Chicken fingerprints

Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a new technology which can spot contaminated meat in seconds.

The new technique uses infrared spectroscopy on light reflected from the surface of food to produce biochemical ‘fingerprints’ of any contaminating micro-organisms, such as bacteria, and rapidly estimate their numbers.

Professor Roy Goodacre, Dr. David Ellis and a team of researchers within the School of Chemistry, developed the technique in the hope that it will increase the safety of processed foods across the industry.

“Modern food processing is highly automated and efficient, but the way safety inspectors sample the products has hardly changed in half a century,” said Dr. Ellis.

 “At present, more than 40 different methods are available to detect and measure bacteria growing in meats. However, even the most rapid of these takes several hours, so results are always retrospective, which means that infected meat could get into the food chain,” he added.

“We believe that our infrared equipment can be built into production lines, it doesn’t involve injecting chemicals or touching the food itself, it’s relatively cheap, results are available in seconds and can be read by a machine. This makes it ideal for on-line meat inspection.”

The scientists have already shown that the technique works in both chicken and beef – which are believed to be two of the most difficult meats to check for safety. They are processed in different ways, and are typically contaminated by different types of bacteria.

The method could therefore, they claim, easily be applied to milk, ice-cream, cheese and other dairy produce, fruit juices and other foods.