Remember the horse meat scandal that rocked the UK last year? Well, it might never happen again thanks to a new device designed by UK-based Oxford Instruments The new Pulsar device can distinguish between real beef and horse meat in a matter of minutes, far surpassing lengthy DNA testing currently used by food safety inspectors.
After the 2013 horse meat scandal in the UK, the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in Norwich teamed up with Oxford Instruments to develop a portable detector that evaluates the meat content of samples. Recent advances in Bench-top Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) mean that it is now easy to assess the constituency of meat to determine if it has been contaminated. Pulsar can also determine meat speciation, which is in high demand after a number of so-called horse meat scandals reduced public confidence in meat safety to an all time low. The pulsar system can discriminate between different types of oils and gives feedback about mixtures and a quantitative analysis of meat content. Oxford Instruments say that “the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectra of tryglycerides contain valuable information indicting what the meat species is.”
Set to 60MHz, Pulsar allows scientists to clearly “see” the differences in the size of the olefinic resonances (5 to 5.8 ppm). These are a measure of the total unsaturated fat content. This fat profile enables the device to identify which meat is being analyzed, as different species have specific fat content profiles. This analysis technique is called spectroscopy.
The NMR process is much cheaper than conventional DNA testing. Oxford Instruments says the process can cost as little as £20 per sample, as opposed to DNA testing, which costs between £90 and £100 per sample. This could result in massive savings for meat distributors, and savings could then be passed on to the consumer.
Pulsar technology stands to greatly improve safety and quality assurance in the meat industry. The results paper has been published in the journal Food Chemistry, in which the abstract states, “We conclude that 60 MHz 1H NMR represents a feasible high-throughput approach for screening raw meat.”
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