LC-MS/MS method supports authenticity, safety and meat quality

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

SCIEX QTRAP 5500
SCIEX QTRAP 5500
SCIEX has said a meat species authentication method developed using its QTRAP 6500 LC-MS/MS system allows greater sensitivity and a lower limit of detection.

The method uses liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to simultaneously detect and quantify multiple peptides in food samples specific to different meat species.

Some species differ by only one or two peptides, so the method depends on very high sensitivity, accuracy and reliability of LC-MS/MS, said the firm. 

Dr Jens Brockmeyer and Prof Hans Humpf at the University of Münster developed a multi-species method using the SCIEX QTRAP 5500 following the horsemeat scandal in 2013.

Sensitivity difference and LOD

This method using the SCIEX QTRAP 6500 provides greater sensitivity and a lower limit of detection, which is critical for confident identification of meat contamination.

It has also been optimized for working reliably on highly processed and cooked meats, and incorporates an improved sample preparation step for faster sample extraction, said SCIEX.

Traditional Halal meat speciation methods utilizing PCR and ELISA have limitations, particularly in lack of specificity, which can lead to false product labeling and food fraud.

Ashley Sage, senior manager, food and environmental business, EMEA said it is likely to be used by labs doing food safety and quality testing and by manufacturers and suppliers, who need to verify contents and authenticity of meat products.

“It is extremely important for the food industry to implement improved screening, identification and labelling procedures for consumers, as demonstrated by the recent horsemeat scandal,” ​he told FoodQualityNews.

“Despite the international impact and widespread condemnation of such food fraud, it would appear that the industry still hasn’t learned from previous mistakes and food fraud remains a major concern.

“There have been several recommendations for using faster, more reliable and more accurate methods (eg Chris Elliott’s Government Review) but a year later the industry still has significant room for improvement.”

The LC-MS/MS based method enables simultaneous detection of protein peptides of multiple meat species including beef, chicken, pig, goat, lamb and deer, at levels as low as 0.02%, and can be used to support Halal certification testing programs.

The sample prep step has been reduced from days to hours or minutes, with sample extraction taking 30 seconds.

Mass spec vs traditional approaches

Food testing laboratories are increasingly turning to mass spectrometry for its accuracy, reliability and robustness over traditional methods for identifying and quantifying ingredients.

Traditional approaches to meat authentication traditionally use PCR, said Sage.

“Although these can detect multiple species, the main shortfall is they are based on detection of DNA,” ​he said.

“This means firstly they are subject to cross-reactivity and false positives, and secondly that they are not suitable for speciation in highly processed or cooked meats where the DNA usually becomes denatured.

“By contrast, mass spectrometry is specific to peptides of interest and highly selective, meaning it can identify peptides with higher accuracy and with no false positives.”

Sage said instrument costs are already and continually coming down, and more and more food labs are using mass spectrometry on a routine basis, as their primary technique.

This new meat speciation method for example enables detection of tens of different meat species in a single run, saving not just time and labour but also samples and reagents,” ​he said.

“Also, the accuracy and reliability of mass spectrometry means there are no false positives or unclear results, so labs do not have to repeat tests.

Mass spectrometry can also provide faster results for testing, said Sage.

“We see an important role for mass spectrometry in becoming almost a ‘front line’ technology, offering point-of-source testing, as opposed to just a point in the supply chain.

“Shortening food analysis times – for example testing meat in the slaughter house – would enable batch problems to be identified and isolated within hours, instead of days. This would significantly reduce the time to market for fresh produce.”

SCIEX has worked with the Danish Meat Research Institute on an LC-MS/MS assay to analyse hundreds of samples per hour to detect pheromones involved with the tainting of pork.

The 6500 is used in food safety and other applications, including residue/contaminants analysis (eg pesticide, veterinary drugs), ingredients analysis and allergen testing. 

“There is a great need for better screening of substances such as wheat, eggs, gluten, peanuts and many more, since there are no cures for allergies, and many people can have life threatening reactions to even trace amounts of an allergen,” ​said Sage.

“As people become increasingly aware of the need for accurate and highly sensitive allergen detection, we expect to develop more mass spectrometry-based methods in this area.”​ 

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