Government Chemist: Authenticity continues to be issue of concern

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Attendees at the Government Chemist conference in London
Attendees at the Government Chemist conference in London
Ensuring food is what it claims to be, oil speciation analysis and mushroom poisoning cases were some topics presented at the Government Chemist Conference last week.

More than 100 people registered for the event in London, UK and exhibitors included Thermo Fisher Scientific, LGC, Neogen, Bio-Check, IFST and Leco.  

Prof Sir Mark Walport,​ government chief scientific advisor, said for food trust we need to know it is what it claims to be with a supply chain more global than ever before.

He presented the second annual report on analytical science and forensics and potential application in the food industry. The third annual report will be on food waste.

Walport said adulteration can be deliberate or accidental but either way it matters.

“When we buy online how do we know the organisation at the other end of the site is who they claim and an equally important problem for them is are we who we say we are?”

He said food forensic scientists face challenges including identifying appropriate markers to allow for discrimination, access to authentic samples, creating forensic evidence reliable enough to trust the measurement and have confidence in data, the requirement for appropriate reference databases and understanding the range of variation.

Walport also talked about using a food’s microbiome as an authenticity marker or specification, especially as food makes claims it didn’t used to make so it is increasingly important to verify

Allergens in spices, an issue FQN covered extensively​, featured in three presentations: covering the development of a novel real-time PCR assay and LC-MS/MS to identify peptides to differentiate mahaleb and almond.

Oil speciation challenge

Dr Tassos Koidis​ of Queen’s University Belfast said there are no official chemical, biological or physical methods to confirm oil speciation.

This is an issue because the EU Food Information Regulation (1169/2011) says that the type of vegetable oil must be labelled in processed foods.

He presented an approach using non-targeted spectroscopic analysis using Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR) and/or Raman spectroscopy in biscuits.

Gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-MS) would be a confirmatory analysis.

GC-MS revealed the majority of sunflower oil used in biscuits is high oleic sunflower oil (HOSO).

Dr Koidis said it is an example of how legislation changes can drive innovation in analytical chemistry with regards to food analysis.

Jon Griffin​, from the association of public analysts, said the service had been reduced due to funding pressures impacting how many public analysts were employed in the UK.

In England there are six local authority labs and one private lab; four local authority labs in Scotland and one private lab in Wales while six years ago there were 15 local authority and two private labs.

Griffin cited research that official control samples were reducing: the UK number in 2010/11 was 92,122 but in 2014/15 it was 68, 471 (26% reduction).

He said local authorities were struggling to carry out inspections of an increasing number of food businesses with reduced resources while customer complaints rise.

However, with 17 candidates registered for the MChemA and three in the final part this year and six in the middle stage who will progress next year there were positive signs for the future.

Rob Levermore​, group manager flavour and taint group at Campden BRI, said food makes up just short of 20% of samples analysed in its role as the UK customs lab.

Products being imported into or exported from the UK need classification in line with the HM Customs and Excise Integrated Tariff of the UK.

The Customs Laboratories European Network (CLEN) provides the structure for the Member States Customs Laboratories and 87 labs take part in the various activities it organises.

The Meursing code, required for import or export of certain goods, needs parameters of four components: milk protein, milk fat, starch/glucose and sucrose/Invert sugar/Isoglucose.

Levermore gave examples of objectivity surrounding classifying seasoned poultry with England, Netherlands and Germany affected as it was a visual and sensory analysis and defining what lamb fat is on imported lamb from New Zealand and Australia

Dr Jacqui McElhiney​ of Food Standards Scotland said there are an estimated 43,000 cases of foodborne illness, 5,800 GP presentations and 500 hospitalizations in Scotland.

She added Campylobacter in chicken is a key priority but E. coli O157 is another focus area.

Other work included reliance on LC/MS detection and quantification for marine biotoxin anaylsis and the need for rapid field based testing methods to support industry in ensuring product safety and avoiding recalls.

The agency was also looking at tools assessing provenance such as Stable Isotope Ratio Analysis (SIRA) – where it had differentiated Scottish beef from Brazilian, Australian and New Zealand samples in work which will be published later this year.

Yiu-chung Wong​, from the Hong Kong government laboratory, said from 2008-2013 there had been 273 foodborne toxin cases involving calcium oxalate, ciguatoxin, mushroom toxins, mycotoxins, shellfish toxins, pufferfish toxins and scrombroid poisoning.

Wong talked about two cases from eating poisonous mushrooms in remote villages in the Indochina region and being contacted by the WHO Western Pacific Regional office for technical assistance. A total of 21 cases were reported and five died.

He said DNA analysis showed amanita exitialis known as the Guangzhou destroying angel in one case, which in appearance, looks like an edible mushroom.

Using liquid chromatography with tandem spectrometry they found the other case was Russula subnigricans.

Wong added there was a lot of misconceptions about mushrooms including poisonous ones are brightly coloured and they are safe if thoroughly cooked.

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