Detailed information about the chemical composition of food products will be readily available to producers, retailers and consumers, thanks to research at the University of Huddersfield. For example, it will be possible to know for certain whether gelatine -- used in a huge variety of foods -- has originated from pork or beef, while cheese makers will be able to gauge scientifically when their products have reached maturity.
The University's chemistry research centre, named IPOS (Innovative Physical Organic Solutions), is pioneering the use of a chemometric software package, called Mass Profiler Professional (MPP), as a means of extracting data about the molecular composition of food and pharmaceutical products. The software is marketed by world-leading scientific equipment supplier Agilent, which has an established major partnership with IPOS.
The Huddersfield team had already used MPP to carry out pharmaceutical research, and then Agilent laid down a challenge -- could IPOS develop a technique for establishing the difference between pork and beef gelatine? It is a significant issue. For example, producers of Halal foods need to avoid any trace of pork in their products.
A PhD student, Sean Ward, has been working on the research as part of a project co-funded by Agilent. He is supervised by Professor Mike Page and Dr Nicholas Powles, of IPOS. Dr Powles explained that the MPP software was being used to carry out mass-spectrometry analysis of gelatines and discovering which, among thousands of molecules, are the unique chemical markers of beef or pork.
Gelatines are employed by many industries, including pharmacy, cosmetics and food production, with desserts and confectionary such as marshmallows being typical uses. Soon, the IPOS research will enable gelatine manufacturers to certify, for example, that their products are pork or beef-free. It will be a form of quality assurance, said Dr Powles, and IPOS has been working closely with a leading gelatine producer.
Developing this use of MPP is enabling IPOS to move into several other areas, such as a technique to determine when cheese has reached maturity, using molecular analysis rather than relying on the judgement of a taster. There are also plans to examine aspects of egg production.
PhD researcher Sean Ward is nearing the end of the first year of his three-year project. Huddersfield-born, he trained and worked as a mechanic before switching to science and studying for a MChem degree at the University of Huddersfield. He has now gained such levels of expertise in the use of Agilent's MPP programme that he is able to train others in the technology.
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