Mass sequencing for rapid identification of ingredients in processed foods

What precisely is in our food? Here, Miguel Angel Pardo from AZTI extolls the virtues of mass sequencing in bringing clarity to this vital subject…

Food authenticity is a major concern for consumers and food producers, with the European Union regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requiring that consumers should be appropriately informed about the food they consume. Dishonest or inaccurate product information at societal level can cause reputational damage to food companies and create trade difficulties that eventually negatively affects the competitiveness of the whole sector.

It is vital to achieve a high level of health protection and a trustworthy food chain that ensures businesses are transparent and safe for consumers and reduces fraudulent practices. Widespread food fraud is the substitution of one ingredient for a similar cheaper one. A prime example is the horse meat scandal uncovered in 2013, where beef was substituted with horse meat in highly processed meat products and sold on the European market. This scandal revealed the complexity of the food chain and illustrated that food products such as hamburgers, lasagnes, meat cakes, meatballs, stews, etc, are particularly susceptible to mislabelling owing to the ease with which ingredients mixtures can be fraudulently added or by cross-contamination in the processing plant.