Research project
36 | monthsECOLOGY

Xenobiotics and emerging contaminants in food of animal origin by advanced methods for food safety

Related toSpoke 03

Principal investigators
Luca Maria Chiesa

Other partecipantsSara Panseri, Francesco Arioli
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Task involved

Task 3.3.1.

The task includes evaluation of safety parameters in traditional and novel foods through the development of: a) chemical sensors and immunosensors for the selective detection of algal and plant toxins, and trace allergens; b) portable devices based on laser photoacoustic spectroscopy (LPAS) and other spectroscopy techniques; c) Ambient Desorption Ionisation methods with High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry (DESI-HRMS); e) use of rt-PCR and digital droplet-PCR to evaluate new and (re)-emerging foodborne pathogenic species; f) metabolomics and proteomics strategies coupled to pathway analysis to evaluate the effects of emerging and re-emerging contaminants; d) analytical techniques, i.e., spectroscopic and MS-based, to determine biogenic amines, pesticides, veterinary drug residues, mycotoxins and processing toxicants; and g) new Matrix-Reference Materials to be characterised for food safety parameters will be developed, including preparation of test-lots, their characterization and homogeneity and stability studies.

Project deliverables


Safety assessment of traditional and novel foods through targeted and untargeted methodologies (M36)


Report on the development and testing of new analytical techniques for targeted analysis of contaminants (M36)

State of the art

Contaminants are substances of natural or anthropic origin present in food and feed due to transfer from the environment but also as a result of various stages of production, processing or transport; based on their concentrations, they may pose a risk to human and animal health. Currently, worldwide, the monitoring and study of environmental contaminants are the priorities for the scientific community in terms of Food Safety. The competent international authorities and the industrialized countries are involved in efficiently identifying any new environmental pollutants (as targeted or untargeted analytes) as potential risk factors for food safety. The recent Commission Recommendation 2022/1431 on the monitoring of perfluoroalkyl substances in food is an example. Drug residues monitoring, just updated by the Commission Delegated Regulation 2022/1644, is a similar issue, although the presence in food at illicit levels is due to illegal use but also to poor manufacturing practices.

Operation plan

The research project will use advanced technologies, [liquid chromatography-tandem high-resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS) and gas chromatography-tandem low-resolution mass spectrometry (GC-MS and GC-MS/MS)] for targeted and untargeted identification of xenobiotics and emerging contaminants in food of animal origin aimed to characterize the consumer risk. 
The operational plan is:
1) literature survey and comparison with the national/international institutional bodies to identify issues related to xenobiotics and emerging contaminants;
2) development of purification methods in different matrices (meat, milk, fish products, honey, eggs) to isolate the molecules of interest;
3) comparison between rapid and confirmation methods, an already acquired expertise from the laboratory on milk and honey;
4) development of multi-residue methods in GC- and LC-MS/MS for the targeted and untargeted identification and quantification of molecules;
5) application to matrices;
6) risk characterization.

Expected results

The project aims to evaluate the safety of foods of animal origin, by using advanced technologies to allow the multi-residue, untarget detection of molecules, i.e. their metabolites or new ones.
The use of these data is an innovative approach to food safety as the evaluation of the presence and concentration of untarget molecules in food will allow, subsequently, the risk evaluation related to its intake, as a major contribution to institutional bodies.

The expected results are:
1) development of multi-residue, rapid purification and analysis methods for target and untarget determination of molecules;
2) identification of the presence and concentration of target and untarget molecules in the animal-origin foods intended for human intake;
3) drafting of a document describing, for each matrix, the molecules found, the concentrations, and the untarget molecules, making them available to control bodies and stakeholders for risk evaluation.