Launch of meat safety research

19 July 2010

Dr Michael Lee
Dr Michael Lee

Today, Monday 19th July, the Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones AM officially launch the Improved Food Safety research project which is set to play a significant role in ensuring the safety of meat. 

The launch, held at the IBERS Aberystwyth University Pavilion in Countryside Care at the Royal Welsh Show, brought together representatives from industry, academia and agriculture to mark the start of a project which aims to drastically reduce incidences of meat contamination in abattoirs.

The £460,000 research project undertaken by scientists at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is jointly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and industrial partners.  The project 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 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. 

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 is 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 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.

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.

Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones said: “Improving food safety is vitally important to maintain consumer confidence in the products they buy, and credibility for the Welsh farming industry as producers.”

“I have recently launched a consultation for a Food Strategy for Wales and obtaining relevant research to support the development of this strategy is important, and the Improving Food Safety project will contribute to achieving this objective.”

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.

Chair of the Improved Food Safety Project, MrDuncan Sinclair who represents Waitrose Ltd commented: “This project is an excellent example of how collaboration amongst different businesses involved in the same supply chain can work together to deliver a robust and reliable solution to just one of the many challenges we face in delivering safe food to consumers. I have been greatly impressed by the expertise of the group and look forward to working closely with all partners during the lifetime of the project.”

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