Tracing your steak's story: The science of food authenticity + safety with Alastair Ross

Tracing your steak's story: The science of food authenticity + safety with Alastair Ross

Alastair Ross from AgResearch, the focus is on the fascinating field of food traceability and its significance in ensuring food safety and authenticity. 

Ross, a metabolomics expert, reveals how cutting-edge technologies like metabolomics and REIMS (rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometry) are game-changers in the meat industry. 

They allow for detailed tracking and verification of meat products, ensuring what consumers eat is genuine and safe. Ross explains metabolomics as the study of small molecules that reflect the interaction between the environment and genes. 

"We're looking at all the metabolites, all these small molecules which basically reflect the interaction between environments and genes," he says.

This science can provide a "fingerprint" of food items, which can be particularly useful for tracing origins and detecting adulteration, as illustrated by the horse meat scandal in Europe. 

The conversation moves to how New Zealand is leveraging such technology not only to ensure the integrity of its meat products but also to enhance its position in premium markets. Ross discusses the potential to track various attributes like muscle type, breed, feed, and animal welfare through a single measurement. 

"If we can characterise, say, muscle type, breed, sex, feed, animal welfare, origin, all into one measurement, one easy measurement, then we've got something that's very powerful," he remarks, emphasising the comprehensive nature of this technology. 

Further on, Ross shares how this technology's versatility extends beyond meat, finding applications in biosecurity and combating food fraud. He highlights the successful differentiation of New Zealand manuka honey from Australian variants, demonstrating the method's sensitivity and specificity. 

"From our analysis, over 50% of these, these metabolites that we were detecting, differed between the New Zealand honey and Australian honey," Ross notes, underscoring the precision of their approach. 

The conversation also touches on the broader impacts of such advancements, including their potential contributions to sustainable farming and the fight against food fraud.

The integration of AI is discussed as a promising tool to analyse the large data sets generated by these technologies, further improving their efficacy and applications. 

Overall, the podcast provides a deep dive into the world of food traceability and the technologies that are reshaping our understanding of food safety and authenticity. Ross's expertise and insights offer listeners a glimpse into the future of food systems, where each product's story can be meticulously unravelled, fostering trust and quality in what we eat.

Listen to the full chat between Alastair Ross and Dominic George above.

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