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Halal Certified Food: Processing, Technology and Regulations

1. How is ‘Halal’ defined? How is the process to certify food as Halal?

Halal is the Arabic word for ‘permissible’ or ‘lawful.’ When used in the context of food, ‘halal’ refers to food that is permissible according to Islamic law or Sharia law. The strict scrutiny prohibits any food product that contains pork or is contaminated by any by-products that are porcine sourced, like gelatin or emulsifiers. It also prohibits any form of intoxicants being used in the product, including alcohol, that may impair judgement. Foods that contain pork or are contaminated by porcine sources or contain intoxicants are considered forbidden or haram.

An integral part of halal food products is toyyiban. Toyyiban, depicts wholesome food that is safe, hygienic and nutritious. This ensures that the food product is free from any harmful substance such as food pesticides, biotoxins, illicit additives and even veterinary drugs, making it nutritious, healthy and safe for consumption.

The scope of halal certified food covers not only the presence of pork or alcohol contaminations but also the process of humane slaughter of Halal animals. Muslims around the world follows strict religious guidelines known as Zabihah, where animal must be treated kindly and humanely both before and during the slaughtering process.

Regulatory agencies conduct on-site inspections before awarding halal certification. These on-site inspections include ensuring the slaughter of raw materials from a halal source, transportation, logistics, value chain, shelving and delivery of the food stuffs are compliant with Islamic law.

As part of their religious beliefs, Muslims abstain from the consumption of certain foodstuffs. Certain countries have passed legislation to ensure that food imports arriving in the country meet halal standards. For example, in Malaysia, imports of meat and poultry are regulated through licensing and sanitary controls. All imported products must originate from facilities that have been approved by Malaysian authorities as “halal”.

Countries with Muslim populations such as Singapore rely on certification from their national regulatory bodies, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura or more commonly known as MUIS, to ensure that food meets the halal standard. Certification is still seen as an effective method when reaching out to the Muslim population because they trust the legitimacy of the halal label issued by regulatory bodies.

2. What technology is needed to produce Halal-certified food? What are the essential processes?

Regulatory agencies conduct on-site inspections before awarding halal certification. These on-site inspections include ensuring the slaughter of raw materials from a halal source, transportation, logistics, value chain, shelving and delivery of the food stuffs are compliant with Islamic law.

In the past, ELISA testing was incorporated to add more authenticity to halal certification. However, ELISA testing has its shortcomings. Techniques relying on detection of genetic material namely Polymerase Chain Reaction meet limitations when applied to highly-processed meat products where DNA is destroyed by high temperatures.

To ensure the quality and the safety of halal food products, food manufacturers can work alongside laboratories with analytical tools to remove any doubt of whether the food source is compliant with regulatory standards.

Solution providers provide reliable and accurate laboratory-based methods and solutions for detecting forbidden contaminants in foods, such as the QTRAP LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry detection) which is deemed as the gold standard for analytical testing of food, because of its unparalleled sensitivity and selectivity.

More specifically, analytical testing can distinguish between porcine gelatin from other gelatin sources. In raw or process meat samples, pork can be decisively detected if present. In addition, beef, chicken, horse, mutton markers are also included as part of the screening as validation. This eliminates any guesswork from ensuring the authenticity of a beef or chicken patty. The benefit of such a technique compared to the traditional DNA based methodologies is that multiple species can be screened together in a single analysis, resulting in a faster and cost effective method for laboratories.

3. How do you see the food testing technique used in the market today? How can it be improved?

Food lab testing laboratories work with food manufacturers, government bodies and even regulatory bodies to ensure that the food being sold is indeed halal or not. Mass spectrometry is becoming the choice of equipment for Halal testing, to ensure that food is compliant to Sharia law. One key benefit is the scope of molecules that is detected by mass spectrometry techniques is not limited to a particular type, as the limitation with DNA techniques.

Currently, LC-MS/MS is the gold standard ‘small molecules’ based food safety testing for common contaminants such like pesticides, veterinary drugs and food additives. More recently, LC-MS/MS is applied to detect larger molecules such as protein allergens (peanuts, eggs, etc.) and gelatin protein for differentiating gelatin from different animal species. Researchers are now looking at expanding the detection of other more stable molecules such as lipids which might provide further confirmation of species origins in highly processed Halal.

4. Must the sectors producing halal and non-halal food be separated?

Yes. Halal food product does not just mean that the food product doesn’t contain pork. For food to be labelled Halal, every step from the slaughter of raw materials from a halal source, transportation, logistics, value chain, shelving, all the way down to delivery of the food stuff must be compliant with Islamic law. As such, there is a need for separation.

5. What types of testing are required to ensure the food/beverage is safe for consumption?

Access to safe food and beverages is fundamental for all human life. Farmers, suppliers, food testing labs, manufacturers, regulators, and consumers are all worried about potential food and beverage contamination.

There are many tests in the market to test for pesticides, allergens, antibiotics, food authenticity, ingredient analysis and even screening for unknown food contaminants.

Equipment manufacturers like SCIEX, provide reliable and accurate laboratory-based methods and solutions for detecting unwanted chemicals in food, potentially saving lives. LC-MS/MS (liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry detection) is deemed as the gold standard for analytical testing of food, because of its unparalleled sensitivity and selectivity. The overarching merits of mass spec systems for food testing are their capabilities to find targeted chemical contaminants with very high specificity.

Mass spectrometry also has the added ability to survey food samples for unknown chemical compounds, including environmental contaminants, adulterants (e.g. melamine), chemical by-products (e.g. whey), and even fungal metabolites.

Mass spectrometry equipment such as SCIEX’s X500R QTOF System, the first robust, high performance high resolution mass spectrometry system designed specifically for routine applications, such as food safety testing. The X500R system can be utilized to screen for unlimited compounds in foods as well as for targeted screening using library databases for pesticides (557 compounds), antibiotics (244 compounds), mycotoxins (228 compounds), and fluorochemicals (96 compounds).

About the Interviewee

Jason Neo, Director of Marketing and Field Applications, SCIEX

Mr. Jason Neo has over a decade of experience in life science applications. In his current role as Director, Marketing and Field Applications, he oversees SCIEX market development and field applications operations in the Rest of Asia region. SCIEX defines “Rest of Asia” as ASEAN, Australia/New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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APBN Editorial Calendar 2018
January:
Obesity / Outlook for 2018
February:
Searching for the fountain of youth
March:
Women in Science - Making a difference
April:
Digestive health in the 21st century - Trust your guts
May:
Dental health - The root to good health
June:
Cancer - Therapies and strategies for better patient outcomes
July:
Water management - Technologies for biotech and pharmaceutical industries
August:
Regenerative technology - Meat of the future
September:
Doctor Robot - The digital healthcare revolution
October:
Bones / Breast cancer
November:
Liver health / Top science research nations & institutions
December:
AIDS / Breakthrough of the year/Emerging trends
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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