Government laboratory meets food testing challenges as it celebrates 100th anniversary

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 5:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 5:23am

Verifying ingredient claims in processed food sold in the city will be one of the challenges facing the government laboratory as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.

The laboratory, set up in 1913, offers a range of scientific analytical services, including food testing. Its latest challenge in food testing came after reports earlier this year found that some beef meatballs sold in the city contained little or no beef.

"Sometimes when food is processed and the DNA in it is destroyed, DNA tests cannot be done," Dr Cheung Tsz-chun said.

The senior chemist, who oversees the additives, contaminants and composition section under the food safety and quality group, said the laboratory had been conducting proteomic tests to verify ingredient claims. Proteomic testing examines whether a unique type of protein from a certain animal is present in the food, Cheung said, but the technology was still being developed.

"It's a rather new aspect of laboratory tests," he said. "We need time to develop a much more accurate method of testing. It's not just us; the whole world is developing proteomics."

Cheung said proteomic tests were more effective than DNA tests, which cannot accurately tell how much of a type of food is present in a sample. The laboratory would acquire more advanced instruments to develop the technology, he said.

From January to October, the laboratory received and tested 1,530 samples of food involved in complaints received by the Centre for Food Safety.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, the laboratory is hosting a four-day international conference, with analytical and forensic service experts from around the world. The event starts today at Hotel Icon.