Queen's University Belfast plays leading role in Europe-wide tests for safer food

December 11, 2008

A top food scientist at Queen's University Belfast is playing a major role in a £4m European project to develop new techniques to detect chemical contaminants in food and animal feed.

Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute of Agri-Food and Land Use at Queen's, will lead a team of scientists in developing new tests aimed to protect the public from potentially fatal toxins in a wide range of foods including meat, poultry, milk, seafood and cereals.

He believes that the project will result in safer food being made available to consumers across Europe.

The project entitled Conffidence, is being co-ordinated by the RIKILT Food Safety Institute in The Netherlands and involves 17 partners from ten European countries. Queen's has been awarded over £300,000 for their role in the project.

Professor Elliott said: "The presence of chemical contaminants in food is a major concern for both European governments and consumers, as seen with the recent pork scare across Ireland in recent days.

"Thankfully the presence of chemical contaminants in food are fatal in only a small number of cases. However the true effects of long term exposure to these toxins are far from clear and may present significant heath risks.

"Regulatory Authorities and the food industries spend large amounts to monitor and control the safety of both food products and animal feed.

"This monitoring often uses expensive methods that can only detect one specific chemical so there is an urgent need for replacement of current methods by validated screening tools, which are simple, inexpensive and rapid and are able to detect as many chemical contaminants in parallel as possible.

"Queen's main focus will be on developing highly innovative means of detecting natural toxins, produced by plants and fungi, in a wide range of foods."

The Conffidence, project has been designed to provide long-term solutions to the monitoring of a wide variety of chemical contaminants. These include pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, veterinary pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, heavy metals, plant and natural toxins.

Tests will be developed and validated for products including fish and fish feed, cereal-based food and vegetables. The tests will also study the transfer of harmful contaminants from feed to eggs and meat.

New technology is set to be used, including dipstick tests used in the same way as pregnancy tests, as well as low-cost high-volume laboratory-based methods.

The methods devised will then be used to carry out international food surveys that will help measure consumer exposure to chemical contaminants.
-end-


Queen's University Belfast

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