COLNEY, Norwich – Grocery stores in the United Kingdom may soon be verifying the authenticity of meat products in-house. A public-private partnership has led to the creation of a machine that can distinguish beef from other proteins.
Oxford Instruments and the Institute of Food Research developed the machine, which uses molecular spectroscopic technology to analyze the fatty-acid composition of food samples. Oxford Instruments, a leading provider of technology tools and systems for search and industry, recently launched Pulsar, a machine that makes molecular spectroscopy available for routine testing. IFR is developing analysis software for the machine. The technology could analyze dozens of samples per day at 10 to 15 minutes per test. Tests would typically cost £20 ($32). This compares to a cost of £500 ($800) for DNA tests with a wait time of up to a week.
"At the moment, the research has reached a point where we are able to differentiate between whole cuts or chunks of beef, lamb, pork and horse," according to the partnership. "Further development work will be carried out over the coming months, to extend the methodology to the detection of small amounts of minced meat in the presence of another, mimicking many of the adulteration events that came to light earlier this year."
The technology is especially significant in the wake of the horsemeat scandal that played out during the first half of 2013. A report from the UK's National Audit Office (NAO) found that flawed food policy in the UK contributed to a failure of relevant agencies to recognize the increased risk of adulterated food products entering the food chain.