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.
© Fotolia, 2012
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
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
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.