The £460,000 (€554,000) initiative, undertaken by scientists at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), aims to drastically cut incidences of meat contamination in abattoirs.
The scheme will focus on spotting when micro-organisms in waste material come into contact with the meat as it is being processed. This is a major potential source of contamination in abattoirs even though contamination can be in such small amounts to be almost indiscernible, said the team from the Welsh university.
The three year research project will develop natural chlorophyll-based markers which can be added to animal feed. Carcasses will then be screened in the abattoir using fluorescent imaging which will show up the markers, thus identifying contamination of the meat by animal waste.
The team, led by Dr Michael Lee, is currently developing a natural chlorophyll-marker, Mg-Chlorophyllin, which increases the fluorescent intensity five-fold after 24 hours of offering the marker to the animal.
“Working with partners across the industry allows us to work along the food chain - from development of the natural markers within the laboratory through to observing the production processes and seeking contaminants on carcasses,” said Dr Lee. “We are currently working with British Chlorophyll to develop the markers and the Wynnstay Group to develop lamb finishing feeds which include the markers.”
The makers could also be adapted to discover contamination of poultry and eggs. Dr Lee said that five markers were currently being tested in poultry to determine the potential of identifying contamination of eggs and chicken meat.
“This is will be a significant step forward in helping to lower cases of outbreaks such as salmonella,” added Dr Lee. “Public perception of the dangers associated with the contamination of poultry has always been greater than that of red meat so we’re particularly pleased to be working with a range of partners to provide a solution to the issue.”
The first question to be addressed is how best to deliver the markers. The team is considering a range of options including whether to feed the markers to animals in concentrate feed, in water or mineral supplements. Once this method has been decided upon, the whole system for imaging and visualising the markers on carcasses will be developed.
The work at IBERS is closely linked to the European Commission funded project to tackle pathogen contamination called ProSafeBeef Project. Dr Lee's project will build on the work carried out by ProSafeBeef in identifying chlorophyll markers, and will explore their application in industry.