Avoiding the horsemeat scandal with real-time PCR


Primerdesign specialises in real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction), the same technology made famous by CSI and other police dramas. This technique looks for the presence of specific DNA sequences and then amplifies it. Once amplified, the DNA fluoresces so it can be read by special cameras. The more DNA present, the faster the fluorescence appears.

In early 2013, UK supermarkets and meat produce suppliers were rocked by revelations that horsemeat had ended up in a large number of beef products. At the same time additional concerns were growing, such as the presence of pork in halal products.

Having previously developed a test to detect horsemeat, Primerdesign attracted a great deal of interest from labs who wished to conduct testing for the many food companies affected by this scandal.

While most suppliers chose to outsource their meat testing, this is generally less economical compared with the overall savings made by establishing an in-house laboratory.

As the horsemeat scandal continued to grow, Primerdesign was contacted by a large meat product manufacturer looking to obtain peace of mind that its supply chain and products were not affected by the adulteration which had occurred. The company wanted to ensure that its reputation as a world-class meat manufacturer would not be affected by this scandal.

The producer ultimately wanted an in-house facility to confirm the ELISA results from FERA (Food and Environment Research Agency) and to have total peace of mind that there were no potential supplier issues or media stories that could arise and damage its reputation and bottom line.

Due to the cost of sending samples to external labs for testing (£20-30 per sample), the company could only submit one sample of product per batch, per day. However, by installing its own in-house, real-time, PCR lab facilities, multiple batches per day could be tested at greatly reduced costs (£4-5 per sample).

Primerdesign was consulted to set up and develop a professional and reliable process for the client. The company provided assistance via its expertise with equipment and supply procurement, as well as providing hands-on training of staff in the skills and procedures required.

By conducting the tests in-house, results were obtained much more quickly, reducing processing time and enabling greater flexibility.

By liaising with the PCR experts at Primerdesign regularly, the manufacturer was protected from the horsemeat scandal and ensured customer satisfaction and peace of mind.

The ongoing relationship means that the manufacturer has continued access to technical scientific support as and when needed.

According to Primerdesign, real-time PCR is an economical and thorough way to perform in-house validation of meat samples. It provides quality assurance, peace of mind and increases customers’ trust by offering a scientifically robust technique to guarantee species purity. More economical and faster than traditional methods such as ELISA, it is a tidier process and results are more consistent. Real-time PCR is also twice as sensitive as other, more complex, traditional laboratory techniques.

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