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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

FSAI develops new DNA food scanning tool to clamp down on food fraud

The analytical tool can identify all the ingredients and biological sources in a food.

Image: Shutterstock/Alex_Traksel

THE FOOD SAFETY Authority of Ireland has developed a new scanning tool to identify the entire DNA content of food in a bid to clamp down on misleading labelling and food fraud. 

The analytical tool, which can identify all the ingredients and biological sources in a food, will help the FSAI to protect consumers.

Up until now, DNA testing of food required analysts to know what they wanted to look for specifically and then test for it.

After two years of adapting the new DNA sequencing technology – known as next-generation sequencing (NGS) – the FSAI can now compare the actual ingredients in a food, identified by their DNA profile, with those declared on the label.

NGS is the basis of the new DNA food scanning tool and has been applied successfully by the FSAI to screen 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets. 

It looked for the presence of all plant species in the selected products and identified 14 food products of interest that may contain undeclared plant species.

Of the 14 products selected for further investigation, one was confirmed to contain undeclared mustard at significant levels. Mustard is one of the 14 food allergenic ingredients that must be declared in all foods under EU and Irish food law.

Another product, oregano, was found to contain DNA from two undeclared plant species, one at significant levels.

A third product was found to have no DNA from the plant species declared on the label, but instead, rice DNA was identified.

All three products are under further investigation.

Dr Pat O’Mahony, chief specialist, Food Science and Technology, said the two-year project has proved that next-generation sequencing has the capacity to screen a variety of plant-based foods for the presence of undeclared plant species.

It is important to understand that any results of the initial scan will always need to be corroborated by more established analytical techniques. Being able to scan the entire DNA content of a food means that it will be difficult to substitute or hide an ingredient of biological origin without it being detected.

The FSAI hopes to apply the same technology to the screening of meat, poultry and fish products in the future. 

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Adam Daly

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