CONFFIDENCE – Improving food safety for the European consumer
The safety of the food we eat is always high on the public agenda. With food contamination incidents hitting the headlines on a regular basis, consumers are increasingly aware of the risks associated with a wide range of foodstuffs.
The ever-more globalised sourcing of our food only heightens these concerns. From a European perspective, it is important to do everything possible to ensure the safety not only of food produced within our borders, but also of the food, we import from overseas markets.
While tools exist to test the safety of food and animal feed, they are time-consuming and expensive.
It was this situation, which led to the setting up in 2008 of CONffIDENCE – a four-year project majority-funded under the EU's 7th Framework Programme. The aim of the project was to develop faster, more cost-efficient methods to detect a broad range of contaminants in food and feed.
One area in which the project has already met with success is detecting contaminants in honey, a product that is often associated with high levels of antibiotics. These antibiotics are used to treat infections in beehives, but residues can show up in the honey itself.
The effect, when consumed by humans, can be to increase antibiotic resistance.
Honey contaminated in this way is banned from entering the EU, but often it is not picked up until very late in the distribution chain.
CONffIDENCE scientists have now produced a multi-dipstick, which can test honey for four different classes of antibiotics at once, at a much faster rate than ever before.
"Until now there haven't been any rapid tests that can detect more than one class of antibiotics at once," says CONffIDENCE project co-ordinator Dr Jacob de Jong of RIKILT, the Institute of Food Safety in the Netherlands. "But this new test not only does that, but it can be used in field conditions."
The new test is currently in its final testing stages. It is hoped it will become commercially available in 2012.
However, it does not stop with antibiotics in honey. Drawing on the expertise of thirteen universities and research institutes, two large food and feed companies and one SME, the CONffIDENCE consortium is investigating methods to improve the detection of a wide range of the most dangerous contaminants we face – including persistent organic pollutants (POPs), pesticides, heavy metals, veterinary drugs and biotoxins such as shellfish toxins and the mycotoxins produced by moulds and fungi.
In particular, the project is focused on developing detection methods, which will be effective when, used to test a number of specific products seen to be of most relevance for consumer safety. As well as honey, these products include fish and shellfish, cereals, eggs, meat, vegetables, dairy products, fish feed and cereal-based animal feed.
Due to be completed in December 2012, the € 7,5 million project aims to have produced several new detection tools that will enable faster and more efficient testing and analysis across the entire range of foods we consume on a daily basis.
The results will be more contaminations caught much earlier, millions of euros saved for the European food industry as recalls and food-scares are avoided – and above all, as the project's very name emphasises, that most important commodity of all, greater confidence for the European consumer.