Funding boost for food fraud tech

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Meat identification project to combat food fraud wins UK grant
Meat identification project to combat food fraud wins UK grant
A test to combat food fraud by detecting DNA in processed foods has won funding from the UK government.

It will detect any DNA in processed foods coming from at least 12 different animal species and quantify the relative amounts to show severity of contamination or deliberate adulteration.

The test will reduce the cost and time of food testing to check all points in the supply chain by making the method high-throughput.

The one-year joint project is between Safeguard Biosystems Holdings (SG Bio), Reading Scientific Services (RSSL) and Arrayjet (Arrayjet).

It has been designed to tap into SG Bio’s DNA expertise, Arrayjet’s printing specialisation and RSSL’s knowledge in food authenticity.

Testing spectrum

Barbara Hirst, head of RSSL's DNA and protein laboratory, told the test would offer identification at around the Food Standards Agency (FSA) benchmark of 1% for horse meat.

“The primary thing was testing for horse was not included in a lot of testing by food companies and they wanted a broader screen for contaminants, those that are likely, the unliklies and the almost impossibles,” ​she said.

“It is a one shot assay to look at multiple types of contaminants so they are seen to be looking for everything.

“Instead of one test per species this test will look for the different species concurrently.”

The test is based on DNA detection technology, developed by SG Bio, and will allow identification and quantification of cow, pig, chicken, horse, goat, sheep, turkey, donkey, dog, cat, rat and mouse.

The principle is to identify the targeted DNA sequences in a given food sample and calculate the ratio of different species to establish whether there is adulteration or contamination.

Role of each firm  

SG Bio will design and calibrate the test utilising a reusable DNA SensorArray capable of handling 96 samples at a time.

Arrayjet will be responsible for manufacturing them after the design is completed.

RSSL will extract DNA from raw meat and processed food samples from verified sources and use them to validate the SensorArray.

For independent corroboration, DNA samples will be sent to Campden BRI.

Hirst said Safeguard Biosystems approached RSSL to take part in the project in late summer last year.

“It is an exciting project that brings together different expertise but we are all looking at the same thing at the end.

“[Industry partnerships are] absolutely critical, industry had a shock last year with horse meat so there is a real drive to put testing in place and this helps to be able to do that.”

The key to speeding up food testing and reducing costs is making it high-throughput, said the firms. 

The test will use microarray technology, which enables biological tests to be miniaturised and multiplexed.  This allows multiple DNA tests on a single sample simultaneously and food samples to be processed in parallel.

Expansion of the range of meat species will follow in future versions, as will the ability to authenticate the breed or location of origin.

Migrating the technology to other food groups that are susceptible to fraud or adulteration such as fish, juices and wine is also planned.

Funding comes from the UK Technology Strategy Board, Food Standards Agency and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs with additional money provided by the companies with results expected in late 2014.

Related topics: Food fraud, R&D, Data management

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