Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a new technology which can spot contaminated meat in seconds.
The technology, which uses infrared beams to spot harmful bacteria,has the potential to revolutionise the food processing industry andprevent thousands of cases of food poisoning.
It is estimated that more than 5.5 million people in the UK, 1 in10, suffer from food poisoning each year. Bacteria, which goesundetected in factory processed meats, such as chicken or beef, is oneof the main causes.
Professor Roy Goodacre, Dr David Ellis and a team of researcherswithin the School of Chemistry, have developed the technique usinginfrared light which successfully spots chicken and beef contaminatedwith dangerous bacteria, leading to the hope that it will increase thesafety of processed foods across the industry.
"Modern food processing is highly automated and efficient, but theway safety inspectors sample the products has hardly changed in half acentury," says Dr Ellis. "At present, more than 40 different methodsare available to detect and measure bacteria growing in meats. However,even the most rapid of these takes several hours, so results are alwaysretrospective, which means that infected meat could get into the foodchain."
"We believe that our infrared equipment can be built into productionlines, it doesn't involve injecting chemicals or touching the fooditself, it's relatively cheap, results are available in seconds and canbe read by a machine," says Dr Ellis. "This makes it ideal for on-linemeat inspection."
The scientists have already shown that the technique works in bothchicken and beef - which are believed to be two of the most difficultmeats to check for safety. They are processed in different ways, andare typically contaminated by different types of bacteria. The methodcould therefore easily be applied to milk, ice-cream, cheese and otherdairy produce, fruit juices and other foods.
The new technique uses infrared spectroscopy on light reflected fromthe surface of the food to produce biochemical 'fingerprints' of anycontaminating micro-organisms, such as bacteria, and rapidly estimatetheir numbers.
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