JRC-IRMM reviews methods to measure phthalates in food
The JRC-IRMM has published a report summarising methods used in Europe to measure phthalates in food. Phthalates are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility), but they are being phased out of many products in the European Union and worldwide over health concerns.
The study found that the major difficulty in the analysis of phthalates is linked to the ubiquitous presence of the most important members of this class of 19 compounds (with respect to potential food contamination). The analyst has to continuously deal with "measurement blank" problems. The application of plastic materials for sample handling and sample preparation has to be avoided in phthalate analysis. Additional measures to reduce blank values can be taken, such as thermal treatment of glassware, redistillation of organic solvents, or rinsing of glassware with solvents. The application of thermally-cleaned aluminium oxide was found very efficient for the cleaning-up of apolar solvents. However, blank problems might also be caused by the analytical instrument.
The study notes that the validation of analytical methods for determination of phthalates in food is additionally hampered by a lack of suitable certified matrix reference materials. Therefore, particular importance should be placed on the participation in inter-laboratory comparison tests, in order to evaluate the comparability of the results of analysis.
JRC-IRMM carried out the study upon the request of the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, in order to evaluate the measurement capabilities of European food control laboratories.