Food Safety FSAI first with new DNA food scanning tool
The FSAI worked with a commercial laboratory (Identigen) over the past two years in adapting a relatively new DNA sequencing technology known as “next generation sequencing”, so that it could be used as a DNA scanning tool in food. The idea is to compare the actual ingredients in a food, identified by their DNA profile, with those declared on the label. Up to this, DNA testing of food required analysts to know what they wanted to look for specifically and then test for it – such target information is no longer a pre-requisite.
According to Dr. Pat O’Mahony, Chief Specialist, Food Science and Technology, FSAI this applied use of next generation sequencing is unique in a regulatory context and will be a significant new asset for regulators to identify exactly what is contained in a food and if that matches what is stated on the product’s labelling. It is now possible to scan the entire DNA content of a food without any prior knowledge or suspicion of what may or may not be present in that food.
The restrictions imposed by the need to target only specific species and ingredients in products led the FSAI to look for new innovative ‘non-targeted’ screening methods. Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS) is the basis of the new DNA food scanning tool and has been applied successfully by the FSAI to screen 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets. It looked for the presence of all plant species in the selected products and identified 14 food products of interest that may contain undeclared plant species.
Of the 14 products selected for further investigation, one was confirmed to contain undeclared mustard at significant levels. Mustard is one of the 14 food allergenic ingredients that must be declared in all foods under EU and Irish food law. Another product (oregano) was found to contain DNA from two undeclared plant species, one at significant levels. A third product was found to have no DNA from the plant species declared on the label, but instead rice DNA was identified. All three products are under further investigation.