IBERS Scientists Tackle Meat Safety

22 February 2010

Cows grazing
Cows grazing

Scientists at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University are set to play a vital role in ensuring the safety of meat.

The Department has been awarded a major contract 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 micro-organisms 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. 

Dr Michael Lee of IBERS says the new research project will help identify meat contamination in the abattoir which will in turn improve food safety.

“The total value of this project is £460,000 with the Welsh Assembly Government contributing £230,000 and industrial partners contributing an equal amount.  This 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.” said Dr. Lee

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

Lesley Griffiths, Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, described it as an extremely important research project that had the potential to have a significant impact on food safety in the UK.

“The Assembly Government is committed to supporting research and development into new products and processes and the A4B programme is geared to ensure we maximise the economic impact of our academic institutions.

“It provides vital funding to enable these projects to go ahead and turn clever ideas into commercial propositions with the aim of creating long-term growth within strategic sectors.”

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.

One of the key questions that will be considered is how these markers will be delivered i.e. 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.

This project is supported by the following partners: British Chlorophyll Co Ltd, Castell Howell Foods Ltd, Randall Parker Foods Ltd (Abattoir), Waitrose Ltd and Wynnstay Group PLC (Feed Manufacturers).

The project commenced at the start of October 2009, experiments started in November 2009 and the project has recently appointed a PhD student.

Dr Lee of IBERS added: "It’s great that Aberystwyth University and its partners are working positively on a product that has the potential to make a real difference. The possible benefits arising from the project are huge - for meat producers, abattoirs, supermarkets and ultimately of course, the consumer. I'm really pleased that we can play a part in increasing the confidence that shoppers have in the meat they buy."

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Dr Michael Lee
Tel: 01970 823084
Email: michael.lee@aber.ac.uk