Are Your Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals Safe?

No matter where you decide to purchase your products, safety and assurance that you are getting what you pay for is of utmost importance so that you can be certain the products are doing what they are supposed to do.

It is for this reason that I have taken the time to compile this information detailing the processes that herbs, vitamins and other products should go through before they reach your home.

You will want to be certain that at the very least they are using the following test procedures. If you call a manufacturer and ask them if they are using these procedures, their responses should be a direct "yes" or "no" - not evasive without good reason.

Raw Material Inspection
The raw material inspector samples and inspects all incoming raw materials and delivers those samples to the labs for testing. Statistical sampling is used in order to ensure the sample is representative of the entire lot. 
After testing is completed according to the individual raw material specifications, the raw material is accepted if it meets specifications and rejected if the results show it does not meet Nature's Sunshine's highest standards of quality. 

In-Process Inspection
Samples of in-process tablets are distributed to the appropriate laboratories for specific analysis. Vitamin and mineral products are analyzed to verify that the correct amounts of components were used and the mix was blended properly. Coated tablets are tested for disintegration, or the time it takes a tablet to break apart in the stomach. Tablet and capsule weights of each lot are checked and recorded by the on-line operator. Quality Assurance also audits and documents tablet weights on each lot for compliance to label claim.

Finished Product
Quality Assurance of one of the companies I represent audits all finished products before releasing them for shipment. This audit includes:

  • Lot code on each bottle to ensure trace-ability. Use the lot code number if you have to call Customer Service with a question.
  • Tamper-evident seals are properly sealed
  • Labels are straight and placed properly
  • Correct count of capsules or tablets in bottle
  • For liquid products, the correct amount of liquid in each bottle
  • Auditing for microcontamination
  • Physical appearance of each product
Quality Assurance retains a sample of each lot so if there is a question on a particular lot, the retention sample is available for analysis. Only Quality Assurance can release a finished product. 

Raw materials are tested for total plate count; yeast and mold; and coliforms and pathogens, such as E.Coli and salmonella, before being released for production. Due to different incubation times, testing varies from 48 hours to 5 days. Any raw materials not meeting strict specifications are rejected and returned to the vendor (often to be sold to companies that use less care in their testing!). Samples are also tested throughout the production process to assure product integrity and compliance to specifications. These procedures result in about 1,200 sample tests per month.

Environmental Swabbing
Bacterial counts on machinery, equipment and personnel in the production area are a useful means of assessing the standard hygiene and the efficiency of cleaning procedures. To obtain a count, a sterile cotton swab is moistened in rinse solution and rubbed slowly with a rotation motion over the desired surface area. The swab is then returned to the rinse solution and the solution is capped. Petrifilm is inoculated with 1 ml of the stirred solution, incubated for the correct amount of time, then enumerated. By checking the bacterial counts in the production areas we are able to ensure that *** products are not contaminated while in the plant.

The bactometer utilizes computer-controlled impedance technology to accelerate microbial testing of raw materials, liquids, and finished products. Total microbial counts and selective estimations of yeast and mold, coliforms and pseudomonas may be performed on the system. Shelf-life determination, challenge testing and environmental monitoring can also be determined.
The Bactometer includes the following components: workstation computer, color data terminal and keyboard, printer and bactometer processing unit (BPU).

E.Coli and Coliforms
The petrifilm E.coli plate is a reliable, sample-ready medium system for enumerating Escherichia coli and coliform. Each plate contains violet red bile nutrients, a cold water soluble gelling agent, a glucuronidase indicator to identify E.coli and a tetrazolium indicator to enhance visualization of other gram negative bacteria. 
Coliforms ferment the lactose in the medium to produce gas. This gas is trapped around the coliform colony and allows the differentiation of the coliform bacteria from other gram negative bacteria. In addition, glucuronidase will react with the indicator in the media to produce a blue precipitate around the colony allowing visual identification of E.coli. All non-blue gas-forming colonies are coliforms. 

Total Bacteria
The aerobic count plate is a reliable ready-made media system for enumerating total aerobic bacteria population. Aerobic count plates contain standard methods nutrients, a cold water soluble gelling agent and a tetrazolium indicator dye, which facilitates colony enumeration.

Yeast and Mold
The yeast and mold count plate is a ready-made media system for the enumeration of yeast and molds commonly found in foods. Yeast and mold plates contain nutrients supplemented with antibiotics, a cold-soluble gelling agent, and a dye to enhance the visualization of growth in the plate. 

1-2 Test
The 1-2 test is a rapid qualitative method for detection of motile salmonella. It is recommended for testing processed food products, incoming ingredients and environmental samples in laboratories. The inoculation chambers contain selective tetrathionate broth supplemented with brilliant green and l-serine. Enriched samples are inoculated into this chamber. Results are available days earlier than the standard culture methods. 

Rapid - E
The rapid-e kit is a standardized micro method containing 20 biochemical tests for the identification of enterobacteriacease. The rapid-e test is based on conventional procedures and enables the enterobacteriaceae to be determined rapidly, accurately and easily.

The anaerobic system is applied to any raw material, work-in-process sample or finished product containing lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, or other friendly bacteria which grow anaerobically (without air). The system is used to ensure that enough friendly bacteria are in the product.

Pseudomonas is found is soil, water and environmental samples and causes food spoilage. Pseudomonas isolation agar plates are inoculated with sample and incubated. Colonies on nutrient agar are usually large, flat-spreading and pigmented (greenish yellow or bluish yellow fourescent). 

The vitamin lab is equipped to analyze products which contain water and fat-soluble vitamins. Products are analyzed to ensure they meet product specifications and label claims. The analysis is primarily performed on a high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC). Products such as PDA and Food Enzymes are analyzed by wet chemistry methods to ensure the enzymes are present in specified amounts. The gas chromatograph (GC) is used to analyze alcohol content in extracts and homeopathics, along with volatile oils like Tei-Fu Oil.

Gas Chromatography
Gas Chromatography is a process which separates complex mixtures of compounds into individual components. In simpler terms, it breaks it down and shows the individual chemical compounds that make up the product being analyzed. A sample is injected into a heated injection port where it is vaporized into a gaseous state. This vapor is carried with an inert gas (such as helium) through a long narrow glass column, coated with special materials. This individual components of the sample are separated by attaching to the special coating and releasing at different times depending on the characteristics of the individual components.

Mass Spectrometry
The components separated by the gas chromatography enter a detection unit called a mass spectrometer. The individual components are fragmented and identified by the characteristics of these fragments. The identified fragments produce a "fingerprint" which can be compared to a known standard or compared through a computer integrated library of over 75,000 compounds to identify unknown compounds. The "fingerprint" must match the standard for the particular product being tested in order for it to be acceptable. 
With gas chromatography, the individual components of complex mixtures are separated into independent peaks (peaks seen in graph form on a screen). With the mass spectrometer, these individual peaks can be measured and positively identified.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography
HPLC is a sophisticated analytical tool, consisting of a series of pumps, and autosampler, and injector, a column, a detector, and a computer. The liquid chromatograph allows us to place a mixture, such as a multi-vitamin, in the auto-sampler. As the solvents and sample are pumped through the analytical column, the vitamins separate into their various components such as vitamin C, B6, B12, B1 etc. The detector quantitates the amount of each component that passes through it. Both water-solubleand fat-soluble vitamins can be examined to ensure they meet label claims. Purity of raw materials may also be examined by the same process (additives in competing products can be detected, for example). Liquid chromatography is a very sensitive analytical tool. 

The herb lab tests all incoming raw materials, in-process, and finished products containing single and combination herbs. An organoleptic test is performed on all products as a first step identification. Organoleptic begins by testing taste, odor, color and appearance. Microscopic evaluation is also performed to identify which part of the plant is being used and to identify any foreign organic or inorganic matter such as insect parts. Ash and acid insoluble as are performed to check for soil, dirt or other contaminates. Quality assurance also runs moisture and tap density tests. Herbs are also tested using TLC (thin layer chromatography) and/or FTIR (fourier transform infrared spectrometer) from which we get a "fingerprint" of the herb and compare it to a library of known standards. These tests help to ensure that the actives in a particular herb are present. Actives can also be tested by HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography described earlier). On the HPLC quality assurance can check for the active ingredients such as parthenolide, ephedra, and alkaloid contents. 

Ash Testing
There are a number of methods employed by *** that determine the quality and purity of a particular herb. Ash testing is one such method. A sample of the herb is placed in a special microwave furnace for one hour at 700 degrees C. This burns away all the organic material. The resulting ash is then weighed and a percentage of inorganic (mineral content or dirt) material is determined. 
Every herb has a characteristic mineral content and a corresponding typical ash content. If we measure an ash content that is significantly higher than the typical ash content, we can suspect that there is dirt or other adulteration present. Dirt is a common problem, especially with root materials. Harvesters may not take the time to completely clean the surrounding dirt from the roots. This leads to the occasional rejection of some herbs. 

The mineral lab checks for the presence and concentration of minerals. We test for proper concentrations of minerals in three stages - first, the raw materials, then in-process samples, and finally, the finished product. The mineral lab is also responsible for checking for trace contaminants of lead, arsenic, and cadmium. By ensuring that our products are pure and that they meet their label claim for mineral content, we can guarantee their quality and safety. 

ICP Testing
ICP stands for inductively coupled plasma. It is an analytical instrument used to ensure that product mineral content conforms to label claim. It is also used to screen for unwanted elements such as arsenic, lead and cadmium. How does it work? The ICP generates a flame that burns at 9000 degrees. This is 360 times hotter than room temperature. To analyze a sample, we first digest it in acid. The dissolved sample is then injected into the plasma. Because of the large amount of energy in the plasma, the elements are in an excited state and they give off characteristic wavelengths of light. Because the wavelength given off by each element is different, the different minerals in a sample can be distinguished. A light sensitive meter called a spectrophotometer records the intensity of each wavelength of light in the plasma. The greater the concentration of the mineral, the more intense its characteristic wavelength is. Because of this, the spectrophotometer is able to judge how much of the mineral is present in the original sample. 

For a company that does all of the above and more, click here.

Contact me using the moderated "comment" form below if you would like me to send you a wholesale price list in PDF format.  Provide an email address, I will not post your comment if it is making a request. All comments are moderated.


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Updated 11/21/18

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CONTENT SOURCE CREDIT: Certain posts contain information from an educational series offered by Wholefood Farmacy with personal insights added or more current information added when updating. All such information is used with permission.


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