletes who have tested positive for steroids have claimed that they unknowingly took steroids via sports supplements; but these claims are often questionable. Still, athletes should expect quality supplements to be free of steroids and other adulterants. Recent recalls spurred by FDA have been linked to the presence of steroids and steroid precursors in illegal unapproved products mislabeled as sports supplements. In a similar fashion, illegal pharmaceutical adulterants have been identified in certain weight management and men’s virility supplements, presumably to ensure efficacy. These adulterated products represent a small proportion of products in these categories and are typically not made by reputable supplement makers.
NOW Foods takes pains to screen raw materials for adulteration by specifying certain procedures in procurement and testing. To that end, NOW scientists are currently developing a state-of-the-art screening technique which can be used to identify a broad spectrum of adulterants in a wide variety of incoming raw materials using just one test per sample. This technique utilizes infrared spectroscopy to scan samples for adulterants. Unlike other adulteration screening techniques which can require up to three hours per sample, this new method can be performed in less than ten minutes. In addition, the spectroscopic method that we are developing requires only a small amount of product sample and minimal sample preparation. Since minimal waste is produced, this is an environmentally sound technique.
As always, NOW Foods strives to provide the highest quality products to its consumers. By developing advanced in-house adulteration screening methods, we are able to ensure that our products meet our customers’ high standards.