TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --
The odds of contracting
mad cow disease from banned or adulterated bovine protein lurking in raw
or processed food for humans or meat-bone meal for livestock have
declined over the past decade. So have the risks of purchasing fishy imposters
billed as red snapper, ground beef that isn’t all cow, or spoiled meat
that doesn’t look or smell bad … yet.
All that consumer
protection is thanks in part to improved food-testing methods -- quicker,
more reliable paper-strip field tests and simpler, more accurate
laboratory assays -- developed since the 1990s by food scientist Yun-Hwa
Peggy Hsieh of The Florida State University. Currently, four assays in
commercial use worldwide feature her patented technology.
Now, with two recent
grants totaling nearly $500,000, Hsieh will begin work on the development
of two new immunoassays for commercial use on both raw and processed food
products. With a three-year, $280,000 award from the United States
Department of Agriculture, she’ll design a test to detect fish allergens,
which cause allergic reactions in more than 6 million people each year in
the United States alone. And, with a two-year, $216,000 award from a
division of the Tanaka Kikinzoku Group of Japan, Hsieh will devise a
rapid test to detect traces of pork fat -- good news for more than a
billion Muslims and millions of Jews who adhere to Halal and Kosher
dietary laws, respectively, that forbid pork consumption.
"In 2004, the Food
Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCP) called for
mandatory labeling of the eight major allergenic foods by January 2006,
but while methods have been developed to detect the presence of
shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, cow’s milk and egg, currently
there’s still no way to test for fish proteins in food materials,” Hsieh
“With the increase in
the production and consumption of seafood in recent years, more consumers
with fish allergies are at risk of serious reactions or even death than
ever before due to mislabeled or undeclared fish byproducts,” she said.
“My USDA grant will enable me to develop a convenient and reliable tool
to enforce FALCPA and protect those consumers.”
Hsieh expects to
publish one or two papers per year during the course of the grant period.
She anticipates at least one patent application for the project once it
“A fast, effective fish
allergen immunoassay has the potential for immediate commercialization,”
she said. “Currently, two domestic biotechnology companies, who already
have licensed several of our species-specific tests for food and feed
control in heat-processed products, are marketing immunoassay kits for
detection of ingredients in all seven types of foods listed in the ‘Big
Eight’ except for finfish. Since the FALCP labeling mandate took effect
in 2006, these companies have been eagerly seeking assays for fish
detection, and they have shown strong interest in my laboratory’s
research efforts to develop fish-specific ones.”
Awarded on the heels of
her USDA fish-allergens grant, Hsieh’s two-year grant from Tanaka
Kikinzoku Kogyo K. of Japan will help to advance her earlier research on
the detection of pork products in food and feed products.
“I previously developed
a rapid pork immunoassay that can sensitively detect any pork muscle in
food and feed mixtures regardless of their processing conditions,” Hsieh
said. “This assay was commercialized in 2000 and has been widely used
internationally. However, detection of pork fat remains challenging due
to the physiochemical nature of the fat. Currently available methods all
require sophisticated instruments coupled with complex data analysis
procedures for interpreting results. Rapid field tests of pork or any
other fat are non-existent.
“With this grant, I
hope to change that, because such tests are vital to practicing Muslim
and Jewish populations,” she said.
Hsieh’s novel and
commercially successful food-testing technology took off in the 1990s
when her research first revealed that even the rigors of rendering didn’t
destroy certain marker proteins in animal muscle tissue. With that
discovery, she developed immunoassays using specific antibodies that
react to the presence of those thermostable proteins and identify which
species they come from. Results from her immunoassays have trumped those
of traditional analysis -- time-consuming food testing processes fraught
with false positives and negatives because the high heat of rendering
causes most animal proteins and DNA to degrade.
professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at
Florida State University’s College of Human Sciences, Hsieh holds 11
patented and patent-pending technologies.
Learn more about her
cutting-edge research at www.chs.fsu.edu/.