With outrage over meat adulteration continuing to dominate the headlines weeks after the story first erupted, the scale of the contamination remains unclear. With food security an ongoing concern in a globalized economy, food retailers wonder how they can regain the confidence of the British public and ensure their meat is as advertised.
The limitations of current testing methods, combined with the sheer number of samples to be analyzed, means that the European Commission doesn’t expect the results of the 2,500 on-going tests for horsemeat contamination in processed meals to be available until mid-April. However, Dr. Andrew S. Thompson, GlobalData’s Senior Analyst covering In Vitro Diagnostics, believes that innovative testing processes could make a big difference in how we handle the fight against food fraud in the future.
Raman spectroscopy, which utilizes a light emission phenomena, can be used to differentiate between several different types of meat without removal of packaging. Dr. Thompson says that, “by incorporating such an approach into the existing compact point-and-shoot devices, there could be a revolution in the food testing market, allowing non-destructive, reagent-free testing of foods at all stages of the supply chain.
“Rapid detection of adulterated meats means these can be removed faster from the food chain, without unnecessarily delaying delivery of the product to the dinner table, and without the negative connotations of store employees hurriedly removing products from the shelves,” states Dr. Thompson.
“Raman spectroscopy depends on high-powered lasers, and this has previously confined the technique to the laboratory, but the emergence of cheaper, compact diode-based lasers has seen a few portable devices emerge, such as Delta-Nu’s Rapid-ID or Smiths Detection’s RespondeR RCI – both of which are used in specialist applications, such as law enforcement or at border controls.”
Of the DNA analysis methods currently available, the Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction is considered the gold-standard approach to checking from which species or breed a particular meat came from. However, there are a number of disadvantages to this procedure: the analysis can only detect the presence of a preselected species (rather than the existence of any unexpected species), is generally a laboratory-only technique, and can be affected by how the meat is prepared.