French duo launch HalalTest: ‘We want to democratize analysis’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Halal France consumer industry HalalTest PCR

Related tags Meat

Two French entrepreneurs have launched ‘HalalTest’, a portable device that tests food for the presence of pork. 

The test can be used by consumers (to offer reassurance food is halal) or the food industry (to increase the number of quick tests throughout the supply chain and production lines).

Jean-Francois Julien and Abderrahmane Chaoui came up with the idea while at university two years ago, in the midst of the horsemeat scandal. They add that recent contamination scares have knocked consumer confidence in halal products.

Under the company Capital Biotech, the duo is now looking into distribution partnerships for the single-use test in more than 20 countries.  

Democratizing halal analysis

Abderrahmane Chaoui, MD and co-founder, Capital Biotech, told HalalTest can be used with cooked, processed, or raw meat.   

Our goal was to democratize this analysis method to everyone, and give to consumers control over their food - whether it is from a restaurant, a labelled or non-labelled product, during travel, etc,” ​he said.

Our tests may also be used by professionals of the agro-alimentary industry: for example, Halal certifying bodies, restaurants, butchers, and slaughterhouses.  

“We want these tests to be introduced at every level of the supply chain, as we believe they can bring more transparency and much more control at a fair price.

“For professionals, these tests represent a huge economy of time and money. Today, they only check their food through an expensive and time-consuming method called PCR. It usually costs around €200 and takes up to one week to get a result.

“Our rapid tests give you a reliable result - even if it less reliable than a PCR analysis - within 10 minutes. This way, professionals can multiply the number of checkpoints in their facilities or with their suppliers, and keep PCR analysis as a confirmation method only.

“This way they can show more transparency, quality and control, as well as reducing their budget and winning precious time.” 

Regaining confidence in halal products

Pork is prohibited in the Islamic diet. Chaoui says recent incidents of contamination or suspected contamination has reduced confidence among Muslim consumers.

In May, Cadbury Malaysia recalled two batches of halal chocolate which were believed to contain pork DNA. The products were cleared a few days later, but not before the company had faced a backlash from consumers and a call from Malay-Muslim groups to boycott Cadbury chocolate.

“I think the level of trust Muslim consumers have in Halal food has never been full and total,” ​Chaoui said. “There have always been doubts in the consumer's mind, and the repeated alimentary scandals around the world make the doubts persist further.

“As a Muslim myself, I have been constantly questioning the "Halal-ity" of my food. And I firmly believe that the democratization of these tests could resolve a part of these issues. “

How does it work?

Users mix the sample they want to test with warm water in a little test-tube. They then insert a test strip into the mixture, which shows the result in a matter of minutes.  

There are two different tests for pork detection: one for cooked and processed meat, and one for raw meat. The test for cooked meat is based on the principles of immunochromatography and antibody-antigen reactions.

The test detects pork specific antigens. If the target antigen from pork is present in food, it will bind with specific antibodies attached to the test, and coloured microparticles. The result is displayed as a visible coloured line. Porcine antigens can be detected in concentrations down to 0.1%, which is around 5 – 10 milligrams of porcine antigen per kilogram (5-10ppm).

The test for raw meat detects the presence of porcine albumin, a protein present in blood and internal tissues of pork.  It detects the presence of porcine antigens in concentrations down to 0.001% for blood and innards, and has an absolute sensitivity of approximately 0.5 milligram of porcine serum albumin per kilogram of solid matter (0.5ppm).

The sensitivity of the raw meat test depends on how much the sample has been heated, and is ineffective after cooking or heating above a certain temperature and time. The cooked meat test relies on a heat-resistant antigen so is not affected by temperature.

Distribution partnerships

Chaoui said the company is looking at several distribution partnerships, in more than 20 countries. “The enthusiasm around our kits has been huge, and we did not expect it to be this big,”​ he said. “We are able to sell our products online to every country in Europe, and will make it available in retail shops and specialized shops in France in the coming months.”

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