Fluorescent contamination markers for meat

Wednesday, 04 August, 2010

Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is leading a project which aims to drastically reduce incidences of meat contamination in abattoirs.

The £460,000 research project, jointly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and industrial partners, has gained support from partners across the agri-food industry including British Chlorophyll Co Ltd, Castell Howell Foods Ltd, Randall Parker Foods Ltd, Waitrose Ltd and Wynnstay Group PLC.

The principal aim of the research is to investigate ways of identifying contaminated meat in a bid to reduce outbreaks of serious infections such as E. coli.

One potential source of contamination in abattoirs is when microorganisms in waste material come into contact with the meat as it is being processed. The contamination can be in such small amounts that it is almost indiscernible.

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.

Dr Michael Lee, project lead at IBERS, is in the process of developing a natural chlorophyll marker, Mg-Chlorophyllin, which increases the fluorescent intensity five-fold after 24 hours of offering the marker to the animal.

Dr Lee explains: “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. 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 project will also consider the possibility of using the markers to discover contamination of poultry and eggs. Dr Lee said: “Five markers are currently being tested in poultry to determine the potential of identifying contamination of eggs and chicken meat. This will be a significant step forward in helping to lower cases of outbreaks such as salmonella. 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.”

One of the key questions that will be considered is how these markers will be delivered ie, whether to feed the markers to animals in concentrate feed, in water or mineral supplements. Thereafter, the whole system for imaging and visualising the markers on carcasses will be developed.

The project has been funded through the Assembly Government’s Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) program which is aimed at encouraging collaborative research and development between industry and academia.

The work at IBERS is closely linked to the European Commission funded ProSafeBeef Project - the reduction of pathogen contamination in carcasses is one of its key objectives. Dr Lee's project will build on the work carried out by ProSafeBeef in identifying chlorophyll markers, and will explore their application in industry.

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