Just as a recent USA Today article exposed a study that showed what's on a supplement label is not necessarily accurate, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory said they have developed a method to accurately test vitamin doses faster and cheaper than the current process.
"In this case, we're looking at different vitamins that are going to go into different food products. The question is, does that product have the amount of the vitamin the label says it does," said scientist Gary Van Berkel, with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The instrument, a mass spectrometer, sounds and looks complicated, but scientists like Berkel said it is the opposite.
"It's just a simple way, a quick way, a smart way," said Berkel.
Currently, many companies that order a vitamin mix usually trust the supplier, or have their own process to test the product, making sure that the dose matches the label before it hits the shelves.
"They'll take a sample and have to send it either to their own laboratory internal, or to an offsite laboratory. And that can be many hours at a minimum, to days to get that answer back. And time is money," said Berkel. "Often times they have to decide whether or not to accept a shipment and so if they're going to know for certain they have to know in minutes."
That's because the truck driver with the shipment is not expected to wait around for the results. With the flow-injection tandem mass spectrometry process, Berkel said they would not have to.
"What we're working on are techniques that they can do onsite, take the samples, take it back to their own laboratory on site, and know within minutes and then to accept or not accept that product at their dock," said Berkel.
Scientists use chemistry to isolate the molecule, or vitamin in this case, and then insert the carefully crafted solution into a mass spectrometer, injecting it into a liquid stream. The technique identifies the quantity of the molecule, registering a signal that appears as a graphic reading, illustrating the intensity of how much of that molecule is present in the sample.
"It could be pesticides, explosives, vitamins, you name it, we can set it up to detect that," said Berkel.
Berkel said with the help of his colleagues, they have proof the method will work. Now, he is hoping companies will take the next step.
"We're dealing with manufacturers that really want to know the numbers and really want to protect their brand. So they are going to bring this technology in house," said Berkel. "It's good for their business."