Spectral Analysis Offers New Possibilities for Fish Quality Assessment and Detection of TMA

spectral analysis
Fish quality and freshness are critical for ensuring both satisfying taste and safety.
Image Source: Flickr user Geoff Peters

Freshness is one of the most desirable features and important quality markers of fish not only due to its delicious taste, but because the absence of freshness can have serious consequences on both enjoyment and health. Fish is highly vulnerable to spoilage, which not only results in undesirable taste, but can also interfere with safety by exposing consumers to harmful parasites, bacteria, and chemicals. As such, the fish industry goes to great lengths to preserve freshness throughout processing via tightly controlled handling, storage, and transportation practices along with multiple quality assessments. While historically fish quality has primarily been assessed via sensory methods, these are often time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to standardize.1 Technological advances are increasing the availability of non-sensory evaluation methods in the determination of fish quality, providing more rapid, economical, and impartial results.

spectral analysis
The fish industry is increasingly relying on non-sensory methods to assess freshness throughout the supply chain, giving consumers the highest quality products.
Image Source: Flickr user Larry Jacobsen

Using Spectral Analysis to Assess Fish Quality

Spectral analysis offers one of the most flexible, versatile, and reliable methods of measuring the quality of both fresh and chilled fish by identifying and quantifying specific physical and chemical processes and contaminants that indicate spoilage. Spectrophotometric instrumentation is currently being used to monitor a number of vital quality parameters, including oxidative rancidity, dimethylamine, ammonia, hypoxanthine, thiobarbituric acid, and formaldehyde levels. While some spectrophotometry-based methods have been optimized for peak performance, others are still developing as the demand for more refined non-sensory assessment protocols grows. A prime example of this is the recent development of a an improved trimethylamine determination methodology.

Trimethylamine (TMA)

Trimethylamine (TMA) is a volatile amine that develops due to the emergence of spoilage bacteria and is responsible for producing the telltale fishy smell of spoiled seafood. For some types of fish, TMA levels serve as an important indicator of edibility, freshness, and overall quality. Although TMA may indicate bacterially compromised fish, it not necessarily correlate to total bacterial quantity; rather, it is thought to signal the presence of specific bacterial types associated with spoilage, which may cause significant deterioration even in small numbers. Spectrophotometry-based TMA analysis is employed for determination of fish quality in a number of species as a faster and more reliable alternative to bacterial count analysis.

spectral analysis
Researchers have developed a more simple and effective method of determining TMA levels that could facilitate greater quality control while decreasting costs.
Image Source: Flickr user Taro Taylor

A New Method of TMA Determination

Despite its advantages over bacterial enumeration, AOAC Official Method 971.14, the most popular method of TMA determination currently in use, has several significant shortcomings. Not only does it suffer from limited efficacy due to its inability to detect early stages of spoilage, but it “involves several time consuming-steps as well as the use of large amounts of hazardous reagents” and has been shown to overestimate TMA levels.2 Now, researchers have developed a new colorimetric method for TMA analysis using microvolume UV-Vis spectrophotometry in combination with headspace-single-drop microextraction. As noted in Food Chemistry, “This method is well suited to determination of TMA-N in different species of frozen and fresh fish samples from markets and to study the evolution of TMA-N concentration in farmed turbot at the earliest stages of deterioration.” More specifically, it offers increased sensitivity, stability, simplicity, and rapidity to allow for earlier spoilage detection across a larger number of species as well as reduced sample volume to increase flexibility. By implementing this new way of determining TMA values, the fish industry could enjoy a new level of quality assurance while realizing real cost savings.

Quality is Instrumental

As non-sensory assessment methodologies continue to be developed and deployed for fish quality control, leaders across the industry will increasingly rely on spectrophotometric instrumentation to satisfy consumer demand for freshness and safety. HunterLab has been producing the highest quality spectrophotometers available for over 60 years to provide the most reliable measurements possible. As a pioneer in the field, we have helped our customers redefine industry standards, stay on top of rapidly changing markets, and revolutionize quality assurance practices. Our full range of portable, benchtop, and in-line instruments allow you to easily integrate spectral analysis in your workflow in a way that makes sense for you. Contact us for more information about our cutting-edge technologies and world class customer service.

  1. “Non-sensory Assessment of Fish Quality,” 1989, http://www.fao.org/wairdocs/tan/x5990e/x5990e01.htm
  2. “Colorimetric Assay for Determination of Trimethylamine-Nitrogen (TMA-N) in Fish by Combining Headspace-Single-Drop Microextraction and Microvolume UV-Vis Spectrophotometry,” March 1, 2010, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814609009285

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