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Latest isotope methods validate the origins of food products

After Horsemeat: Eurofins sees olive oil and honey testing

By Jenny Eagle+

15-Jan-2014
Last updated on 15-Jan-2014 at 13:04 GMT

Olive oil testing.
Olive oil testing.

Eurofins is ‘still experiencing’ a significant level of meat species testing one year on from the horse meat scandal and this has expanded into olive oil and honey, ‘which is open to adulteration’.

A recent survey, by independent consultancy IFF on behalf of Achilles, supply chain risk management, claims more than 80% of UK food manufacturers say the incident made no difference to how they manage information about their suppliers.

It is a cause for concern that most large food manufacturers are still struggling to improve information about their suppliers after the horse meat scandal,” said Adrian Chamberlain, CEO, Achilles.

Supply chain testing

However, Dr Barbara Wimmer from Eurofins Medigenomix in Germany, the specialist DNA Analysis Centre which was one of the first independent laboratories to confirm contamination of beef with horse meat in Ireland, told FoodQualityNews testing for meat continues to be of paramount importance.

One year on from the horse meat scandal, Eurofins is still experiencing a significant level of meat species testing which would indicate that retailers and manufacturers are still monitoring the supply chain through testing,” she said.

Our experience tells us that testing is also being applied to the wider areas of food authenticity, encompassing areas such as olive oil and honey which are open to adulteration.”

Eurofins Medigenomix is one of the few laboratories in Europe that offers accredited Real Time PCR testing plus sequencing for up to seven species, giving semi quantitative results plus confirmation, while the Group's Wolverhampton, UK, laboratory has an alternative cheaper method of qualitative PCR for a range of speciation identification including horse.

Olive oil

Liz Paterson, sales and marketing director, Eurofins said she received the first call asking if it could test for horse meat at 9pm on January 15, 2013.

The issue has highlighted concern in the industry not only on authenticity of meat but also fish, olive oil, fruit juice, herbs, spices and most recently geographic origin of meat. including the latest isotope methods to validate the origins of food products,” she said.

Eric Jamin, head of Eurofins’ Authenticity Competence Centre, in Nantes, France, looks at the benefits of isotope testing in establishing food authenticity and geographical origin.

Problems can arise using the conventional methods of testing such as chemistry or molecular biology to identify when a chemically identical molecule, but of a cheaper origin, is used as part of a food ‘fraud," he said.

This can be the undeclared addition of cheaper sugar in wine, fruit juice, maple syrup or honey; the undeclared addition of cheaper alcohol in wine and spirits or the addition of acetic acid (vinegar) or the undeclared addition of water to wine or fruit juice for example.

Isotope content

In this case, the issue can only be solved by analysing the stable isotope content, to trace the history of the ingredient or component.

Food products are composed of the four main elements: C, H, O and N which are naturally present in several isotopic forms (same atomic number, different weights) following a distribution influenced by natural phenomena and human processes.

This is called isotopic fractionation and can be measured using two main techniques: IRMS - Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometry and SNIF-NMR, which measures the isotopic distribution within a given molecule and can give a site specific result.”

He added, another major application of stable isotope testing is the control of declared geographical origins.

Precise origin

While the geographical origin of a certain product or component cannot be determined using isotope testing, one can check the compliance with a declared origin when the precise origin is available (relying on geology and climate models).

Since the isotopic properties of plant products are influenced by environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, latitude, elevation, distance from the sea, soil, etc., isotopic maps can be established from reference samples to check the traceability of market products.”

He said similarly, animal products such as meat and dairy “are what they eat” in isotopic terms, and due to the local provenance of the drinking water and grass feeding, they can also be traced in the same way.

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