Meat scandal: Contamination may be substantial, says professor

2013-04-14 16:00

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Stellenbosch University researcher Professor Louw Hoffman said that cross-contamination – the transfer of one type of meat to another through chopping boards, saws, hands and utensils – played a definite role in his findings.

He said the researchers did not know what percentage of, for example, pork or chicken were present in beef burger patties.

He said that in many cases it might be small percentages that are the result of cross-contamination, but in others it might be “substantial”.

The screening method did not test for the quantity of undeclared meat found, only whether it was present or absent.

The research could detect meat species at a level as low as 0.01%.

The presence of small amounts of undeclared meat would, therefore, have resulted in a finding of wrong labelling.

Hoffman described his research as a snapshot of what meat produce in South Africa contains, but said their findings were not an indication of the quality of the meat or ingredients.

The study found that anything from soya, donkey, goat and water buffalo were to be found in minced meats, burger patties, deli meats, sausages and dried meats that were tested.

These ingredients were not declared on the products’ packaging labels.

Soya and gluten were found in 28% of the samples, without being identified specifically as plant material on the labels of the specific meat products.

A strong case of meat substitution was also reported.

Pork (37%) and chicken (23%) were the most commonly detected animal species in products that were not supposed to contain them.

Hoffman said some of the hidden ingredients posed health risks to people with serious allergies, while others would offend people with strong religious or ethical convictions about the food they eat.

The Stellenbosch findings followed in the wake of the ­­so-called European meat scandal that exposed beef products that contained horse meat and other undeclared meat products such as pork.

The Stellenbosch study was published in the authoritative international Food Control journal following peer review.

Hoffman is regarded as one of the world’s foremost meat researchers and holds the chair of meat science at the University of Stellenbosch.

He was recently named as the first South African to be honoured by the leading American Meat Science Society with its International Lectureship Award.

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