The Viability and Optimization of Near-Infrared Spectroscopy for the Detection of Common Allergens, Nutrients, and Toxins in Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Foods
Angela Wang , Madeleine Liu
West Point Grey Academy
Floor Location : S 076 H

In spite of technological advancements, many people are deprived of the resources required to make informed alimentary choices. This issue has led to the abundance of medical conditions responsible for vital degradation and premature death. According to the World Health Organization, “around 3 in 10 deaths globally are caused by cardiovascular diseases, and at least 80% of [these] premature deaths could be prevented through a healthy diet.” Cardiovascular diseases are just one among many complex health issues plaguing citizens today. We investigated the use of effective technology in combatting food-related health issues resulting from toxic matter, food allergens, and dietary restrictions. For the last two decades, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIS) has been applied widely in both industry and research for the detection of molecular signatures in pharmaceutical analysis, food quality control, and functional neuroimaging. While this sophisticated technology is the mainstay of well-funded institutions, it remains largely inaccessible to the quotidian management of personal health. As each set of chemical compound has its own specific molecular structure and infrared spectra, food can be detected and recognized for its unique combination of functional groups illustrating its chemical identity. In this study, we verified the effectiveness of NIS in detecting potential allergens (alpha S1 casein - milk, protein structures - peanut, gluten - wheat, and chitin - shellfish), organic and inorganic toxins (glyphosate, atrazine, metolachlor, chlorpyrifos, metam sodium, DDT, arsenic - groundwater). We also quantified the amount of nutrients (lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids) in food. Next, we assessed the comparative advantage or disadvantage of NIS over nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy due to the sensitivity of certain functional groups and the cost of operations. For the final component of this study, we evaluated different diffraction gratings of diffractive, refractive, and hybrid lenses used in spectrometers because different types of lens could exceed the conventional range of NIS. Through exploring and designing a new lens combination of NIS, we proposed a user-friendly, affordable, and effective portable and compact health management technology that can detect allergens, toxins, and nutrients in food. The results of this multi-pronged study - and effort to translate a complex technology into a commonplace application - have enormous ramifications for people already threatened or currently afflicted by serious food-related challenges in both developed and developing nations.