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Achieving Sustainability in the Food and Beverage Industry

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Read time: 6 minutes

Climate change, sustainability and resource conservation are key topics of discussion in the research landscape. Like many industries, the food and beverage industry faces growing pressure to embrace sustainable practices.

Despite working towards a shared goal, individual approaches to sustainability vary across industries with each sector taking a different approach depending on the challenges they face. A recent global survey, conducted by Frost & Sullivan for Agilent Technologies, explored analytical laboratories' attitudes toward sustainability and investigated the challenges associated with running a sustainable lab. From waste reduction to energy optimization, several strategies can be implemented to ensure a lab achieves its sustainability goals without losing efficiency.

In this interview, Dr. Lorna De Leoz, global food segment director at Agilent Technologies, highlights practical advice to make a food and beverage lab more sustainable. She also discusses the role of metrics when establishing sustainability goals and how vendors can work with labs to ensure they achieve these goals.

Steven Gibney (SG): Like all labs, food and beverage labs can have a large environmental impact whether it is waste from microbiological testing or energy requirements for analytical equipment. What can these labs do to reduce their environmental footprint?

Lorna De Leoz (LDL): There are many ways that food and beverage labs can reduce their environmental footprint. Even the smallest changes in a lab can make a big difference in improving laboratory sustainability. This can include:

  • Reducing resource consumption and lab waste: Optimized workflows can have a big impact on sustainability. If methods have shorter run times and can maintain excellent chromatographic separation and sharp peaks, and efficient sample preparation methods are employed, then the amount of consumables, solvents and operational costs can be reduced. Instruments with advanced technology that reduce lab energy consumption can also help in sustainability. For example, the Intuvo 9000 GC consumes 50% less power than a conventional gas chromatography system, the IDP Scroll Pumps are oil-free, compact and have high-performance vacuum pumps. Likewise, Agilent’s atomic emission spectrometer 4210 MP-AES runs on air, eliminating flammable or oxidizing gases. Moreover, instruments with a smaller footprint such as the Intuvo 9000 GC or Ultivo LC-QQQ allow labs to fit more instruments on the bench, saving on cooling and lighting costs. Reducing waste by recycling and using eco-friendly packaging is another way to maintain a sustainable lab. Employing leak tests and adding conservation modules could help conserve helium. Using alternative carrier gases such as hydrogen for GC/MS could also help with the global helium shortage.

  • Improving lab efficiency: By optimizing each step of the food analysis workflow, from sample preparation, separation and detection to data analysis and reporting, labs can become more efficient. Innovative sample preparation workflows selectively remove matrix interferences, providing cleaner samples for better results, while having the added impact of extending the lifetime of chromatographic columns and instrument components.
    Enhanced instrument intelligence, such as self-guided diagnostic troubleshooting and early maintenance feedback, reduces operational and maintenance costs. Intelligent reflex workflows such as carryover detection, where the system automatically adds blank runs if it detects carryover contamination, ensure that the carryover is washed out and that the next sample is not affected by the prior one. Workflows performing automatic reinjection of samples at smaller volumes are useful when a sample is out of calibration range. These intelligent workflows increase lab efficiency significantly.

  • Working with sustainable solutions providers: Educating customers to help them understand the environmental footprint of their product purchase choices can be instrumental to increasing sustainability. Instruments with My Green Lab Accountability, Consistency and Transparency (ACT) label, for example, provide information about the environmental impact of manufacturing, using and disposing of the instrument and its packaging. Agilent has been recognized as a sustainable company for many years now, partnering with My Green Lab for the ACT label for our instruments, saving carbon dioxide emissions of 1,307 tons or the equivalent of 6,284 trees in 2020 through Project Air to Ocean, and pushing our net-zero greenhouse gas emissions initiatives by 2050. Agilent also refurbishes thousands of instruments to give them a second life through our certified pre-owned instrument programs.

SG: The survey highlights the importance of using metrics when trying to achieve sustainability goals. What metrics can labs use to measure their sustainability success?

LDL: We were pleased to see that, overall, 82% of the labs included in this survey have adopted sustainability metrics. These metrics can be adopted by food and beverage testing laboratories to measure their sustainability goals including measuring resource consumption, reducing global greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, recycling and managing laboratory waste, and reducing waste. Monitoring these metrics could help improve the overall sustainability of the laboratory.

SG: Quality control and assurance play a key role in food and beverage research. How do you balance quality control with the growing need to remain sustainable?

LDL: Investing in cutting-edge, modern technology can help ensure you are adhering to quality control while also updating the lab with more environmentally friendly instrumentation, but this is not always an option. Working with vendors who hold themselves accountable and have adopted their own sustainability metrics can help because they can share best practices and advise on the most sustainable way to run optimized workflows. The key is to meet the regulatory limits while employing sustainable workflows. For example, Agilent’s inert ion sources enable hydrogen as a carrier gas while meeting the maximum residue limits for pesticide residues in foods such as spinach. Adding enhanced intelligence in instruments also helps in quality control and assurance without sacrificing performance, such as the automatic carryover detection and reinjection.

SG: What role can vendors play in food and beverage labs achieving their sustainability goals?

LDL: Vendors can play a significant role in helping food and beverage labs achieve their sustainability goals. To help, vendors could:

  • Educate customers on sustainability: Vendors could educate customers on the sustainability of their product choices by providing ACT labels for their instruments. This would help customers make informed decisions about the environmental impact of their purchases.

  • Support reduction of emissions: 86% of labs look to vendors of analytical instruments to support the reduction of emissions. Vendors should provide and encourage customers to take part in recycle, refurbish and reuse programs.

  • Collaborate with key opinion leaders: Vendors could collaborate with key opinion leaders on best sustainability practices. This would help ensure that vendors provide the most up-to-date and effective solutions to their customers.

  • Provide consultancy services: Vendors could provide consultancy services to food and beverage labs to pass on best sustainability practices in setting up and performing optimized workflows.

  • Offer innovative solutions: Vendors could offer innovative solutions that help build efficient labs and streamlined processes such as smaller instrument footprint, enhanced instrument diagnostic features, efficient sample preparation, optimized methods, alternative GC carrier gas workflows and automated data analysis. These solutions could include smarter diagnostic features and automated workflows to help reduce carbon emissions.

Vendors should have accountability and have their own sustainability initiatives on reducing carbon emissions.


SG: Improving energy efficiency is a key goal for many labs, what technology is available to food and beverage labs that can help them improve their energy efficiency?

LDL: There are several technologies available that can help these labs improve their energy efficiency. Here are some examples:

  • Instruments with smaller footprints and lower power consumption: The average lab consumes more energy per square foot than hospitals and commercial buildings. Using instruments that have a smaller footprint and consume less power could help maximize the efficiency of the lab.

  • Optimized workflows: Energy efficiency can also be improved by optimizing the whole food analysis workflow, from sample preparation, separation, detection, data analysis to reporting. For example, the Captiva Enhanced Matrix Removal (EMR) effectively removes matrix interferences such as chlorophyll or dyes and saves 15‒30% sample preparation time while improving precision. It also avoids the lengthy SPE-step, reducing solvent use.

Enhanced features on modern instruments can also help reduce downtime by providing health status and warnings if maintenance is needed:

  • Intelligent LC/MS systems with automatic tuning: Instrument tuning is essential to ensure the best resolution, accurate mass and sensitivity. Intelligent LC/MS systems with automatic tuning can be scheduled at optimal times, such as before the operator arrives in the lab. Front-end maintenance can be done without venting the system, reducing maintenance time significantly.

  • Self-cleaning GC single and triple quadrupole MS systems: GC single and triple quadrupole MS systems that come with innovative self-cleaning of the ion source can reduce cleaning frequency by up to 90%.

  • Intuitive data analysis software: Data analysis software that is intuitive and easy to use makes data analysis simpler and saves time. Reporting should be streamlined to maximize productivity.


SG: Only 49% of labs perceive information shared by vendors on sustainability as helpful, how can communication between labs and vendors be improved?

LDL: Communication between labs and vendors can be improved by sharing best practices and showing tangible results that labs can relate to. For example, vendors can share their own sustainability practices and certifications, such as the My Green Lab certification, which is the gold standard of laboratory sustainability practices. By implementing strict environmental practices in their own labs, vendors can lead by example and better help and advise customers on their own sustainability goals.

SG: What do you think the future of sustainability looks like for the food and beverage industry? Will efforts continue at their current level, or do you think there is room for improvement?

LDL: The future of sustainability in the food and beverage industry is a topic of great interest and importance, and there is always room for improvement. Advanced analytical techniques, data-intelligence technologies and integrated workflows for food safety, quality and authenticity analysis could lead to a more sustainable food industry. Strengthening partnerships with key opinion leaders and encouraging sustainable practices in the food industry could help improve the current state, especially if the government provides a regulatory framework.

Dr. Lorna De Leoz was speaking to Steven Gibney, Science Writer for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee

Dr. Lorna De Leoz has worked at Agilent Technologies for 5 years, and she currently serves as the Global Food Segment Director. She is a proven specialist in mass spectrometry. Before joining Agilent, she earned her PhD in chemistry from the University of California Davis and spent 7 years leading research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).