DNA Traceability to Improve Food Safety

CANADA - DNA technology promises to make food traceability more precise and reliable and boost consumer confidence, according an industry executive.
calendar icon 13 April 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

IdentiGEN’s DNA TraceBack allows the food industry to trace whole muscle cuts from the grocery store shelf to the individual animal. Genetic technology can help processors issue more targeted food safety recalls. Sturgeon Valley Pork, an Alberta processor, uses the technology to assure customers that their products are premium Alberta pork. DNA traceability can also be used for ground meat as long as reference samples from individual carcases can be collected. But implementing DNA traceability for ground meat produced in large processing plants is more complex.

“One of the interesting things that we were encountering in the last number of years is that many of the large beef grinding, or indeed pork or turkey grinding facilities, are aggregating material from a wide variety of sources. And it would often not be possible to identify the original group of carcasses or animals that would have contributed that raw material,” says Ciaran Meghen, managing director of IdentiGEN Ltd.

IdentiGEN has teamed up with Canadian researchers to adapt DNA traceability to ground beef products. They aim to develop a batch-based identifier that will link ground beef packages to a manufactured batch, improving traceability. Each ground beef batch is one metric tonne, Mr Meghen explains. Researchers removed 10 samples from each batch, and extracted DNA from the samples.

“What we were able to show was that each of these 10 sub-samples was broadly representative of the total batch,” says Mr Meghen. The samples were 500 grams, similar to a retail ground beef package. Researchers have proven the technology will work, and have developed the statistical tool they need to estimate the number of cattle in each ground beef batch. More work is needed before the technology can be rolled out commercially for ground beef. So far the DNA traceability has focused on muscle fibers, but E. coli contamination is linked to surface fat. Researchers at the University of Guelph will focus on how accurately contamination can be tracked with the current method.

Mr Meghen sees a bright future for DNA traceability. Food safety and premium brands are driving the need for traceability, and the technology has improved since its inception.

“And now we’re probably on the third generation of DNA fingerprinting technology and the cost continues to come down. It’s feasible to put a DNA tracing structure into any meat supply chain and for the impact on price to be measured in pennies per pound of the finished product or less.”

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