The potential presence of drug residue contaminants in food products destined for human consumption is an increasingly popular topic of conversation in the industry but what are the main challenges fa...

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The potential presence of drug residue contaminants in food products destined for human consumption is an increasingly popular topic of conversation in the industry but what are the main challenges facing the industry to tackle this potential issue?

Drug residue contaminants in meat products is a discussion that involves the global community but each individual country or trade bloc has their own protocols and regulations relating to the control and monitoring of residues. The different legislations are designed to protect the general public as well as the food industry interests in their individual countries. Any business that wishes to sell their meat products within other countries or regions must meet their legislative requirements relating to drug residues. These differences in regulations have increased the need for increased dialogue on the issue as well as the implementation of effective monitoring systems.

What is the issue?

The issue the meat industry faces in relation to drug residues is twofold.

First of all, the industry must deal with the potential of residues from antibiotics and growth promoting hormones entering the food chain. This will involve ensuring correct dosage per animal and also adhering to withdrawal periods set for their region. The second issue the industry faces is the stigma received from the misuse of these antibiotics and growth promoting hormones.

While there is a potential for misuse it should always be noted that a producer’s main concern should always be animal health, which leads to a quality end product. The use of antibiotics is to ensure the health of the animal and to reduce the potential knock on effect of untreated diseases which could create a downturn on yield. Growth promoting hormones are used to increase this yield also but should never be done so at the expense of a safe end product.

Some of the main residues of concern in the industry are the presence of these growth promoting hormones and other veterinary drugs, some of the most controversial veterinary drugs included in this are Ractopamine and Clenbuterol.

Residues from these particular drugs in food produce can have serious implications for human health. As such many countries have set Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) or tolerances for these residues in food.  The Maximum Residue Limit is the maximum concentration of a residue that can be present in a product from an animal or animal by product intended for the food supply. These MRLs mean that it is required by law in the enforcing countries that any product in the food chain cannot contain residue levels that are harmful to human health above these limits.

In Europe all beta agonists are banned for use in livestock and for improving athletic performance according to EU council directive 96/22/EC in order to prevent harmful drug residues.

There has been controversy over measures to tackle drug residues in foods as there are no internationally accepted standards for many drugs. Ractopamine in particular has caused trade disputes as it is permitted in food production in some countries like the US & Canada, but the European Union, China, Taiwan and over 100 other countries have banned its use.

The real challenge the industry faces is ensuring their testing methods are effective and reliable to ensure the safety of their end product.

Testing Methods

In order to help improve the options available for global meat testing Randox Food Diagnostics have developed a wide range of testing equipment for drug residues. Testing methods for drugs such as Clenbuterol and Ractopamine are currently very limited. The majority of this testing is carried out via methods such as HPLC, GCMS and LC/MS. Randox Food Diagnostics offers cost effective and reliable ELISA screening methods for both drug residues and a variety of other beta agonists and growth promoters.

ELISA screening methods provide an excellent way for food producers and processors to carry out their own in house screening to ensure that the quality of their food has not been compromised by drug residues administered earlier in the food chain. Sample preparations required for rapid drug residue tests such as dipsticks, lateral flow devices and receptor binding assays along with ELISAs often require a low level of technical expertise and reduced consumable costs. 

ELISA screening along with the patented multi-analyte Biochip Array Technology offer the same advantages as the rapid test kits.  However, they also have the ability to provide quantitative sample concentrations with a high sample throughput which allows the end user to have a high degree of control.  Biochip Array Technology is now used by many governmental institutes worldwide and has been reported to provide a reliable and efficient way to screen samples for residues of multiple veterinary drugs.

What is Biochip Array Technology?

Biochip Array Technology provides a platform that enables the simultaneous determination of multiple analytes with a single sample. It uses miniaturized assay procedures with implications in the reduction of sample/reagent consumption and cost-effectiveness of the tests.

The technology is based upon ELISA principles of sandwich and competitive immunoassays.

What is a biochip?

The biochip (9x9 mm) is the platform of the technology as it is the chemically activated solid-phase where the biomolecules are precisely dispensed, immobilized and stabilised in predefined positions generating microarrays of test sites. The biochip platform is also used to perform the immunoreactions.  The biochips are supplied ready to use in carriers (3x3 biochips per carrier = 9 reaction vessels per carrier).

What do I need to run Biochip Array Technology?

Depending upon the analyte being tested for assay specific kits include the relevant reagents which are applied to the biochip surface along with prepared samples. These samples are then incubated to generate a chemiluminescent reaction which is inversely proportional to the concentration of the analyte in the sample.

Using the Evidence Investigator analyser, an integrated charge-coupled device (CCD) camera simultaneously detects the light signals emitted by each test site of the array. The analyser incorporates dedicated software to process, report and archive the data generated for retrospective access.

Benefits of Biochip Array Technology:

Consolidation of testing to provide multiple test results from a single sample.

Less labour (Costs could be reduced by at least 5 fold by employing multiplex biochip arrays).

Extensive menu of drug residue tests developed.

Simple sample preparations

Higher throughput (45 samples in under 2 hours).

Applicable to multiple matrices.


The key challenge facing the food industry on the issue of drug residues is implementing reliable screening methods. It is important that residue detection of veterinary drugs is at the fore front of any food safety initiative in the meat industry. Modern techniques now available commercially such as Biochip Array Technology; allows for the presence of multiple drugs to be tested rapidly, ensuring that any positive samples are eliminated from the food chain.

Removing these potentially contaminated products ensures the safety of the end product for consumers and also the protection of the reputation of the industry.


RFD Press office

Randox Food Diagnostics digital press officer

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