Amid signs that horse meat may become less taboo in Western markets in future, Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have funded the creation of a portable machine called Pulsar which can distinguish between beef and horse meat.
Developed by the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in Norwich and Oxford Instruments, the technology uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to analyse triglyceride fat in the meat, which differentiates the animals due to the dissimilar ways in which their digestive systems work.
The Pulsar is the first machine to analyse animal fat, rather than DNA, which is a much longer and costlier process. It has significant advantages over DNA testing, which is easily contaminated and therefore more unreliable. The rapid Pulsar diagnostic device can provide results in about 10 minutes and is portable, due to the use of permanent magnets, rather than the supercooled coils used in MRI machines.
Image: Mostly beef with a taste of horse?
Image credit: AAB_BAA / Flickr
This innovation responds to growing demand for information about food ingredients, including origin, location, nutritional make-up and processing.
The UK Food Standards Agency launched an investigation into food sourcing and identification following a scandal in which products sold as beef were found to contain horse meat. A 'Food Crime Unit' is one response under consideration, to enforce a new set of regulations. The Pulsar could be used to implement these, increasing transparency in food supply chains.
Consumer-facing tools to identify the make-up of a dish are also coming to market, such as these smart chopsticks from Chinese company Baidu.
Gizmag (2014, December 1) Pulsar device detects if beef is actually a horse (meat) of a different color