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Time is expensive in food fraud battle

By Joe Whitworth+

21-Jan-2014

Liz Moran named as top UK scientist
Liz Moran named as top UK scientist

Time can be more expensive than money when it comes to getting the results of potential food fraud tests, according to a scientist named in the Top 100 by the Science Council.

Liz Moran, president of the Association of Public Analysts and who also works for Public Analyst Scientific Services (PASS), part of Eurofins told FoodQualityNews.com that firms are often willing to pay more for quicker test results.

She was recently recognised for championing consumer protection by being named as one of the UK’s top 100 practising scientists by The Science Council.

Moran said her work involves testing for contamination, food samples containing harmful bacteria and origin of food.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), ELISA, meat speciation, chromatography, looking for heavy metals such as lead and the nutrition side with obesity being highlighted as a problem by local government are all on the agenda.

“The recession has played a part [in food fraud], the public demands cheap food and supermarkets say they cannot lower their prices any more but they don’t want to cut corners as they have a long supply chain and can’t watch all suppliers,” said Moran.

“Origin is becoming more of a problem because people are more interested with an example being scotch beef saying it is from the UK and it is actually from South America.

“It is different to testing in the past, now meat testing is around whether it is South American or British as there could be a price premium and we need to stay one step ahead which is challenging.”

Top 100 accolade

The Science Council’s list was developed to highlight work of practising scientists to support industry and change consumer attitudes– consumers often either think of scientists as being dead or academics and researchers.

Moran was involved in advising government and industry during the horse meat scandal.

She has taken part in discussions with government officials and the media and contributed to government reports on enforcement of food standards in the last year.

Testing timeline

“Some tests we were able to do in the same day, for example fresh produce when it comes in at the border you can’t wait for weeks so pesticide residues could be done in four hours. For horse meat we did testing with a three day turnaround,” said Moran.

“Honey is a big problem, anything that people can pay a premium for, such as chocolate, coffee and meat used as an ingredient.”

The consequences for false positives can ruin someone’s business, she said.

“Food fraud is on the increase and public analysts need to have access to state of the art analytical technology to check the authenticity of food and stay one step ahead of the fraudsters.

“Not all scientists are good at talking about their subject in a way that people can understand, the work they do can be hard to describe in Lehmann’s terms but it is important that consumers are trusting as scientists are trying to improve life for people.

“In my profession most people are never heard, people just assume someone is testing the food and making it safe, so it is good to bring attention to the work we do to make food safe.”

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