University of Manchester tackles meat fraud
Scientists at the University of Manchester have used metabolic fingerprints to help detect the precise amounts of pork in beef mince.
Although not damaging to health, mixing beef mince with cheaper pork has become a regular practice and raises both ethical and religious concerns.
The current method for spotting this is DNA profiling, which also recently detected horse meat in products labelled as beef mince. However, this method only detects the presence of another meat in a simple yes or no answer, and can be time-consuming and expensive.
The Manchester team, led by professor Roy Goodacre, took a different approach by checking for metabolites (chemical fingerprints of cellular processes) which offered direct information on the extent of the contamination.
This type of study has also been used successfully as an accurate method of detecting a number of other applications such as microbiology, cancer research and environmental studies.
It’s also known as Metabolomics – the study of the molecules involved in metabolism in a living organism by evaluating tissues for changes.
Different grades of beef mince and pork mince were combined in varying amounts and were analysed for metabolites. With the use of robust statistical analyses, a method of identifying the two meat types was discovered.
The team was also able to precisely detect metabolites that correlated to the percentage of fat and compare this to what was declared on the labelling.
Researcher Dr. Drupad K Trivedi commented: “This research is promising, as it could lead to easier, quicker, cheaper ways of analysing meat qualities. We are currently investigating how different diets fed to animals and methods of meat preparation affect the metabolites and primary metabolic pathways – this further research will help us confidently eliminate factors that may affect metabolic signature of a meat species.”
The team hopes that this research could lead to the creation of a portable dipstick-type device to detect pork doping.