This month, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) disclosed that it now has a new scanning tool that can identify the entire DNA content of a food.

A statement released by FSAI says that The analytical scanner tool can “proactively identify all the ingredients and their biological sources in a food.” Now, Irish food regulators believe they can thwart instances of food fraud and easily identify foods that have been improperly labeled.

The way the tool works is that it compares actual ingredients in a food--ingredients identified by their DNA profile--versus the ingredients that are displayed on the label. The relatively new DNA sequencing technology is known as next-generation sequencing.

“It is now possible to scan the entire DNA content of a food without any prior knowledge or suspicion of what may or may not be present in that food,” says the statement.

The tool has been successfully used on 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets.

FSAI tested 14 food products with the scanner tool. One contained undeclared mustard at “significant levels.” Mustard is considered an allergenic ingredient under EU and Irish food law. In another product, oregano actually contained DNA from two undeclared plant species. In yet another product, the plant species declared on the food label was not detected at all during the DNA scanning process. FSAI is investigating all of these cases.

“Even with the restriction of having to target the DNA of certain plant or animal species in previous studies, the FSAI has been able to detect food allergens and GMOs, and demonstrate the mislabelling of fish products. Of course targeted DNA analysis was also the method used by the FSAI in discovering horsemeat in beef products, which ultimately brought the global awareness of food fraud to a new level,” says Pat O’Mahony, chief specialist, Food Science and Technology, FSAI.

   “Our two-year project has proved that next-generation sequencing has the capacity to screen a variety of plant-based foods for the presence of undeclared plant species. It is important to understand that any results of the initial scan will always need to be corroborated by more established analytical techniques. Being able to scan the entire DNA content of a food means that it will be difficult to substitute or hide an ingredient of biological origin without it being detected. The plan is that in the future, the FSAI will apply the same technology for the screening of meat, poultry, and fish products,” says O’Mahony.

Going forward, FSAI hopes to use the same DNA technology to screen meat, poultry, and fish products.

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