Dec 15

Keeping nitrofuran residues out of EU food

Nitrofuran antibiotics were first synthesised in the 1950’s for human use, with veterinary uses soon after. In the 1980’s concerns were raised about the carcinogenicity of nitrofurans and their metabolites. Nitrofurans are now prohibited for use in food-producing animals in most parts of the world but are still widely manufactured and authorised for other purposes.  Food imported into Europe also must comply with EU regulations and residues of nitrofurans is a food trade issue, as these compounds are readily available to producers in many countries who export food to the EU.[1]

The Government Chemist carried out several referee analyses for nitrofuran veterinary residues in shellfish and other crustaceans which led to recommendations for analysis and reporting.

  • Testing the inner core of animal meat in crustaceans, as semicarbazide (a nitrofuran metabolite) may occur naturally in the shell of crab, langoustines and shrimps
  • For products in ice, the sample is thawed and the water drained away
  • Subtracting the measurement uncertainty from the mean result to yield a ‘not less than figure’ used for reporting ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

prawn_spices_food_iStock_000000331447MediumA peer reviewed paper on nitrofuran veterinary residues in food explained that Nifursol, one of the most common nitrofurans previously used by the poultry industry, and specifically added to a prescribed list in 2002, is not widely included in laboratory test suites. This is despite a marker metabolite being identified, and it having been shown that it can be added to the standard FoodBRAND method. This may be because laboratories have been unwilling to repeat the investment needed to in-house validate the method of the required standard, and the metabolite reference standard is less readily available, or simply because there has not been a push from regulators. The paper recommended that laboratories add DNSH to their nitrofuran metabolite test suite, particularly for turkey and chicken samples. [2]

LGC offers a complete range of reference standards for the analysis of nitrofuran metabolites in food.  The Nifursol hydrolysed metabolite 3,5-dinitrosalicylic hydrazine (DNSH) and the nitrophenyl derivative 2_NP-DNSH will be available in 2015.

To find out more about our reference standards visit our webshop or contact a local office.


[1] John Points, D.Thorburn Burns, Michael J. Walker, Forensic issues in the analysis of trace nitrofuran veterinary residues in food of animal origin, Food Control, Vol 50 (2014)

[2] Points, (2014)

Dec 11

Drink driving: measuring the effects of ‘one for the road’

wine_breathalyser_alcohol_drink_web.jpg50 years ago, the first public information announcement was broadcast into the nation’s homes warning drivers “if he’s been drinking, don’t let him drive – don’t ask a man to drink and drive”. The seasonal drink drive campaign would go on to become a staple of Christmas, appearing each November to warn drivers of the perils of getting behind the wheel of their car after a festive tipple.

Against a montage of black and white images from office parties, the voice-over in the first ever drink-drive campaign video announced: “4 single whiskies and the risk of accidents can be twice as great, 6 singles and the risk can be 6 times as great, 8 and the risk can be 25 times as great”. This was at a time when having ‘one for the road’ was the thing to do and half of male drivers admitted drink driving on a weekly basis.

It had been an offence to be found drunk in charge of any mechanically propelled vehicle since 1925 but it wasn’t until 1962 with the introduction of the Road Traffic Act, that the possibility of using blood, urine or breath for alcohol analysis was considered as a scientific measure of fitness to drive.

Successful drink driving prosecutions relied heavily on subjective tests that would see drivers on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol being asked to stand on one leg, or walk in a straight line, along with observations of police doctors and witness statements.

Following royal assent of the Road Safety Act 1967, breathalysers were, for the first time, legally allowed to be used as a method of estimating a driver’s alcohol concentration at the roadside, In addition, a defined blood alcohol ethanol concentration (80mg%) was introduced, which if exceeded an individual would be committing an offence.

Initially, breathalysers were used to justify the arrest of a driver suspected to be under the influence of alcohol before evidential blood or urine samples were taken at the police station. For the measurements of alcohol intoxication to be accepted as legal evidence they needed to be accurate and legally traceable. Standard solutions of aqueous ethanol were developed to calibrate instruments used for measuring alcohol levels, with certified reference materials (CRM) used to assign concentration values to the standard solutions. This ensured that the measurements would be accepted in court.

The maximum legal blood alcohol limit in the UK was set at 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood or the equivalent of 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine and the campaign began to challenge attitudes towards drink driving.

Fast forward 50 years to 5 December 2014 and the legal blood alcohol limit in Scotland has been reduced to 50 milligrammes of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood (equivalent to 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitre of breath, 67 milligrammes per 100 millilitre of urine) bringing it in line with most other European countries. Until the change, Scotland had the same limit as the rest of Britain.

Through a combination of enforcement of the drink drive limits and road safety campaigning, road deaths attributed to drink driving have fallen in the UK from 1,640 in 1979 (when the first figures were available) to 230 in 2012. The new lower limit in Scotland has been billed as a direct attempt to further reduce these deaths.

LGC has a role to play in the campaign to reduce drink drive fatalities. In its capacity as the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurements, LGC has produced a range of certified reference materials (CRMs) for ethanol in water including concentrations of 50 and 67 milligrammes of ethanol per 100 millilitres – in line with the new Scottish limits for blood and urine alcohol concentrations respectively.

These CRMs have been bought by forensic laboratories for use when carrying out analytical measurements. They can be used for the calibration and validation of methods for the determination of ethanol in biological fluids, and have been produced under LGC’s ISO Guide 34 accreditation for the production of reference materials.

The reference materials meet the stringent technical guidelines of European Reference Materials (ERM®) status and the data has been accepted as complying with the principles laid down in the Technical Guidelines of the ERM co-operation agreement between LGC, the European Commission’s Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM).

There is no fool-proof way of drinking and staying under the drink drive limit. Alcohol affects people differently and it is very difficult to provide an accurate estimate of how much alcohol the average person can consume and remain within the legal limits. Factors including your weight, age, sex and metabolism, the type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking, what you’ve eaten recently and your stress levels at the time all play a part. Experts advise that the safest way to ensure that you are not over the limit is to drink no alcohol. As the 2014 drink drive campaign declares 230 deaths a year is still too many!


Visit LGC Standards for information on the range of CRMs:

ERM-AC401    Aqueous Ethanol 80 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC402    Aqueous Ethanol 107 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC403    Aqueous Ethanol 200 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC409    Aqueous Ethanol 20 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC510    Aqueous Ethanol 50 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC511    Aqueous Ethanol 67 mg/100 mL

If requested, we also have the capability to produce and certify a material at any level between 20 – 600 ethanol / 100mL

Nov 21

Proficiency Testing and the fight against food fraud

The supply of food and beverages is now a massive worldwide industry generating trillions of pounds for producers, retailers and intermediaries. ‘Value’ is generally added at each stage of a product’s life and certain foods or beverages have ‘added value’ as a result of a designated geographical origin or as a result of production using a specified process.
pan fried white fish on salad dinner food iStock_000003323578XLarge

In recent years ‘issues’ relating to the safety, quality and origin of food have arisen as a result of mistakes in the production process, such as the introduction of waste materials into food production processes, or via illicit production or adulteration.

The analysis of foods, raw materials and ingredients may be undertaken by a number of different organisations, for a number of different reasons potentially pertaining to quality, for the purposes of brand protection or even for evidence in prosecution. In response to increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting or food adulteration, a wide range of analytical methodology is being developed and used by concerned organisations and agencies. An important aspect of method development and the on-going operation of analytical methods is verification of their performance by the use of Proficiency Testing (PT). PT is a unique tool for the assessment of these analytical methods as it is completely independent of the organisation undertaking the testing and is the only QC ‘tool’ where the analyst cannot know the correct answer in advance.

LGC operates a number of proficiency testing (PT) schemes, many of which are in the area of food and beverage analysis. These schemes are routinely used to assess the performance of analytical methods which have been validated for the qualitative identification of specific food products, or to quantitatively determine the concentration of characteristic components or contaminants.

The DAPS scheme focuses on the analysis of alcoholic beverages, such as cider, wine and spirits, with a specific sample included each round for the analysis of Scotch Whisky.

The QMAS scheme is concerned with methods used for the determination of quality parameters in meat and fish products. As a result of recent food ‘concerns’ the scheme has been expanded to include tests for the identification of fish species and of ‘contamination’ of meat and fish products.

The use of regular PT in these analytical areas, via the LGC schemes, provides valuable information on the performance of laboratories in key tests which are used on a day to day basis to detect counterfeit products and adulteration. Examination of PT data gives information on the accuracy and equivalence of analytical methods, robustness across a range of sample types and analytical matrices and the ‘performance’ of companies, laboratories and individual members of staff.

To find out more about how PT Schemes are used to tackle food and beverage fraud come to our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.


Nov 20

Food fraud or cross contamination: will it all come out in the wash?

mince_meat_webWhen the ‘horse meat incident’ emerged in January 2013, it caused anger and consternation from many consumers. They felt duped and cheated, but were all instances a case of unscrupulous businesses trying to profiteer at the expense of food safety?

A large scale investigation was launched into the food industry to establish how far reaching the contamination of processed beef products with horse and pork meat was.

While some companies were found to be trading 100% horse meat as beef products, others contained contamination at much smaller percentages. Thus the question arose – could contamination be down to carry-over on the processing line rather than a flagrant flouting of the law? And if so, what level of carry-over, if any, was acceptable?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were advised by LGC and announced a threshold of 1% for reporting levels of carry-over.

But for some consumers, it is not just a question of being misled by the product labelling but the discovery they have consumed a meat they have chosen to exclude for religious beliefs; both Muslim and Jewish faiths outlaw the consumption of pig meat.

So, is it reasonable to expect the manufacturing industry to guarantee with 100% integrity the species content of the meat it is supplying – particularly when a product is declared halal or kosher?

There is no direct legal requirement for manufacturers to clean mincing equipment between red meat species but in any case, would this help to minimise or even eliminate carry-over when more than one meat species is processed on the same production line?

LGC undertook a research project, commissioned by Defra and FSA, investigating whether carry-over of meat species occurs during the industrial production of minced meat when good manufacturing practice (GMP) is followed and, if it does, at what concentrations it occurs. The mincing of pork followed by beef was studied.

To check the effectiveness of the deep chemical and water wash cleaning regimes used in commercial meat plants, LGC scientists took samples of minced beef and swabs of the equipment and analysed them for traces of pork.

Find out what the research revealed and get the latest updates on the science of food authenticity, food integrity and food fraud at our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

Nov 19

Why are thousands of people counting down the days to 13 December?

A selection of nuts on a wooden spoonSaturday 13 December is an important day for anyone with a serious food allergy in the UK, for it marks a significant shift in the burden of responsibility caterers have towards customers with allergies. It is the day that catering businesses, including restaurants, takeaways, bakeries and delicatessens, must tell customers if any of the 14 major allergens are present in the food they sell or serve.

While grabbing a bite to eat on the move is a common trait of today’s increasingly hectic society, for those with allergies it is a minefield. If the food they are allergic to is present, they risk a severe or even life-threatening reaction – a risk that many aren’t prepared to take as they cannot confidently know what is in the food.

But with new labelling rules, introduced under the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (No. 1169/2011), this is to change. Caterers serving foods without packaging will now have to provide information on any of the 14 allergens used as ingredients. This information could be written down on a chalk board or chart, or simply relayed by a member of staff. Where the specific allergen information is not provided upfront, clear signposting to where this information could be obtained must be provided.

While this will not completely eliminate the risk of someone with a food allergy eating something that triggers a reaction (it only covers information about major allergens intentionally used as ingredients and not allergens present following accidental contact), it is a big step towards helping to minimise the risk and arming people with the information they need to manage their allergies.

For those selling pre-packed foods, allergens must be emphasised on the ingredients label. Food businesses can choose what method they want to use to emphasise these, for example, by listing them in bold.

On those rare occasions when things go wrong and a serious anaphylaxis incident or, tragically, a death occurs there may be legal implications. Michael Walker, consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist programme, and Hazel Gowland, Allergy Action and food adviser for the UK Anaphylaxis Campaign, recently wrote about the latest allergen measurement techniques and reviewed allergen non-compliance cases in the UK courts in an article published in the journal of the Institute of Food Science and Technology.

For advice on food allergen labelling, including how to buy food safely when you have a food allergy or intolerance, take a look at the Food Standards Agency website.

If you need to know more about how to analyse for allergens come to our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

Michael Walker, Consultant Referee Analyst, Government Chemist programme, explains the new food labelling regulations (especially for caterers) in a series of short films, available online.

Nov 18

Food authenticity: more than just a question of taste

WhiskyNot any old pie can hold the name of Melton Mowbray pork pie. Similarly, only a pasty made in Cornwall following the traditional recipe can be called a Cornish pasty and only specific bottles of plonk can be declared as champagne. These products have all been awarded special status that protects their name in the EU, with the aim of highlighting regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. There are 3 statuses: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); Protected Geographical Indication (PGI); and Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).

Under this system a named food or drink registered at a European level will be given legal protection against imitation which could result in an inferior product. But what protection is there for manufacturers of other products that don’t have this status? And how, as consumers, do we know that the organic or premium product we are buying is what it says it is on the label?

Food fraud is big business. It is thought to cost the UK food industry £7 billion a year, with as much as 10% of the food on sale not as described. Fraud may be carried out to increase profitability by mimicking an established brand or reducing manufacturing costs.

Many companies go to great lengths to protect the integrity of their products, with stable isotope analysis one screening method that acts as a useful indicator of potential fraudulent activity.

Although the relative abundance of isotopes was fixed when the earth was formed – and on a global scale has not changed since – the isotopic composition of a material can be subtly affected by its geographical origin, or how it has been processed or manufactured.

Stable isotope ratio analysis can be used to give an indication as to whether a food has come from a certain geographic location or has been adulterated with a cheaper ingredient, as in the case of honey mixed with corn syrup. The analysis provides an isotopic fingerprint of a product, which can reveal information about its origin or production method.

Measurement of the small differences in isotope ratios has been used extensively in food authenticity testing, forensics and environmental analysis to provide information on the origin of materials. To establish an ‘isotopic profile’ for a material, the ratios of the stable isotopes of a range of elements such as 2H/1H, 18O/16O, 13C/12C, 15N/14N and 34S/32S are determined using mass spectrometry.

For example, Florida orange juice will have an isotopic signature consistent with water from Florida. By analysing the hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios, it is possible to tell if the orange juice is fresh juice bottled in Florida or if it has been made from a concentrate and hydrated from water sourced elsewhere.

This technique can also be used to guard against counterfeit whisky. Distilleries tend to get their water from the same place and they produce their whisky in a very consistent way. Therefore the isotopic signature of the water within an authentic whisky will be unique to that area.

LGC scientist Phil Dunn will be revealing more about how isotope ratio measurements can be used in the determination of food authenticity and origin, including the challenging measurements involved in the certification of the new isotope ratio reference material for absolute C isotope ratio traceable to the SI, during a presentation at the Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’.

Nov 17

The Government Chemist Conference 2014

With a history dating back to 1842, LGC remains home to the unique function of the Government Chemist.

Providing expert opinion, based on independent chemical and bioanalytical measurement, we help to avoid or resolve disputes pertaining to food and agriculture in order to protect the public.

Bacon cheeseburgers

The Government Chemist Conference, ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’, is taking place next week in London. In the run-up to the conference, a new article will be published every day on the LGC blog related to topics which will be the focus of the conference, including the new allergen labelling rules, carry-over of meat on food processing lines and the importance of reference materials in food authenticity.

The conference will address issues of food fraud, authenticity and safety.

The fallout of the contamination of beef with horse meat, which was reported in January 2013, continues to unfold. During this time, Government Chemist staff have played an important role in providing scientific advice and rigour around the testing regimes used to identify and semi-quantify the levels of adulteration of meat products; and related disputes provided a high case load for our Referee Function.

Sound measurement science plays a critical role in ensuring food safety and authenticity. The complexity of supply chains and the advances in products and manufacturing practices provide increasing challenges for the measurement community in building confidence in the marketplace.

The sharing of scientific knowledge and best practice around these issues is essential in helping to tackle problems at the heart of food scandals.  At this year’s  conference, we have a number of experts in food safety and security speaking including Chris Elliott, who undertook the Elliott Review, Michael Rosenmark, from the Danish Food Flying Squad, and Lucy Foster, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am delighted that we have such a strong programme of speakers for the conference who are willing to share their considerable expertise.

I look forward to seeing you at the conference next week.


Nov 07

Remembrance Sunday: Remembering Fromelles

As a nation we have a duty to honour those who have given their lives for our country. On Remembrance Sunday this weekend, we will remember the millions of servicemen who have fought for our freedom. In the hundredth year since the start of the First World War many of us will remember the 10 million soldiers who lost their lives. My thoughts will be with the soldiers killed during the Battle of Fromelles. In July of this year, I accompanied Victoria Moore, James Walker and Daniel Moore, all scientists at LGC who had worked on a project to help identify 144 soldiers killed in the Battle of Fromelles, to visit Fromelles Military Cemetery in Northern France.  After five years as part of this truly rewarding project, we have made a video about the science behind the Fromelles story.

For this video I interviewed James and Victoria, was shown around the DNA lab by Daniel and accompanied all three to Northern France to visit the Fromelles Military Ceremony. Talking to James and Victoria was fascinating; not only is the science behind this project truly interesting but James and Victoria cared hugely about doing these soldiers and their family’s justice; this was evident in their outstanding work and in the way they talked about it. It was an honour to visit Fromelles with James, Victoria and Daniel. It was clearly very important to them that they attended a ceremony marking the 98th year since the battle took place. In Fromelles, we visited the graves of soldiers LGC had helped to identify and had the opportunity to meet living relatives of the buried soldiers, many of whom had travelled from Australia. This made the project human. Speaking to the relatives was particularly moving as they were so grateful for the work LGC had done.

The work James, Victoria, Daniel and the rest of the Specialist DNA Team have done on this project is truly amazing. 144 successful DNA identifications is outstanding. More importantly though, they provided comfort and closure to 144 families and gave 144 heroes a dignified burials. Watch the video below to find out more about the work carried by James, Victoria and their team.


Article submitted by Emma Swaden, Group Communications Assistant at LGC.

Oct 14

A history of butter fraud – but how far does it spread?

Butter is without any question the most counterfeited food. This was the opening sentence at the symposium in Brussels in 1888 and while butter may not be the most counterfeited food today, the authenticity and quality of butters and margarines on sale today still come into question.

buttered toastBack in the late 1800s, analytical chemists and control authorities were concerned that chalk and potato starch was used to bulk out butter, increasing the quantity and boosting profits for the seller. After margarine appeared on the market, sellers would also try to sell margarine as if it was butter as well as mixing much cheaper margarine into the butter.

There’s no doubt that the safety of our food supply has greatly improved over the last century, but food fraud involving cases of dilution, substitution and mislabelling continue to persist within the global food industry.

This became apparent when we organised training for expert witnesses giving evidence in food prosecutions and the adulteration of butter and dairy products was a popular topic for discussion.

In 2000, the European Anti-fraud Office (Olaf) snared a sophisticated criminal operation to adulterate butter orchestrated by a Mafia gang in Italy. The gang used 5 000 tonnes of substances of beef tallow and vegetable material and 400 tonnes of synthetic, laboratory-produced substances in the manufacture of a total of 16,000 tonnes of finished product, which was falsely declared as butter. This adulterated butter was used for the production of foodstuffs, butter and concentrated butter, which sold for more than 45 million Euros.

Food crime by organised criminals was something raised by Professor Chris Elliott in his recent review into the ‘Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks’. While he acknowledged that the recommendations he makes in the report “will not stop food crime” he states that they are “intended to make it much more difficult for criminals to operate in the UK”.

It is also one of the motives behind regulations for more stringent labelling of our food (The Food Information Regulations 2014), which will come into force in December 2014. One of the requirements under this new legislation is that the generic term ‘vegetable oil’ used in the labelling of food containing oil blends must be replaced by the name of the oil.

In light of these changes, Michael Walker, from the Government Chemist programme, and two co-authors set out to review the history of butter and margarine adulteration in two countries that differed in their food law and examined modern methods of testing the authenticity of butter. The result is a fascinating trip through chemical and food history and a revelation of the lengths that fraudsters can go to in the 21st century.

Did you know, for example, that we unearthed reports of synthetic triacylglycerols being used to adulterate butterfat, a practice only detectable by sophisticated Carbon 13 magnetic resonance spectroscopy?

Find out more about the science of food fraud at our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

Oct 03

Rapid rise in workplace drugs testing

The BBC today have said that workplace drug testing has increased significantly in the UK. In an article, which featured LGC, the BBC claimed that the rise in the number of annual tests carried out by drugs screening companies is between 40 and 470%. LGC has seen a 100% increase in the number of annual tests carried out over the last four years.

Lianne Gray, LGC’s strategic account manager for occupational drug testing, said employees in safety-critical roles – such as operating heavy machinery or driving – and government agenciedrugs_white_powder_cocaine_iStock_000000917323Mediums were most likely to be screened.

She also explained that there was a growing trend for drug testing to be conducted in “more normalised industries”, including retail and health companies, as businesses look to “safeguard not only the business, but also the reputation in the field they work in”.

Ms Gray said there had been changes in the types of drugs for which businesses wished to screen.

“Traditionally we see requests for amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis, opiates,” she said. “Now we’re seeing more requests for things like ketamine, steroids, and also for novel psychoactive substances – or legal highs as they’re otherwise known.”

Alcohol and drugs abuse in the workplace is a growing problem that disrupts teamwork, reduces productivity, damages customer relationships and, ultimately, shrinks profits. It also poses a real risk to the health and safety of fellow workers, and to the individuals responsible.

LGC offers a complete service for pre-employment, random and ‘for cause’ workplace screening, with expert interpretation and the ability to find and associate other important factors to substantiate positive results. Our standards are extremely high and all our laboratory systems and procedures and workplace screening kits comply with UK Guidelines for legally defensible workplace drug testing.

If you missed LGC on the BBC this morning, make sure you listen to catch up on Radio 4. Mention of LGC can be found 2 hours and 6 minutes.


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