LC-MS/MS: What is It? Why Use It?

Has your supplier swapped out your natural vanilla for fake? Do you have formaldehyde left after processing? Do you need to know what made a consumer’s throat burn after ingesting olive oil? The Liquid Chromatograph Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (LC-MS/MS) can provide the data that leads to answers.

The LC-MS/MS is a powerful tool for the detection of residual chemical compounds, confirmatory identification of small organic molecules, and confirmation and quantitation of contaminants and adulterants in pharmaceutical and food samples—for example, vanilla.

As the desire for all-natural ingredients grows, the increased demand on a limited supply of raw material can outstrip availability. This increases the likelihood that raw materials are adulterated or even outright substituted. Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in the world and the supply is drastically short of demand. Determining whether or not vanilla originated from and orchid seed pod or a laboratory flask can be determined by examining the chemical constituents of a sample containing vanilla.

Certain chemical constituents will be present in natural vanilla and absent from synthetic vanilla flavorings. Many times these marker compounds are present in near trace amounts. Determining the presence or absence of these compounds can be the only means of ensuring that your natural vanilla really is natural.

In order to confirm the presence of chemical constituents at part per million concentration with the necessary level of certainty requires a powerful instrument that is capable of separating all the chemical compounds of a sample and then identifying those compounds accurately. One instrument in the arsenal to investigate adulteration is the liquid chromatograph triple quadrupole mass spectrometer.


The LC-MS/MS operates with a combination of chromatography and multiple quadrupole mass spectrometers. The chromatographic system first separates the different components, concentrating the amount of each single component reaching the mass spectrometer. The first quadrupole of the triple quadrupole configuration ionizes the molecules of the analyte. Selected molecular ions are then fragmented in the second quadrupole and selectively isolated by the third and final quadrupole for measurement by a detector. This series of separation, ionization and selective fragmentation provides highly sensitive detection. Detection levels using the LC-MS/MS can be as sensitive as several parts per billion and are consistently in the part per million range.

McCrone Associates has expanded their suite of mass spectrometry instrumentation. A new Liquid Chromatograph Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer (LC-MS/MS) has been brought online and qualified for use. The LC-MS/MS allows for detection of low level contaminants with a high degree of specificity and sensitivity. Additionally, accurate quantitation is possible for some sample matrices.

Do you have questions regarding your materials? Collaborate with a scientist.


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