Single-Particle ICP-MS as a Screening Technique for the Presence of Potential Inorganic Nanoparticles in Food

Janja Vidmar, Luisa Hässmann, Katrin Loeschner*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In this work, we show the potential of single-particle inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (spICP-MS) as a screening technique for detection of inorganic nanoparticles (NPs) that are expected to be present in food. We demonstrate that the spICP-MS/MS method in combination with collision/reaction cell gases and microsecond dwell times offers sensitive and interference-free detection of NPs. We present the steps that have to be considered to correctly assess the presence of NPs in food, for example, setting a suitable threshold for discriminating particle events from the baseline and analyzing a sufficient number of blank samples to minimize false-positive results. We applied the proposed screening approach to the sequential detection of NPs containing 8 selected elements that could be potentially present in 13 different food products. The highest mass concentrations of NPs (in the mg/g range) were found in the samples with food additives which are known to contain a fraction of NPs. The presence of (nano)particles in some of the investigated food samples was also confirmed by scanning electron microscopy analysis. Moreover, for the example of Al-containing NPs in Chinese noodles, we demonstrate that identification of the source of NPs with an unknown composition can be challenging when using only spICP-MS as particle mass concentration and size distribution can only be estimated by assuming a certain particle composition/shape. Other complementary techniques for particle characterization, such as electron microscopy in combination with elemental analysis, are therefore required.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Issue number34
Pages (from-to)9979-9990
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Screening
  • Food samples
  • Inorganic nanoparticles
  • Single-particle ICP−MS
  • Scanning electron microscopy


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