Cross-contamination trials are being conducted by Defra and the FSA to get a handle on how common it is in UK meat plants, and what to do about it.

The project - run by The Government Chemist (LGC) - comes in the wake of undeclared pork being found in beef tested in connection with the horsemeat scandal.

It involves a pilot under controlled conditions at ABP’s Dalepak plant - which took place earlier this month - followed by field trials later in the year. Deputy government chemist Selvarani Elahi said the Dalepak pilot looked at contamination levels under two hygiene scenarios - a high-risk scenario, where 100kg of beef was processed directly after 100kg of pork, without equipment being cleaned in between and a low-risk scenario involving a deep-clean after the pork. A medium-risk scenario - where equipment was flushed through with water between the pork and the beef - might take place later, she added.

The pilot was done on a line set up specifically for the project. In total, 480 meat samples and 63 machinery swabs were taken and would now be tested in triplicate for pork DNA, Elahi said. “We want to get data on how much cross-contamination you would get in a normal UK meat plant under different conditions. There is some internal data from the processors themselves, but it’s not robust.”

Later, field trials in processing plants would involve samples actually being taken off production lines and tested, Elahi said. No formal timetable had been set, but results could be expected within the next three months, she added.

The results will inform Defra/FSA policy on cross-contamination, including whether current FSA testing threshold of 1% is viable.