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ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Can one find out if food was poisoned using typical resources found in a college chem lab?

Asked by ScottyMcGeester (1011 points ) March 28th, 2014

I’m writing a darkly humorous mystery where the premise is lab students solving mysteries/crimes at this college.

I’m starting to wonder if this is borderline unrealistic. Let’s say someone got poisoned or whatever eating a container of hummus. Can one take that to a typical chem lab in a college and find out if there’s a trace of some poison or toxin or whatever in the hummus?

I’m more of a biologist and not really a chemist. I know of things like HPLC and all that. But I can’t imagine how one would even begin to figure out how to take apart the hummus and study it for traces of poison.

If worse comes to worse, I can always just have the victim be poisoned through soda or something, which would make it a lot easier. But I just thought hummus was something funny.

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2 Answers

BhacSsylan's avatar

Hmm, depends on the college, but it’s plausible. An HPLC/MS setup, common in a university (even teaching labs) could get it done.

As for how to do it, you’d dilute the hummus and extract it, probably using a strong acid or base to help dissolve the components, and inject that on an HPLC column. Do that along with an uncomtaminated hummus, and determine if any components are different. If so, take that peak, inject into an MS or MS/MS, and compare the mass of that compound against common toxins, or against the probable toxin if the toxicology of the subject is known.

Alternately, simple solubilize the hummus as above and just inject into an MS, selecting for the masses of possible/probable toxins. Hits indicate that it’s possibly there (again, run verses normal hummus for more clarity).

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Figured you could use HPLC/MS, but wasn’t entirely sure since I have little experience with them.

Now I have to figure out what poison would be good to imitate an allergic reaction/heart attack, something that can be misdiagnosed/overlooked.

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