Who is the Government Chemist and what does he do?
July 17, 2015, 09:10
Filed under: Government Chemist Information | Tags:

This is a question that Government Chemist Programme Manager Daniel Scott answered during a recent informal presentation for LGC staff. The Government Chemist function is housed within LGC – an international life sciences measurement and testing company – and Daniel explained the history of the role to the group of employees. Watch our video to find out more…


Latest allergen research shared by Government Chemist at international workshop
June 10, 2015, 10:52
Filed under: Allergies | Tags:

Group photo ROMER ACADEMYFood analysts and scientists from across Europe heard the latest research on food allergies undertaken by the Government Chemist during a special workshop in Austria.

Michael Walker, consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist programme, was invited to take part in the workshop to share his expertise on recent referee cases in the UK and to hear about the various methods for analysis.

The two-day workshop was organised by Romer Labs Ltd and was held at its head office in Tulln, near Vienna, Austria, last week.  Romer Labs is a specialist food testing company that works closely with the Centre for Analytical Chemistry of the University of Vienna and manufactures ELISA kits which are used in a wide range of food analysis.  The two-day workshop was intended for professionals involved in food allergen management and included delegates from food companies in the UK, Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. Attendees had the chance to try modern screening methods, instructed by experienced experts and the opportunity to adapt them to their own requirements.

Michael gave an introduction to food allergy and, based on research carried out under the Government Chemist Programme, discussed  the pros and cons of the principle techniques for analysis of allergens – ELISA, PCR and Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS/MS).

Routine and confirmatory quality control approaches were discussed and delegates learned how to interpret results based on the Allergen Bureau VITAL (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling) system and EAACI (European Academy of Allergy & Clinical Immunology) Guideline reference doses for major allergens. Michael reviewed recent cases of cumin and paprika containing undeclared almond, and concluded with the following recommendations for future work:

  • Research on causes and ‘cures’ of food allergy will yield good useable outcomes, but need much more work on fundamental immunology.
  • Food businesses hold responsibility for dealing with allergen cross-contamination; thresholds will help but this requires a lot more dialogue with stakeholders such as patient support groups, and further research.
  • Deaths from food allergies are rare but thorough investigation of food allergy deaths, particularly in the catering sector, is required. The skills and capacity for investigations should be improved and supply chains must be rigorously examined if adulteration or contamination with the fatal allergen occurred.
  • The EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (1169/2011) has made good progress on provision of allergen information since it came into force in December 2014 but robust enforcement on non-compliers needs to start soon.
  • Knowledge and skills gaps need to be addressed for the investigation and prosecution of potentially serious incidents of food allergen mismanagement and mislabelling.
  • A tenacious approach is required in these investigations, e.g. early realisation that samples of food and/or stomach contents should be retained and analysed.
  • Analysis urgently needs to be improved. There is a need for more reference materials, better bioinformatics, and metrological traceability is required.

Food fraud forum: listen on demand
June 3, 2015, 13:13
Filed under: Food and Feed | Tags: ,

A panel of four leading experts, including Michael Walker (consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist Programme) discuss food adulteration, fraud and prevention during a webinar organised by FoodQualityNews.

The Food Fraud Forum, which was broadcast live on 27 May 2015, is available to listen to on demand.   It also featured Dr John Spink, from Michigan State University, Chris Van Gundy, from Keller and Heckman LLP, and Dr Paul Brereton from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).

Michael, who was a subject matter expert for Professor Chris Elliott during the Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, described the Elliott review process and answered questions on definitions of food fraud (misdescription of food for financial gain), and the prevention of food fraud.

The engaging discussion included questions submitted live by listeners and covered a range of topics, including the risks industry faces throughout the supply chain, from those making the ingredients to the retailer selling the final product.

Around 200 people listened in, many with questions posed in quick-fire fashion to the panellists by Joe Whitworth, a French-based journalist with FoodQualityNews who organised and moderated the forum.

The current issues around the cumin recalls (rescinded in Canada) were touched on, as well as trust and traceability in the supply chain. The panellists agreed fraud had been in the supply chain for a long time, and was here to stay, but gave practical suggestions on how to put barriers in the way to – as John Spink put it – “keep the bad guys out of your business”.

Food allergy: Challenges and developments
May 26, 2015, 11:48
Filed under: Allergies, Food and Feed | Tags:

Michael Walker, consultant referee analyst for the Government Chemist programme, gave a comprehensive talk on food allergies, touching on why food allergies are increasing and what is being done to counter this, during an All Island Environmental Health Forum conference on 21-22 May in Cork.

The conference was organised by the Environmental Health Association of Ireland (EHAI) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Northern Ireland (CIEH NI).

Michael’s talk was part of the Thursday morning session on ‘Rethinking ‘Safe Food’ chaired by Peter Gaffey, Chairman, EHAI. Following a welcome by Peter and Ursula Walsh Chairman, CIEH NI, the opening address was given by Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Anneke Toorop, Policy Officer, European Commission DG Health and Food Safety, gave a keynote speech on intelligence and investigation of food crime in the Netherlands and administrative assistance and cooperation in enforcement at the EU level.

Michael’s talk, entitled ‘Food Allergy, Challenges and developments’, touched on what is known of the underlying immunological basis of food allergy, the comparative risks and the current developments. He described challenges in labelling, catering, and science-based enforcement, including the current controversy on alleged almond contamination of cumin. He discussed ‘thresholds’ and illustrated supply chain security using examples from his recent published study with Hazel Gowland on allergy cases in the UK courts.  

The presentation slides, Food allergy – Challenges and developments, are available to download.

Trainee public analysts attend intensive week-long residential course
April 30, 2015, 10:49
Filed under: Food and Feed | Tags: ,

The annual residential training course, organised for trainee public analysts by the Government Chemist programme, was a huge success with fantastic feedback from the delegates.

The course was held at the University of Reading from 20-24 April and featured a mix of lectures, laboratory practical sessions and interactive exercises over an intensive week-long schedule; it included three 12-hour days.

Some of the delegates are studying for the Mastership in Chemical Analysis (MChemA), the statutory qualification required to practice as a public analyst and several sessions were devoted to demystifying the exam process encouraging other delegates to consider taking the qualification.

Lectures were given by public analysts currently in practice and from experts outside the profession, providing a welcomed opportunity for networking.

Niki Georgousi, and Paul Evans watch Emma Downie setting up the microscope

Niki Georgousi, and Paul Evans watch Emma Downie setting up the microscope

Chris Widdrington working on the microscopy practical exercises

Chris Widdrington working on the microscopy practical exercises

The mycology practical session

The mycology practical session

Jane White MChemA demonstrates microscopy technique to Bharathi Reddy

Jane White MChemA demonstrates microscopy technique to Bharathi Reddy

Niki Georgousi makes careful notes of her mycology specimens

Niki Georgousi makes careful notes of her mycology specimens

Jane White MChemA teaching microscopy

Jane White MChemA teaching microscopy

Dr Alex Kersting speaking on the MChemA exam process and RSC topics

Dr Alex Kersting speaking on the MChemA exam process and RSC topics

All delegates gave excellent feedback stating that the course met their expectations to a high degree.

Our thanks go to the speakers and practical session demonstrators for the care and effort they put in to preparing and delivering their material, and to the technical and administrative staff of the University of Reading for their kind assistance in making the course run smoothly.

Tutors on the course are but modestly rewarded for their careful preparation and authoritative delivery yet return year on year, passing on their expertise to the next generation of official control scientists and providing the UK with a bulwark against unsafe and fraudulent food in the supply chain.

The Food Standards Agency was the main sponsor of the event, with Defra and the Analytical Chemistry Trust Fund also providing financial support. The event was organised by the Government Chemist Programme, which is housed within LGC and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Food fear: when allergies can kill
April 1, 2015, 16:00
Filed under: Allergies, EU Regulation/Legislation | Tags: , ,

A fit and healthy 22-year-old girl collapses suddenly after eating a cake and is rushed to hospital. She spends three days in intensive care and five more days in hospital recovering. Poison might have been suspected but there is no investigation for attempted murder. The culprit is caught but walks free from court with just a £7,500 fine.

You may find this shocking, but this was a real UK court case in 2010. The poison: peanuts. The charge: selling falsely labelled food.

In a comment article in the latest issue of Chemistry and Industry magazine (13 March 2015), Michael Walker, Consultant Science Manager for the Government Chemist, and Hazel Gowland, from Allergy Action, discuss this court case as part of a recent review they carried out examining court cases in the UK involving fatalities, personal injury, or criminal non-compliance with food law.

The article outlines the role businesses must play in protecting people with food allergies and the need for tough sanctions if they fail in their duty. They explain the difficulties in detecting the presence of allergenic proteins in foods and why techniques for measuring allergens need to be standardised.

Visit the Chemistry and Industry website to access a copy of the article.

Government Chemist conference – knowledge is power

Francis Bacon declared ‘knowledge is power’ in the essay ‘Meditationes Sacrae’ written in 1597. More than 400 years later, Bacon’s declaration of ‘knowledge is power’ still rings true – particularly for the science and innovation work carried out under the Government Chemist programme.

We are committed to sharing the knowledge and expertise we gain through our research under the Government Chemist function and regularly publish advice and guidance.

Last November we held our biennial Government Chemist conference, ‘Beating the cheats:  Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’, at the Royal Society in London. Expert speakers outlined methods for “Beating the cheats”, including presentations aimed at sharing the latest cutting edge analytical methods and research developments in the fight against food fraud.

With the help of the Science Media Centre, we held a successful media briefing ahead of the conference where our panel of speakers outlined the major issues that would be presented at the event. The panel also included Dr Frieda Jorgensen, from Public Health England, who was invited to discuss the problem of campylobacter contamination in some supermarket chickens – a topic that had been hitting the headlines.

As a direct result of the briefing, some of the major issues around food authenticity, food safety and food fraud were highlighted in the national media. This included a half page feature on wine fraud in the Sunday Times which discussed the extent of fraud and mislabelling in the UK, and outlined government plans for Britain’s new food-policing unit to target the criminals behind the fraud.

Several national newspapers – including The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail – reported on the widespread problem of campylobacter contamination in supermarket fresh chicken.

Selvarani Elahi, Deputy Government Chemist, and Michael Walker, Consultant Referee Analyst for the Government Chemist programme, were interviewed by BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service. Selvarani discussed food fraud, adulteration and water content in frozen poultry and Michael discussed the safety of the supply chain, food fraud and allergen thresholds.

It’s not just through the media that we share information about our research; we also publish news stories and blogs and we even recorded some of the presentations at the Government Chemist conference which have recently been uploaded to the Government Chemist pages on GOV.UK.

So if you want to know more about what we are doing, check out GOV.UK/GovernmentChemist where you can subscribe for Government Chemist updates or alerts.