The accidental or purposeful blending of meat from different species is a highly relevant subject for food product quality control, especially for consumers with ethical concerns regarding species such as beef or pork.
The global Muslim population is currently numbered at two billion, while Asia is home to more than 805 million Muslim consumers.
In recent years, the market has also observed growing awareness of halal meat authentication and Halal certifications, which has led to greater demand and more rigorous food handling practices.
In addition, halal food products have become increasingly popular among non-Muslims around the globe as it is often associated with good quality, healthiness and safety.
In the following article, we will discuss the many aspects of halal food authentication, with a focus on using advanced technologies to determine that a food product is not tampered with or combined with non-halal meats or ingredients.
At the height of the horsemeat scandal in 2013, supermarkets were forced to announce that some ‘beef’ products actually contained up to 100% horsemeat, which led to concerns about the regulations in place, as well as casting doubt over the ideal of the farm-to-fork approach.
The substitution of beef products with horsemeat was likely driven by cost.
While such substitution cases can be unsavory for many people, it can be especially distressing for Muslim consumers, along with other groups that follow a strict religious code for consumption.
In Muslim culture, the word ‘halal’ translates to ‘permissible’.
Despite its wide spectrum of applications in Islamic contexts, halal has mostly been associated with the food and beverage industry.
Simply put, halal foods are prepared and processed without using alcohol or pork, and halal practices expand to cover the entire food supply chain.
Not only must the ingredients be reviewed for permissibility, the supplier network also needs to ensure that food remains pristine and untainted during processing and transportation.
Common tests for authentic halal meat
There are two conventional methods that are widely used for meat authentication testing: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and protein assays, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA).
Both techniques are quick and reproducible, but tend to fare only satisfactorily on reliability.
PCR is the most commonly used method for meat speciation testing as it allows for detection of multiple animal species simultaneously; however, the drawback of the method is its strong demand for good quality samples.
Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA degradation is problematic, and it can happen during processing and food manufacturing processes; if so, the PCR method might not be able to detect all species present.
The ELISA method gained its popularity from its wide availability and ease of use.
However, it can be difficult to analyze more than one animal protein marker at a time, making the approach time-consuming.
The method also demands a huge sample volume due to the need to run multiple assays on a single sample to assess for all animal species.
Both methods are prone to the generation of false positive or false negative results, which is a big issue for scientists.
Over the years, SCIEX has worked with many academic institutions and companies to jointly develop an alternative speciation method for detecting pig, horse or beef proteins in raw meat.
The key objective is to devise a solution that is easy to use, accurate, and reliable, based on liquid chromatography (LC) and tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), also known as MS.
MS has a lot to offer in the food and beverage testing space as it could potentially be used to detect more than 10 species in one sample, a feature not seen in other conventional methods.
The method development starts with identification of species-specific polymorphisms in proteins that are detectable by MS.
After the proteins are chosen, the team extracts protein fractions from commercially available meat samples like cow, pig, wild boar, horse, chicken, and lamb, and uses high resolution MS to identify species-specific biomarker peptides.
Secondly, the team needs to confirm the presence of targeted meat peptides in unknown samples by taking the multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) approach, which can provide sequence information, allowing peptides to be identified.
For instance, the proteins found in beef and horse meats may differ in two amino acids; MS can detect these differences and indicate where they are in the sequence, avoiding the risk of false positives.
In the last step, scientists develop the final analysis method by identifying and using the most abundant biomarker peptides found in different meats identified by the non-targeted proteomic approach.
The MS parameters and conditions are then optimized, and species specificity confirmed for all chosen peptides.
LC-MS/MS is known for its high sensitivity, which is comparable with the most sensitive PCR and ELISA methods, and only uses a small sample size; the MS-based method also eliminates the need for extensive pre-fractionation for proteome characterization.
The next level
In the newest development at SCIEX, a new meat speciation method has been developed to detect multiple species simultaneously at a low limit of detection (0.02%), in heavily processed meats like hotdogs or luncheon meats.
This is a breakthrough method, particularly for Southeast Asian manufacturers, as proteins can degrade during processing, which could affect testing results.
Story by Lauryn Bailey, PhD, Global Marketing Manager, Food & Environmental Markets, SCIEX