Premier Analytical Services


Foreign Body Identification

Glass - Metals - Plastics - Ceramic - Fibres - Hair - Wood - Elastomers - Insects - Bone - Blood - Minerals  

Horror stories concerning the discovery of foreign bodies in food are common. Everybody has had a bad experience or knows someone who has.

The potential for damage to brand reputation is enormous, as is the potential for involvement in expensive litigation.

It is therefore essential that those involved in the food supply chain are able to respond quickly to every complaint with accurate information regarding the three main concerns:

What is it?

Where did it come from?

How did it get there?

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Foreign Body Identification by Premier Analytical Services can help protect your brand integrity by quickly providing the information you require to determine the spurious, malicious or genuine nature of a complaint.

32 methods, accredited by UKAS to the ISO 17025 standard, assures analysis of the highest quality, thereby providing you with confidence in results you can trust.

Premier Analytical Services is one of the leading food testing centres in Europe and can place at your disposal a dedicated Microscopy team to solve your foreign body problems with a combined experience of 56 years in foreign body identification.

Utilising "high-tech" facilities and non-destructive testing we offer a rapid and confidential service. Additional chemical and microbiological characterisation can also be carried out on foreign bodies, if required, using the additional facilities of the PAS laboratories. We can also arrange further independent expert identification and opinion from specialist consultants.

The results and expert interpretation are presented in a fully illustrated report with colour images and spectra, as appropriate. The analyses can be tailored to the customer's requirements.

Full reports are routinely provided within 3 working days of sample receipt, in a PDF format via e-mail and a subsequent printed copy is returned by recorded delivery with the sample. A faster turnaround can be provided should your circumstances require an urgent response.

View the Recommendations and Guidelines for Submission of Foreign Body Samples

Our Microscopy Techniques are at Your Service

The following techniques are used, usually in combination, to identify both the foreign body and associated surface deposits, the presence of alpha amylase (present in saliva) when appropriate and to look for evidence of mechanical damage. Comparisons can be made with any reference materials supplied in order to further investigate  any  possible sources and point of contamination of the foreign material.

Optical Microscopy
Man-made and natural fibres, wood, rodent droppings, carbonised material, extraneous food materials, insects and hair are all examples of foreign bodies that can be identified by their morphological characteristics. Specific staining techniques can identify additional structural components. This provides information such as the presence, distribution and nature of any food material including starch, protein, fat/oil, cellular plant material and meat fibres.

Scanning Electron Microscopy

The scanning electron microscope gives topographical information concerning foreign objects including adhering deposits and their distribution. Areas of differing elemental composition can be rapidly identified indicating potential contact from metals and/or dental materials when dental damage is being claimed. This is useful in determining if any evidence of mechanical damage is present or if the sample has been bitten onto. A wide range of samples can be rapidly imaged and analysed without altering the evidence.


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Optical micrograph of rodent hairs showing characteristic ladder structure Scanning electron micrograph showing characteristic darker contrasting coating on the surface of a metal foreign body Scanning electron micrograph showing higher contrasting metal on an abraded glass surface, thus giving evidence of likely mechanical damage.

Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis

Glass, metals and their alloys, dental amalgams and ceramics, tooth, bone and minerals are all examples of foreign bodies that can be identified by their elemental composition using this technique. This differentiates such materials as heat resistant and soda-lime glass, stainless steel types  such as 200 and 300 series (austenitic) and 400 series (ferritic) stainless steel types and various alloys such as bronze and brass.
Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectroscopy
Provides information about the chemical composition of materials. The spectra obtained can be searched against library spectra in order to identify a wide range of materials, including plastics, food materials, and man-made fibres.
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Energy dispersive X-ray spectrum of a 300 series stainless steel swarf sample (shown in insert).
Fourier transform infra-red spectra showing comparison between a sample (shown in insert) of unknown colourless plastic (red) and polyethylene terephthalate (blue).

Insect and Other Invertebrate Identification and Phosphatase Testing

Identification of insects and other invertebrates such as spiders, millipedes and slugs can be undertaken using key morphological features. Information on their habitats, habits and lifecycles can also be provided. Examination of the  product packaging for damage may help further identify a point of contamination.  

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Stereomicroscope image of insect larva; the presence of anal prolegs as seen in the insert identifies the larva as belonging to the order Lepidoptera, Moth/Butterfly.
Stereomicroscope image of a diptera, true fly; vein structure of wing helps identify fly as belonging to the species Musca Domestica, the house fly. 

The active alkaline phosphatase enzyme is present in all living creatures and becomes denatured at temperatures of above approximately 70°C. Testing for the presence or absence of this enzyme is particularly useful with insect samples, where it can be determined if they have been heat processed.  Combining this information with the analysis of any adhering deposits and evidence of damage to the packaging may be able to identify at what point contamination occurred. The test for the active alkaline phosphatase enzyme is destructive and requires certain sample conditions. 

Alpha-Amylase (present in saliva) and Blood Testing 
It may be important to determine if the sample has been in the mouth of the complainant. α-Amylase, a major component of saliva, can be rapidly identified on the sample by way of a spot test, which can confirm the presence or absence of α-amylase for such claims. The presence of blood can be similarly spot tested.

Reference Libraries and Databases

Our analyses and interpretation are supported by extensive in-house and external reference libraries and databases of materials, images, and spectra.

Customer Specific Databases

Databases of materials present within customer specific processes or factories can be compiled and used to facilitate the identification, or elimination, of possible foreign body sources.