1 September 2002
One sweet standard
By Ellen Fussell
Chocolate—a delicacy to some and a crucial fact of life to others—is playing an important role in the development of a new standard.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued Standard Reference Material (SRM) 2384, Baking Chocolate. The new standard uses high-tech measurement methods to determine how much fat, protein, carbohydrates, individual fatty acids, elements, vitamins, and other components the delectable concoction contains. Now, food processors can use the standard (part of a series of food matrix SRMs) to better comply with the Food and Drug Administration labeling requirements and to validate analytical methods for quality assurance when assigning values to products with similar compositions.
"This is the first time NIST has developed an SRM with standardized high fat content," said Michael Newman of NIST in Gaithersburg, Md. That's important because if manufacturers want to validate whether the fat content is 50% or more, this is the standard to measure it against.
More on AOAC
The Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) is a worldwide provider and facilitator in the development and harmonization of analytical methods and laboratory quality assurance programs and services. It provides knowledge exchange, networking, and laboratory information. The AOAC has three methods validation programs—the AOAC official methods, peer-verified methods, and the performance-tested methods programs—and focuses on streamlining its methods review process and providing new methods in areas of international interest: nutraceuticals and genetically modified organisms. It also develops criteria for laboratory accreditation.
The new standard will mostly affect manufacturers of products that contain a similar fat protein and carbohydrates as chocolate, said NIST research chemist Kathy Sharpless, who played a significant role in developing the standard, acquiring vitamin measurements, coordinating interlaboratory comparisons, drafting the certificate, and providing data to the statistician.
"Manufacturers would use the baking chocolate SRM [as opposed to semisweet chocolate] as control material to monitor labeling information to make sure it's accurate," Sharpless said.
"When the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was first passed, the Association of Analytical Communities International wanted to demonstrate that their methods were applicable to all foods. They developed a matrix divided into nine sectors based on carbohydrate, fat, and protein content. Baking chocolate falls into Sector 2. Semisweet chocolate would have additional sugar and milk added, so it would fall into another sector," she said.
Yet this isn't just a standard for baking chocolate, Sharpless added.
"We're just saying this can be used as a reference material. When manufacturers analyze SRM2384 and get a value for fat and then analyze their own product for fat value, if they're getting the right answer for the SRM's fat, they can assume they're getting the right answer for their product as well. That's what makes it a quality assurance material."
Sharpless said the new standard won't change the way manufacturers actually make their products, but it would potentially give them greater accuracy when they're putting information on their own products' labels.
"Let's say they're getting half the value for fat" in their product analysis, Sharpless said. "Then they know there's a problem with their analytical method, and they need to do something to correct that."
Ultimately, the new standard will help the industry know more about the accuracy of the analytical methods. IT
Nutrition Labeling and Education Act
The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (Public Law 96-359) requires specific nutritional information to appear on all processed foods sold in the U.S. Food matrix SRMs help manufacturers validate analytical methods and provide quality assurance when assigning concentration values to in-house control materials. These reference materials will provide traceability for food exports needed for acceptance in many foreign markets and will improve the accuracy of nutrition information provided to assist consumers in making sound dietary choices.
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