The horsemeat crisis has prompted new ways to ensure the authenticity of meat products, according to experts at Norwich Research Park.
Technologies being developed at the site include ways to test food claims, and ways to determine the origin and species of meat, as well as different produce varieties. Companies operating from the park said they welcomed a swift response to the government’s Elliott Review on food crime , the interim results of which were published on Thursday.
Commissioned by the UK government in response to the widespread adulteration of beef products with horsemeat, the review said prevention should be a priority for industry in order to regain consumer trust in the food supply.
Food and drink authentication service Food Forensics is one company that has developed new technology on the site, using a method called stable isotope ratio analysis to create an environmental fingerprint that allows meat to be traced to its origin.
“The analysis is just like obtaining a real fingerprint from the sample. These results cannot be falsified, so they are vastly more reliable than paperwork,” said company co-founder Alison Johnson.
“…Our aim is to protect the unique selling point of British farmers and growers, help our customers to reassure their consumers who want to buy British and re-establish consumer trust.”
The Institute for Food Research (IFR), which is also located at the site, says it has been working with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and large datasets to analyse the fat content of different animal species.
“The fatty acid profiles of meat from different animals are readily distinguished using NMR. Our research has reached the point where we are able to reliably differentiate between chunks of beef, lamb, pork and horsemeat,” said head of IFR’s analytical sciences department Kate Kemsley.
“In the coming months we will work to extend the methodology with the aim of detecting where minced meat has been adulterated with meat of another species.”
According to consumer watchdog organisation Which?, half of UK consumers have changed their shopping habits following the horsemeat scandal. A third (32%) say they are buying less meat, while a quarter say they are buying less processed meat.
Executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It is only right the Elliot Review has recognised that consumers must be put first if we are to start restoring the trust so badly knocked by the horsemeat scandal.”