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beef? Where’s the

With the food and drink industry hit by another

scandal, Beth Harlen questions what informatics can do to prevent future occurrences


n January 2013, it was discovered that supermarkets within the United Kingdom had been selling food products that were labelled as beef but actually contained

varying degrees of undeclared horse meat – up to 100 per cent in some cases. Te fact that these products had entered the food chain cast a public eye on both traceability and testing procedures within the food and drink industry. When it later emerged that the adulteration

went beyond the UK’s borders and was in fact symptomatic of a wider issue throughout Europe, it called the industry’s supply chains into question and prompted a tightening of European Commission requirements regarding sampling and testing for the presence of equine DNA in products where beef is listed as the primary ingredient. Further testing for the presence of phenylbutazone, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for the short-term treatment of fever and pain in animals, was also ordered. Adding to the scandal, it was later revealed that traces of pig DNA had been detected in beef products, having implications for individuals who refrain from eating such meat on religious grounds. Tis is, of course, not the first case of the

adulteration of foodstuffs to come to light in recent years – one significant example being the presence of melamine in milk and infant formula in China in 2008. Te need to comply with the regulations born out of health and safety concerns is clear, but beyond that is another issue. Consumer confidence is a fragile thing and, with incidents of


adulteration continuing to occur, the industry is forced to examine its processes in finite detail. Consumers need assurance that what a company says is in a product is what is present. So what steps can companies take, and where do informatics solutions fit in?

Testing approaches Te difficulty in identifying and preventing occurrences such as the ones detailed above comes down to nature of the testing being conducted within food and drink labs – namely, that there was no expectation that these substances would be found in their respective products. Previously a food safety regulator in Northern Ireland, Dr Paul Young is senior director of food and environment business operations at Waters. He explained that, until relatively recently, the testing approach has been one of targeted screening –


whereby scientists set up a method to identify certain organisms or compounds, such as pathogens, pesticides or veterinary drug residue in products of animal origin, and at what concentrations they are present. Should a sample exceed those tolerances, it is rejected. Dr Young said: ‘In the case of the presence of

melamine, it was so unexpected that it should ever be present in food that the industry had to shiſt its focus. Te questions became ones of how could we increase the breadth of our

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