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Research Impact Highlights - Food

A matter for digestion

Daniela Freitas, Laura G. Gomez-Mascaraque and André Brodkorb

Do you ever wonder what is happening to your food once you swallow it? How is a breakfast cereal transformed from a meal into something that is absorbed into the bloodstream? Scientists can simulate the digestion of food in vitro in the laboratory, but how accurate is the simulation? To find out, Teagasc scientists invited individuals with an existing ileostomy (surgical opening at the end of the small intestine) to participate in a food trial. Different Irish food staples, including breakfast cereal, were tested in combination with diet supplements provided by an industry partner. An extensive amount of data demonstrated close similarities between human and simulated food digestion, but also some significant differences which need to be addressed in the future. Teagasc scientists also provided direct evidence for probiotic survival and functionality of a probiotic formulation as early as a few hours after consumption. The results of this work will feed into an international drive to improve methods to better understand the digestion of existing and novel foods. Teagasc is also offering digestion studies as a service to food companies as part of its technical services to industry.

Contact: andre.brodkorb@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Deerland Probiotics and Enzymes (now part of ADM).
Funding: Enterprise Ireland (Innovative Partnership Programme); Deerland Probiotics and Enzymes.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption; Capacity building.

Beverages for better heart health

Dilip Rai and Ciaran Fitzgerald (RIP)


Approximately 90,000 people in Ireland live with heart disease.

In Ireland, about 10,000 people die every year due to heart-related illnesses. To help improve cardiovascular health, researchers at Teagasc and University College Cork formulated enriched beverages using blackberry polyphenols (natural micronutrients). A double-blind diet intervention trial involving 82 participants for 18 weeks showed no significant change to blood pressure (BP) and other markers of heart diseases post-consumption of the beverage over a six-week period. However, in a sub-group there was a significant reduction in arterial stiffness in hypertensive participants, demonstrating greater reductions in BP in hypertensive adults. This was not observed in participants with normal BP. It also reflects individual variability of absorption and bioavailability of blackberry polyphenols, for which the next step would be customised dietary intervention. These findings are highly advantageous to the Irish food industry for the design of future polyphenol-based functional foods, and will inform policy makers establishing dietary recommendations for polyphenol intakes.

Contact: dilip.rai@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Alice Lucey, Mairead Kiely and Seamus O’Mahony (University College Cork) and Wild Orchard.
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Impact pathway: Capacity building.

Drug residue detection in meat

Martin Danaher

Nitrofurans are a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics that were previously widely used as growth promoters and for treating infections in animals. They are now banned from use in food production in the EU however, and are listed under ‘prohibited substances’. To protect both consumer safety and food trade, the monitoring of such chemical residues in food is of the utmost importance. The majority of methodologies for nitrofuran analysis have been focused on detecting four drugs (nitrofurantoin, furazolidone, furaltadone and nitrofurazone) and are time-consuming. In recent years, a fifth bound residue – DNSAH (marker residue for nifursol) – was added to EU testing, and in China, a further drug – nitrovin – was added to the priority list of veterinary drugs. Research conducted by Teagasc addressed the narrow scope of previous methods for analysing nitrofuran by including four additional drugs (nifursol, nitrofuroxazide, nifuraldezone and nitrovin). This newly developed and validated method can detect eight different nitrofuran drug residues in meat, and is accredited by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB). Furthermore, it is now being used in Ireland’s national residue monitoring plan to assess and assure food safety.

Contact: martin.danaher@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Gemma Regan and Chris Elliott.
Funding: European Union’s Horizon 2020; Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (EUCHINASAFE).
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption; Capacity building.

Food safety and productivity on broiler farms

Declan Bolton

Food safety assurance on farms is reliant on effective biosecurity practices, which often require investment in improved infrastructure. As rising input costs erode profit margins, many broiler farmers cannot afford to modernise broiler houses in line with food safety best practices. With these conflicting issues in mind, Teagasc has developed a novel biosecurity system for broiler houses that protects birds against avian disease and the carriage of human pathogens such as Campylobacter, while increasing productivity by up to 20%. Commercial trials found that, at a stocking density of 20 birds per m2, the broilers in the ‘biosecurity cubes’ had better health, welfare and growth rate, resulting in faster growth and shorter production cycles. Investment costs in enhanced biosecurity were covered within six to twelve months, thereafter yielding increased profits while assuring food safety and improving bird welfare. Overall, there has been a huge increase in broiler farmer awareness of the importance of biosecurity and Campylobacter control. Moreover, linking enhanced biosecurity to increased profit has provided a new motivator for food safety control and enhanced broiler welfare.

Contact: declan.bolton@teagasc.ie  
Other contributors: Genevieve Greene and Leonard Koolman.
Funding: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Teagasc.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.

Reducing methane emissions

Catherine Stanton

The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Dairy cattle account for around 20% of these emissions, which are a direct result of rumen microbial fermentation. Innovative solutions to reduce methane emissions from livestock are necessary to support the development of sustainable food production systems while moderating GHG emissions. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) offer a safe and practical way to influence the rumen microbial community for methane mitigation, creating a more sustainable, emission-efficient food production system. The METHLAB project has been investigating whether LAB can be used to reduce enteric methane emissions. A series of animal feeding trials were completed in which researchers demonstrated that LAB administered via inoculated silage led to reduced methane emissions in dairy cows, while animal productivity and health were not affected. The results indicate that the use of LAB fed directly to animals or mixed in silage, or both, hold great potential as a strategy to reduce ruminant GHG emissions. Further research is required to determine which precise LAB, or combination of LAB, is most effective in enhancing animal productivity and reducing ruminant methane emissions.

Contact: catherine.stanton@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: The METHLAB consortium, Teagasc Moorepark, University College Cork, Wageningen University & Research, INRA, AgResearch Limited and Sacco S.r.l.
Funding: FACCE ERA–GAS is the ERA–NET co-fund for Monitoring and Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases from
Agri-and Silvi-culture.
Impact pathway: Technology development and adoption.