The scope of problems presented to analysts in the food and agriculture sector involves a wide range of sample types including but not limited to, identifying unknown materials found as contaminants in foods, analysing food materials themselves, through to studies involving plant based materials. Each analysis poses its own set of problems relating to; sample preparation for analysis by the electron microscope, determining appropriate analysis conditions, and understanding what information is required to answer the questions being posed by the sample.
For the identification substances found as contaminants in foods, X-ray ED spectrometry is a routine but never the less powerful tool. The ability to identify the elements in an unknown material and also determine their proportions, ultimately leads to identifying the substance forming the contamination and hopefully eliminating the source of the contamination.
Considering the analysis of food and plant based samples, quite often their physical make up limits the analysis conditions that can be used without damaging or destroying such samples. As a consequence, only moderate or low X-ray count rates can be generated from these samples, and in the past this has seen as an obstacle for using EDS X-ray spectrometry to provide a practical means of analysis. However, the performance of the current generation of large area EDS X-ray silicon drift detectors significantly increases X-ray signal levels that can be collected from a sample, overcoming this limitation. This now raises the potential for EDS X-ray spectrometry to significantly contribute to the meaningful analysis and characterisation of food and agriculture samples.