Something's fishy about new NIST food standard

July 30, 2004

Accurately measuring exactly what's in the food we eat, before we eat it, is a surprisingly difficult job. The latest effort by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to make the process both easier and more accurate is Standard Reference Material (SRM) 1946, which is a set of five bottles of frozen, homogenized trout from Lake Superior.

With carefully measured values for about 100 chemical constituents, the SRM will help food industry and environmental researchers assure that measurements of both healthful ingredients and contaminants in fish and similar foods are accurate. Laboratories can validate their analytical methods and instrument performance by using them to analyze the SRM and comparing their results to the NIST values.

This is the first NIST SRM with certified values for three of the more toxic varieties of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). SRM 1946 also has a certified concentration for methylmercury, a neurotoxin that tends to accumulate in fish and has been the subject of federal advisories warning pregnant women to avoid eating certain fish. The level in the SRM is near the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum advisable concentration in freshwater/estuarine fish tissue.

This also is the first NIST food-matrix SRM with values for omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other components included on the SRM's certificate include nutritionally significant mono-, poly- and unsaturated fatty acids.

The new SRM will help the food industry comply with nutritional labeling requirements and help other researchers conduct risk assessments regarding consumption of commercial fish. More than 40 federal, state, academic, industrial and foreign labs performed measurements that contributed to the assigned values for the SRM.
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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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