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Non-targeted analysis of unexpected food contaminants using LC-HRMS

Kunzelmann, Marco, Winter, Martin, Åberg, Magnus, Hellenäs, Karl-Erik, Rosén, Johan
Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry 2018 v.410 no.22 pp. 5593-5602
computer software, detection limit, experimental design, food contamination, high performance liquid chromatography, ionization, ions, mass spectrometry, metabolomics, milk, models, reversed-phase liquid chromatography, ultra-performance liquid chromatography
A non-target analysis method for unexpected contaminants in food is described. Many current methods referred to as “non-target” are capable of detecting hundreds or even thousands of contaminants. However, they will typically still miss all other possible contaminants. Instead, a metabolomics approach might be used to obtain “true non-target” analysis. In the present work, such a method was optimized for improved detection capability at low concentrations. The method was evaluated using 19 chemically diverse model compounds spiked into milk samples to mimic unknown contamination. Other milk samples were used as reference samples. All samples were analyzed with UHPLC-TOF-MS (ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry), using reversed-phase chromatography and electrospray ionization in positive mode. Data evaluation was performed by the software TracMass 2. No target lists of specific compounds were used to search for the contaminants. Instead, the software was used to sort out all features only occurring in the spiked sample data, i.e., the workflow resembled a metabolomics approach. Procedures for chemical identification of peaks were outside the scope of the study. Method, study design, and settings in the software were optimized to minimize manual evaluation and faulty or irrelevant hits and to maximize hit rate of the spiked compounds. A practical detection limit was established at 25 μg/kg. At this concentration, most compounds (17 out of 19) were detected as intact precursor ions, as fragments or as adducts. Only 2 irrelevant hits, probably natural compounds, were obtained. Limitations and possible practical use of the approach are discussed.