The challenge in the development of infant formulas enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is to meet the consumers’ expectations with regard to high nutritional and sensory value. In particular, PUFAs may be prone to fatty acid oxidation that can generate potential rancid, metallic and/or fishy off-flavors. Although such off-flavors pose no health risk, they can nevertheless lead to rejection of products by consumers. Thus, monitoring autoxidation at its early stages is of great importance and finding a suitable analytical tool to perform these evaluations is therefore of high interest in quality monitoring. Two formulations of infant formulas were varied systematically in their mineral composition and their presence of antioxidants to produce 18 model formulas. All models were aged under controlled conditions and their oxidative deterioration was monitored. A quantitative study was performed on seven characteristic odor-active secondary oxidation products in the formulations via two-dimensional high resolution gas chromatography-mass spectrometry/olfactometry (2D-HRGC-MS/O). The sensitivity of the multi-dimensional GC-MS/O analysis was supported by two additional analytical tools for monitoring autoxidation, namely the analysis of lipid hydroperoxides and conjugated dienes. Furthermore, an aroma profile analysis (APA) was performed to reveal the presence and intensities of typical odor qualities generated in the course of fatty acid oxidation. The photometrical analyses of lipid hydroperoxides and conjugated dienes were found to be too insensitive for early indication of the development of sensory defects. By comparison, the 2D-HRGC-MS/O was capable of monitoring peroxidation of PUFAs at low ppb-level in its early stages. Thereby, it was possible to screen oxidative variances on the basis of such volatile markers already within eight weeks after production of the products, which is an earlier indication of oxidative deterioration than achievable via conventional methods. In detail, oxidative variances between the formulations revealed that lipid oxidation was low when copper was administered in an encapsulated form and when antioxidants (vitamin E, ascorbyl palmitate) were present.
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