Mainz researchers make breakthrough in food safety

In February consumers were shocked to discover horse meat in some of their favorite foods. A new procedure could help inspectors involve a repeat.

Scientists at Mainz University have developed a procedure that can determine the amount of animal, plant, and microbial substances in foods. It just might help the world avoid another horse meat scandal.

DNA sequencing usually used in human genetics have been adapted to identify the contents of edibles.  "The innovative aspect … is that by means of bioinformatic analysis of all biological DNA data available worldwide we can identify the presence of material from species that we would not otherwise expect. And, using a simple digital method of counting short snippets of DNA, we will also probably be able to determine the relative incidence of individual species-related material more precisely than was previously the case," explains Professor Dr. Thomas Hankeln, a molecular geneticist who was part of the team that developed the test.

This means that tests using what the researchers have dubbed the “All-Food-Seq” method would show the presence of even just 1% horse meat in products and could determine the actual amount precisely.  When testing the procedure, the Mainz researchers were able to detect mustard, lupic, and soy in a test sausage.  Besides helping to avoid further scandals, the procedure could be helpful for allergy testing.

“All-Food-Seq” has already gotten the attention of food inspection experts.  "This method is very interesting in connection with efforts to promote the molecular traceability of food," said Hermann Broll of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin and Dr. René Köppel of the Zurich Cantonal Laboratory in Switzerland.  The Mainz scientists procedure will be tested in comparison with conventional detection methods in the near future.