Scientists at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences launched a £460,000 Improved Food Safety research project at the Royal Welsh Show on July 19.  The project’s aim is to reduce the incidence of meat contamination in slaughterhouses, or abattoirs.

“One potential source of contamination in abattoirs is when micro-organisms in waste material come into contact with the meat as it is being processed,” said project leader Michael Lee. “The contamination can be in such small amounts that it is almost indiscernible.”

slaughterhouse1-featured.jpgHe said the three-year research project will develop natural chlorophyll-based markers which can be added to animal feed. Carcasses will then be screened in the abattoir using fluorescent imaging.  Markers will show when exposed to the fluorescent light, thus identifying contamination of the meat by animal waste.

Lee explains: “Working with partners across the industry allows us to work along the food chain–from development of the natural markers within the laboratory through to observing the production processes and seeking contaminants on carcasses.  We are currently working with British Chlorophyll to develop the markers and the Wynnstay Group to develop lamb finishing feeds which include the markers.”

Wales Online reported that scientists said the project will also consider the possibility of using the markers to reveal any contamination of poultry and eggs.

“Five markers are currently being tested in poultry to determine the potential of identifying contamination of eggs and chicken meat. This will be a significant step forward in helping to lower cases of outbreaks such as Salmonella,” Lee said.

“Public perception of the dangers associated with the contamination of poultry has always been greater than that of red meat, so we’re particularly pleased to be working with a range of partners to provide a solution to the issue.”

One of the key questions that will be considered is how these markers will be delivered–whether to feed the markers to animals in concentrate feed, in water or mineral supplements. Thereafter, the whole system for imaging and visualizing the markers on carcasses will be developed. The project has been funded through the Assembly Government’s Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) program which is aimed at encouraging collaborative research and development between industry and academia.

Elin Jones, Rural Affairs Minister, said it was vitally important to improve food safety in order to maintain consumer confidence in the products they buy and the credibility of producers within the Welsh farming industry.

“I recently launched a consultation for a Food Strategy for Wales and obtaining relevant research to support the development of this strategy is important. This project will contribute to achieving this objective.”

The work at IBERS is closely linked to the European Commission funded ProSafeBeef Project.  Pathogen reduction in carcasses is one of its key objectives.  Lee’s project will build on the work carried out by ProSafeBeef in identifying chlorophyll markers, and will explore their application in industry.

Duncan Sinclair from Waitrose, and project chair, said, “This project is an excellent example of how collaboration amongst different businesses involved in the same supply chain can work together, to deliver a robust and reliable solution to just one of the many challenges we face in delivering safe food to consumers.”