Ingredient-identifying food scanner unveiled by FSAI

Posted: 26 February 2019 | | No comments yet

Next-generation DNA sequencing tool aims to facilitate easier detection of potential food fraud and/or misleading labelling.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has revealed a new scanning tool that uses DNA next generation sequencing to identify all the ingredients and their biological sources in a food. It is designed to aid regulators in protecting consumers in relation to potential food fraud and/or misleading labelling.

According to Dr Pat O’Mahony, Chief Specialist, Food Science and Technology, FSAI, this applied use of next-generation-sequencing is unique in a regulatory context and will be a significant new asset for regulators to identify exactly what is contained in a food and if that matches what is stated on the product’s labelling. 

The FSAI says it was the restrictions imposed by the need to target only specific species and ingredients in products that led it to look for new innovative ‘non-targeted’ screening methods. So far the new tool has been used to screen 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets. It looked for the presence of all plant species in the selected products and identified 14 food products of interest that may contain undeclared plant species.

Of the 14 products selected for further investigation, one was confirmed to contain undeclared mustard ( one of the 14 food allergenic ingredients that must be declared in all foods under EU law). Another product, oregano, was found to contain DNA from two undeclared plant species. A third product was found to have no DNA from the plant species declared on the label, but instead rice DNA was identified. All three products are under further investigation.

    “Our two-year project has proved that next generation sequencing has the capacity to screen a variety of plant-based foods for the presence of undeclared plant species. It is important to understand that any results of the initial scan will always need to be corroborated by more established analytical techniques. Being able to scan the entire DNA content of a food means that it will be difficult to substitute or hide an ingredient of biological origin without it being detected. The plan is that, in the future, the FSAI will apply the same technology for the screening of meat, poultry and fish products,” said Dr O’Mahony.

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