Multiple toxin detection tests may be on the horizon
The project, Conffidence, is being lead by the RIKILT Food Safety Institute in the Netherlands and involves 17 partners from ten European countries including leading food multinationals.
The project claims Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute of Agri-Food and Land Use at Queen’s University Belfast, will provide new ways of detecting a wide variety of chemical contaminants such as pesticides, organic pollutants, antibiotics, heavy metals, plant and natural toxins.
He said that one of the major concerns of governments, food producers and consumers is the presence of chemical contaminants in food and feed that may be harmful to our health, and, consequently, regulatory authorities and the food/feed industries spend large amounts on tests to ensure product safety.
Long term exposure
The true effects of long term exposure to these toxins, continued Elliott, are far from clear and may present significant health risks.
He argues that many of the currently used tests to determine the presence of toxins are complicated, time-consuming and expensive, making it difficult to intervene and take corrective actions during the food production process.
“There is an urgent need for replacement of current methods by validated screening tools that are simple, inexpensive and rapid and are able to detect as many chemical contaminants in parallel as possible,” said Elliott.
He said that the project partners aim to devise testing methods to screen for toxins in a wide range of foods including meat, poultry, milk, seafood and cereals.
Processing plant usage
Elliott told FoodProductionDaily.com that food manufacturers collaborating on the project will be able to trial new detection tool prototypes in their processing facilities during the lifetime of Conffidence, following on from which the tests will be commercially available.
The project, he continued, will be focusing on the development of dipstick style tests, similar to those used for pregnancy testing, as well as low-cost high-volume laboratory based methods which will aim to replace bio assay animal-based testing.
The role of Queen’s University in the scheme, according to Elliott, will be to develop tests specifically aimed at detecting natural toxins in three categories: algae derived phycotoxins; fungi derived mycotoxins; and plant alkaloids.
He added that the results of the project will feed into European legislation on toxins, as well as informing international food surveys that will measure consumer exposure to chemical contaminants.