Sampling

Sample selection, preparation, and labeling are extremely important aspects of any food analysis procedure, which can lead to large errors if not carried out correctly. Ideally, the sample analyzed in a laboratory should have exactly the same properties as the total population it is supposed to represent. To achieve this a food analyst would have to analyze every sample, which is rarely possible because many analytical techniques are either destructive, time-consuming, expensive, or labor intensive. The analyst must therefore select a limited number of samples from the total population using a sampling plan that will ensure that their properties are a good representation of the true value. A sampling plan is a set of rules that an analyst uses to decide the number of samples of a given population to test, the location from which the samples should be selected, and the method used to collect them. The choice of a particular sampling plan depends on the purpose of the analysis, the physical property to be measured, the nature of the total population and of the individual samples, and the type of analytical technique used to characterize the samples. For certain products and types of populations, sampling plans have already been developed and documented by various organizations that authorize official methods.

Once a representative sample has been selected, it must be prepared for analysis in the laboratory. This step must be done very carefully in order to make accurate and precise measurements. Typical preparation steps involve: making the sample homogeneous, reducing the sample to a manageable size, and preventing sample deterioration (eg, due to evaporation, enzyme activity, lipid oxidation, or microbial growth). It is important to carefully label samples with information such as the nature of the sample, the place it was selected from, the date it was taken, and the person who collected and prepared it. It is also important to report the results of any analysis in a clear fashion, stating the procedures used, the number of replications performed, and the estimated reliability of the measured value.

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