Food fraud: Ireland wants to separate its cheese from Brits

Provenance of processed foods is a significant quality attribute for many consumers and one for which they are willing to pay a price premium. As a consequence, the fraudulent mislabeling or adulteration of high-value foods now occurs on a global scale.

Artisan_cheese_cover_200Regulatory authorities and food businesses are focusing greater efforts in combating food fraud which can have serious ramifications for both revenue and reputation.

A number of provenance verification schemes have been established in other countries with the express purpose of protecting the denomination of quality associated with particular food products. This includes the Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano protected designation of origin status for artisan cheeses in Italy. There is currently no such scheme for artisan or “farmhouse” cheeses produced on the island of Ireland and yet it is desirable to facilitate a system of provenance confirmation which can provide confidence to consumers in the true geographical origin of artisan cheeses branded as produced on the island of Ireland. It is therefore prudent at this point in time to investigate analytical methods that could be applied to provide consumers with the necessary assurance of the claimed island of Ireland origin of such products.

The concentration and relative ratios of key analytes in a food products such as cheese are mainly influenced by animal diet and geographic location. Several reports from other countries or regions have shown that the use of multivariate analysis of analytical data comprising elemental and isotopic ratio values can provide confirmation of claimed geographic provenance. Given that food animals on the island of Ireland are largely fed a grass-based diet and reside within a discrete insular geographical area, there is potential for developing robust fingerprint models that can characterise indigenous farmhouse cheeses.

Ultimately, the development of robust models will require the demonstration of two properties: (a) models should correctly classify the provenance of all island of Ireland-produced artisan cheeses as originating on the island of Ireland, and (b) models should correctly identify that farmhouse cheeses produced outside the island of Ireland are not of island of Ireland provenance. These two objectives are inseparable in the context of the provenance testing desired and must be demonstrated before any such model can be confidently used in practice. Before this juncture is reached the application of analytical methodologies for the purposes of robust fingerprinting must be investigated.

Artisan_cheese_640_90This project was a technology viability study that set out to do just that. The strategy pursued generated a considerable quantity of baseline analytical data on the elemental and isotopic composition of island of Ireland artisanal cheese as well as a selection of artisanal cheeses from Great Britain and mainland Europe. While it was not possible to confirm the geographic provenance of island of Ireland artisanal cheeses with 100% accuracy, nonetheless trends in some of the data, especially the isotope data, suggest the possibility of effective segregation of island of Ireland from mainland European, if not Great Britain, cheeses.

Therefore the analytical methodologies investigated have been scoped out for this purpose and can now be taken forward and applied in more focused investigations involving artisan cheeses and other foods produced on the island of Ireland.

Be the bug: germs spread easily in kitchens but easy to prevent?

A new study released by Safefood Ireland has found the vast majority of Irish people do not thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw chicken and fail to properly wash down their kitchen surfaces after food preparation.

The findings were released to coincide with a new campaign by Safefood, which aims to show how easily food poisoning germs can spread in the kitchen.

The study involved 120 people preparing two meals – a beef burger and a warm chicken salad. They had to follow specific instructions, with 60 of the people working in a test kitchen, while the other 60 worked in their own kitchens.

Throughout both kitchens, webcams were used to observe the task and swabs were taken from the food, kitchen surfaces and the participants’ hands to assess the presence of potentially dangerous bacteria.

When it came to the participants’ hands, at least eight in 10 had not washed theirs properly after handling raw chicken, while the hands of one in three were contaminated with raw meat bacteria after the exercise.

Almost all of the kitchen surfaces had not been washed properly after food preparation and almost half of the kitchens were contaminated with raw meat bacteria.

Half of the chopping boards used were also not properly washed and were contaminated with raw meat bacteria and the use of utensils was no better.

In fact, almost three in four people failed to properly wash the knife they had been using on raw chicken before reusing it on salad vegetables. Furthermore, at least one in three side salads that were server with a beef burger were contaminated with raw meat bacteria.

Meanwhile, results from a second study also showed that raw meat bacteria can live for at least 24 hours on kitchen surfaces.

According to Safefood chief executive, Martin Higgins, ‘by highlighting the trail of these germs around the kitchen and revealing their journey, the campaign emphasises the dangers to consumers of not following simple food hygiene practices and the risks this can pose to themselves and others’.

Another interpretation would be, bugs that make people sick are not simple to control; they’re everywhere and easily move about, which is why loads have to be reduced before foods enter a grocery store, or restaurant or home kitchen. Food safety is not simple.