Veterinarians should refrain from meddling in food processing operations.
For Barbados Free Press by Robert D. Lucas, PH.D
Food traceability has been topical in the print-media recently in connection with the adulteration (food fraud) and mis-labeling of beef and other processed food products with horse meat in countries of the European Union( EU).
According to Barbados Senior Veterinary officer, Dr. Mark Trotman, (as reported in the Barbados Advocate of the 21 and 28 of February 2013) ‘his department has carried out “extensive-traced back investigations” and to date none of the identified products had been imported into Barbados.’ Products adulterated with horsemeat in the European Union were listed in both articles. Presumably, Trotman was referring to these products.
I will now explain for the benefit of Trotman some facets of food safety, traceability and meat speciation analysis.
“No amount of tracking without use of analytical techniques of meat speciation would have prevented the fraud…”
“I have always stated that unless veterinarians are trained in public health, they should refrain from meddling in food processing operations.”
In the past (letters to the Advocate: Food fraud a Global Occurrence, November 18, 2000) I outlined the wide-spread nature of food fraud and stated that it was a multi-billion-dollar business. The adulteration of processed foods with horsemeat falls under the heading of food fraud. No amount of tracking without use of analytical techniques of meat speciation would have prevented the fraud as I will now explain.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the food processing industry in the EU is self-regulating. Additionally, owing to the current economic down-turn, the number and frequency of analytical tests have also been reduced. As a result, according to Food Quality News 22 February 2013, horse meat committee hears audits are flawed “it was common practice for the meat suppliers to select the inspection body it wanted to do food safety audits”. In food safety, hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) programs are used to prevent food poisoning outbreaks. HACCP., is a systematic approach to the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards. These hazards can be chemical, microbial or physical in nature.
At each step of HACCP, where a potential hazard may occur, a control point(CP) exists; depending on the severity of the hazard, the control point may be deemed a critical control point(CCP). As the name implies, failure to institute correctives measures at a CCP can result in dire consequences for the consumer. The receipt of raw materials at the processing plant constitutes a CCP. The processor outlines the specifications of the product which he wants the supplier to meet and insists that a certificate of compliance accompanies any shipment made to his plant. On receipt of shipment, the processor has in-house analysis done or it may be out-sourced. In the case of meat products, meat speciation tests are done to verify that what is on the label conforms to the content of the container. Meat speciation test kits, which conform to the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC) standards are readily available on the market and are used to differentiate between porcine, bovine, equine, ovine and other meats, either in the cooked or raw state. Methods include monoclonal anti-body techniques, enzyme-linked immune assays (ELISA) or agar gel precipitation (AGPT). If economics are a problem, one can easily make the antigens and anti0-sera in the laboratory.
Traceability can be described as a record keeping process to identify and track products from origins to consumption (Thompson and others, 2010. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 4:1:1-7.) Tracking is done either visually (short distances, eg. in-plant) or by means of bio-sensor. In the latter case, the bio-sensor reports on the temperature and time in case of frozen foods. Tracking can also be done by use radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID can either be active or passive. In the active state, the RFID is equipped with a power source, which allows a homing device to tract it. At present, the USA and the EU have tracking systems in place. For example, in Norway there are the eSporing and eTrace tracking systems (Thakur and others. 2012. Traceability. R&D in Norway. Food Technology. 66:4:42-46.).
Food traceability systems are functioning in the EU and yet there is food fraud with horse meat being the adulterant. I have always stated that unless veterinarians are trained in public health, they should refrain from meddling in food processing operations.
Thanks to Azizonomics for the horsemeat graphic