Rapid NMR test for horse meat in beef products

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  • Published: Dec 8, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics / NMR Knowledge Base

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When horse meat was first detected in so-called pure beef products in 2013, it exposed malpractice across Europe. Many products were found to be contaminated, leading to uproar amongst consumers, especially in the UK where eating horse meat is generally considered to be taboo. There was no health risk involved, but the authorities were rightly concerned because it revealed failures that could lead to other types of meat, or meat that is unfit for human consumption, entering the food supply chain.

Considering the amount of beef that is farmed and processed, a rapid test is needed for food testing labs that can authenticate the type of meat. The conventional route is DNA testing but scientists in the UK have proposed a procedure which they say is simple, fast and inexpensive, despite the fact that it uses NMR spectroscopy.

It relies on the fact that there are different types of triglycerides in beef and horse meat and these differences are clear in the NMR spectra, as described in Food Chemistry. Following a simple solvent extraction step, which is also compatible with high-throughput screening, the samples were analysed on a high-resolution, low-field, benchtop instrument within 10 minutes.

After the triglyceride characteristics of beef and horse meat were established, they were easily distinguished in mixtures with the aid of principle components analysis. Software was then written to declare whether a beef sample was authentic or non-authentic, the simplest way to report results in a testing lab. So, the procedure effectively gives a Yes/No result. Freezing had no effect on the results.

When applied to fresh meat purchased in the UK, France and Belgium, 90 out of 91 beef samples were described as authentic and 16 out of 16 horse samples were said to be non-authentic. The scientists involved see their test taking place before meat is processed into small cuts or mince, perhaps by sampling cores from large blocks of meat.

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