Numerous incidents relating to food safety in the ’90s prompted stricter regulations in the US; similar policies were quickly extended globally. Fast and accurate testing methods became a priority for quality assurance departments all over the world.

This urgent demand from the food industry made molecular technologies like PCR acceptance a routine and validated method. Most of these protocols were labor intensive and required staff with highly specialized knowledge and skills. Repeatability for widespread adoption was an issue due to potential human errors during manual handling. Still, early adopters experienced the coveted advantages of speed and specificity. Prospective benefits gave researchers and engineers the motivation to pursue workflow automation.

In the early 2000s, technology partners of food manufacturers wanted to simplify sample processing and interpretation of results through bioinformatics innovations. Meanwhile, the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph started their pioneer work on DNA-barcoding in collaboration with scientists around the world. DNA barcoding is a scientific method of genus and species identification. Specific genes are selected depending on the samples’ source (animals, plants or microorganisms), to create a reference library in which each organism is associated to a precise DNA sequence.

University of Guelph professors, Dr. Hanner and Dr. Newmaster were part of the team developing this revolutionary scientific approach. Although DNA-barcoding and related genomic research were meant for taxonomy and conservation purposes, these visionary professors realized that with adjustments and further development towards mass-market use, this knowledge could be transformed into an application to answer some of the food industries authentication needs.

Awareness of ingredient and finished goods fraud rose in the last decade; first within the Food and Beverage and Dietary Supplements industries and more recently with consumers. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, it is calculated that food fraud occurs in raw materials, during processing or distribution, and affects around 10% of commercial products.

This translates into an economic cost above $15 billion per year globally, according to the European Commission’s Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality. Consequences include product safety hazards, public health threats, and species endangerment, among others. A food fraud incident could have devastating effects for companies, from legal liability, financial losses to severe damage to their brand image.

Governments, Industry, and Consumers have joined efforts to fight fraud. However, until now most efforts have been limited to quality assurance measures that focus on the paper trail through the supply chain. Previously, there were no science-based protocols that could be extensively adopted for product testing. Analytical procedures existed that allowed examination, yet often required costly equipment and could only be operated by those who were highly educated. Not only were these procedures costly but the result time was long and did not allow for corrective measures to be taken.

Professors Newmaster and Hanner, along with the scientific team at the Natural Health Product Research Alliance and in partnership with TRU-ID LTD have been able to create easy-to-use, reliable, cost-efficient, and accurate biotechnological tools. With one of the most complete biological-reference-material collections in the world as its foundation, the developed application gives suppliers and manufacturers the chance to test the authenticity of raw materials and finished goods. Their group has already built DNA-based protocols for more than a hundred botanical species and fifty probiotics strains. Companies within the industry can send samples to their service lab in Guelph to be verified. This group also worked with ground-breaking hardware manufacturers to develop equipment and PCR kits for on-site testing of more than thirty of the most frequent targets.

The ability to analyze the very blueprint of any organism – its DNA, regardless of the state of the sample (cooked, lyophilized, frozen, etc.) is an incredible opportunity for both industry and regulatory bodies. This application aids in the prevention of substitution, contamination, and adulteration in an efficient and trustworthy manner. Testing can be incorporated throughout the supply chain with options for both onsite and in lab testing. More importantly, it means customers can buy with confidence and the knowledge that they are consuming what is promised on the label. For more information contact either Reena Nenji +1(226) 780 537 or Breana Well, CFRE +1(519) 824 4120 Ext.56384.

Contributed by:
Paul Valder, President & CEO Paul Valder Consulting
Andrea Campos Calle, Sales & Marketing Manager, TRU-ID LTD.

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