The meat mixtures will enable food testing laboratories to assess the quality of their measurements and ensure they are able to detect substitutions in meat products at specified low levels.
The materials were analysed using three different approaches – DNA sequencing, a PCR based method and an immunoassay method – to confirm the expected meat species in the samples and the absence of possible species cross-contamination. The limit of detection is below 1% of one meat species in the presence of another.
These reference materials were produced in direct response to the horse meat incident and subsequent reports of substitutions of cheaper meat in the food chain.
Gill Holcombe, Head of Reference Material Production, said: “The FSA report and the ‘Elliott Review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks’ has revealed the extent of food fraud. It has highlighted the need for reference materials to help laboratories identify species present in meat samples and to ensure that consumers are not duped or cheated. We produced reference materials for identifying and quantifying horse meat in beef and pork in beef in March 2013, and we have now added sheep meat and additional mixtures to our catalogue of reference materials.”
In the UK, it is an offence under sections 14 and 15 of the Food Safety Act 1990 to sell food that is ‘not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser’ or ‘to falsely or misleadingly describe or present food’.
An investigation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), published in April 2014, revealed that some lamb dishes from takeaway restaurants across the UK contained cheaper meats such as chicken and beef. Of 145 samples tested, 43 contained meat other than lamb and 25 of these samples were found to contain only beef. Other meat species identified included chicken and turkey. No samples were found to contain horse meat.