The Eurofins Expertise Centre for Complex Carbohydrates and Chemistry (CCC) in Heerenveen (the Netherlands) has recently developed a new analysis method for a customer in the dairy foods and baby milk industry. The Eurofins lab is now able to analyse 2’-fucosyllactose: one of the endogenous carbohydrates (carbohydrates produced by the body) in human milk. The test is for the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) – a relatively new ingredient of baby foods, for which no analysis method has been available until now for routine quality control. Other customers can now also have these analyses carried out by Eurofins. What are HMOs exactly? And what led to the development of this new analysis method? Eurofins CCC’s Business Innovation Manager Jeroen van Soest explains.
“The first-generation baby milk products and adult foods contain sugars and carbohydrates which are produced – chemically or through enzymatic biosynthesis – by the body or are isolated from plants by semi-natural processes. These carbohydrates – for example fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – are not naturally found in mother’s milk. But producers have recently become able to develop complex endogenous carbohydrates and sugars for baby milk. These carbohydrates, such as 2’-fucosyllactose, are also found in mother’s milk”, Van Soest explains. Oligosaccharides (HMOs) in mother’s milk play an essential role in the healthy development of babies by stimulating healthy intestinal bacteria.
In addition, HMOs reduce infections by blocking the binding of pathogens; HMOs have a prebiotic effect and stimulate the immune response. In this way they strengthen the immune system. In brief: HMOs are thought to provide many health benefits for babies. However, mother’s milk is not available to many babies, and there are currently no alternative natural sources of HMOs. And it was not formerly allowed for producers to simply add HMOs to baby milk.
Tests are needed that don’t exist yet
“Producers aren’t allowed to just add new ingredients to baby foods, for example”, says Van Soest. “That is strictly monitored. The EFSA and the FDA set the requirements for the use of substances and ingredients in Europe and the USA. And that’s preceded by extensive toxicity and stability studies. But producers must be able to have the substance concerned analysed in a product. Even after a new ingredient has been accepted, the right composition or the carbohydrate content, for example, in a baby milk product is laid down in special, strict legislation and regulations. That new ingredient then needs a test which in many cases hasn’t been developed yet. And that’s where we can provide valuable help.”
“Together with the customer, we can develop a test that allows us to quantify 2’ fucosyllactose in the product. Exactly determining the composition is also vital in toxicity studies. We can only determine that baby milk has the right safe and regulated composition by following this procedure. The producer also needs to show by means of analyses that a product’s composition does not change over time through decomposition of carbohydrates.”
Stability and quality
The product must be stable during both production and use. “The ingredients must not decompose, for example as a result of hydrolysis in acidic products”, says Van Soest. “They must be able to be stored for a long time, so the molecules remain ‘intact’ under the right storage conditions. And of course the producer also wants to monitor the quality. That extends from the raw materials and ingredients – to be 100% certain that the supplier’s specifications are met – right through to the composition shown on the label, everything has to comply with regulations. And of course the product must be well mixed during the production process, resulting in the right composition of the end-product. For baby milk the producer has to meet strict margins and labelling requirements, depending on the age category of the children.”
Also for other customers
On this occasion the customer came to Eurofins CCC in Heerenveen from a Eurofins lab in another country, because of their specialist knowledge of sugars and carbohydrates. “We developed the 2’-fucosyllactose test in 6 months, working together with them at their request”, Van Soest explains. “We started with internal tests, followed by the validation in accordance with our ISO 17025 procedures and the application for accreditation to the Dutch Accreditation Council (RvA). We now carry out the 2’-fucosyllactose test with official accreditation for customers around the world.”
From analysis to a uniform test method
Developing an analysis is one thing, but that’s not always the only goal. “What we prefer to do is to develop a uniform test method”, Van Soest explains. “If everyone in the sector uses the same, reliable test method, the results will be easily comparable. And that will benefit the entire sector. No-one wants to have different numbers circulating for the same product.”
That’s why Eurofins CCC is working together with AOAC, NEN, ISO, IDF (the International Dairy Federation) and producers. “For example we’re now directly involved in the development of official standards for HMOs, including 2’ fucosyllactose, in the baby milk industry. My colleague Dr. Yannis Vrasidas has been asked to act as chairman of the official workgroup in the AOAC, in which all the important stakeholders worldwide are represented.”
The worldwide standard
Eurofins CCC has extensive experience in this field. “We regularly develop tests for customers. For example, together with a large customer we developed a new analysis for fructans, and this is now the standard test method worldwide (ISO, IDF and AOAC) to measure the right content in baby milk, both for this customer and its competitors”, Van Soest explains. What is Eurofins CCC currently working on? “We’re now working for customers or on our own initiative on tests for organic acids, food fibres, other HMOs and sialic acid”, says Van Soest. “We’re also developing an official test for lactose in lactose-free products, and for the sugar content in dairy foods. And we’re working on new tests for new food fibres and prebiotics. Examples are malto-, galacto-, fructo-, xylo- and pectic oligosaccharide, specific sugars, beta-glucans in yeasts and fungi, and sugar profiling of hydrocolloids in algae, seaweed and insects. In fact we’re working on both simple and more complex test methods. It just depends on how specific and accurate the measurement has to be. Is it good enough if the test works for 90% of the products? And does it have to measure all food fibres, for example? That makes a difference.”
For more information
If you would like to access specific knowledge for a current or planned product, the Research & Development department at Eurofins CCC can help you with specific test and analysis activities. We will be happy to work together with you in developing the tests for your complex ingredients (including carbohydrates, food fibres, prebiotics, organic acids and proteins) – even if the test method concerned does not yet exist, for example if you are using new ingredients (in new products). We can also validate these new test methods in accordance with ISO 17025. If you’re interested in our support, please contact us through Sales Food NL@eurofins.com or on +31(0) 888 31 00 00.