New scanning technique allows rapid identification of meat fraud

Mass spectrometry, a molecular identification method commonly used in healthcare, drug testing and food safety, has now proven its capacity for identifying foreign material in meat products
calendar icon 7 November 2018
clock icon 3 minute read

Meat fraud has frequently been the subject of news headlines in recent years: incorrect labelling of products and failing to declare other biological material in meat products has led to public exposés and growing distrust from consumers.

Many fraudulent practices are difficult to detect, and current quality measurement methods cannot cope with sophisticated, modern-day tampering. Not only does adulteration of meat damage the reputation of the meat industry and put to waste the hard work of producers, but it also results in “significant economic problems”.

This month (November 2018), researchers from the University of Chemistry and Technology, Czech Republic, and the Institute for Global Food Security, Northern Ireland, have published their latest research detailing how ambient mass spectrometry can now “quickly and reliably screen for adulterated meat”.

The abstract

Meat adulteration is a significant economic problem as it can result in substantial economic gains and loss of consumers' trust in the food industry.

Addition of a bulking agent masking the addition of water into minced meat is a fraudulent practice that is very difficult to detect. The quality of the meat can be assessed by measurement of total net protein, however the methods used to measure such property are not able to cope with the quite sophisticated modern-day adulteration practices.

In our study, we assessed the potential of recently introduced Rapid Evaporative Mass Spectrometry (REIMS) technology to discover undeclared additives in chopped pork and chicken meat-based products such as sausages and burgers.

The REIMS technique was able to discover such adulterants with a high degree of confidence when more than 2.5% of these substances were added. The results could be obtained within a few minutes.

In this context REIMS can be classified as a rapid screening method which could be employed as a front-line testing method to ensure the quality and authenticity of meat products.

It is hoped that access to this technology will allow more accurate detection of meat fraud and, subsequently, allow more criminal conviction of fraudsters. It is hoped that this will deter such practices in the future.

Further Reading

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Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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