A method to identify the number of cattle used in the production of ground beef batches could lead to quicker, less costly recalls of potentially contaminated products, a researcher has claimed.
The process, which was developed at the University of Alberta in Canada, involves the extraction of DNA from individual muscle fibres in sample batches of ground beef. Researchers can then statistically determine how many individual cattle make up each batch of ground beef.
The development of a commercially available product, which has been left in the hands of Ireland-based firm Identigen, could lead to improvements in the safety and traceability of ground beef products.
University of Alberta researcher Dr Graham Plastow told FoodProductionDaily.com that as a result of the research, the food industry may be better able to contain the size and impact of a future ground beef recalls.
“If we can better track a product back to a batch in processing we may be able to refine how a recall is conducted,” said Plastow.
“It is easy enough to trace back your steak, but with a product like this where several different cattle are processed, it is slightly more difficult. The cost of some of these beef recalls is huge. The cost of each test may be expensive but compared with the cost of a recall it is dwarfed.”
“We are hoping to better specify those aspects and reduce the size of recalls and over time show that systems are more controllable, which in turn can help improve consumer confidence.”
A Canada-based meat processor recently issued a blanket recall of all products manufactured at its facility following a series of expanded recalls, which according to Plastow can impact consumer confidence in the product.
“Food recalls such as the recent ground beef related one in Canada impact consumer confidence.”
“Generally what happens is that large amounts of product are recalled – the benefit of this technology is that the amount and cost of recalls could be reduced if you can link affected products to specific batches of the animal.”
Identigen, which collaborated with the University of Alberta on the research, is looking at potential applications for the food industry and is in the process of developing technology.
Identigen founder and North American CEO Ronan Loftus said: “Sometimes recalls are expanded, sometimes wider than they need to be. Through this development, we hope that the industry can more effectively manage these recalls and save money.”
“Recalls can be very expensive for companies; they can force companies into liquidation. There can be very grave consequences.”
“We believe that this method can be versatile enough to offer retailers and processors – those who are managing these large recalls – the ability to make their recalls more efficient. That is the primary focus.”
Loftus added that although ground beef is the current priority in the development of technology, the research could be applied to improve the recalls of other meat products.
“The focus at the moment is ground beef but there should be applicability in pork and turkey products, but we would need to satisfy ourselves that the technology could work with these proteins,” added Loftus.