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Can Rapid Detection of Airborne Volatile Organic Compounds Improve Animal Welfare, Meat Quality and Meat Safety in Abattoir Environments?

Principal Supervisor: Dr Karim FaragLink opens in a new window

Co-supervisor: Dr Lynn McIntyre

PhD project title: Can Rapid Detection of Airborne Volatile Organic Compounds Improve Animal Welfare, Meat Quality and Meat Safety in Abattoir Environments?

University of Registration: University of Harper Adams

Project outline:


Abattoirs are busy sites visited by hundreds of animals daily. At peak times, smells generated from live animals, the slaughtering process, equipment and washing facilities as well as from production can be horrendous for people working there. Odour is a significant issue for environmental regulatory agencies and is one of the most commonly reported complaints by local communities.

Animals in contrast, are usually overlooked and ignored. However, red meat species have an acute sense of smell used to identify threats and recognise familiar environments or companions, eliciting either positive or negative behavioural responses. The red meat supply chain requires animals to experience novel environments and have contact with unfamiliar social groups. The olfactory stimulants in these environments can lead to negative behavioural responses, resulting in increased animal-human contact and use of coercion methods which impact animal welfare and can detrimentally affect meat quality. Furthermore, the air quality surrounding live animals and dead carcasses can have implications on the level of microorganisms depositing on the meat and if not controlled can increase the risk of cross-contamination.

It is therefore important to identify any irregularities in air quality such as unpleasant odours and microorganisms that can detrimentally affect the welfare of the animal and the resulting quality and safety of the meat. Accurate and reliable diagnostic tools will help to monitor and flag such problems before worsening.


There is extensive work done on the impact of smell produced in the meat industry on staff and communities surrounding the facilities. However, there is a clear lack of focus on the impact of poor air quality on the wellbeing of the animals themselves and the resulting quality and safety of meat.


The aim of the study is to identify volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the abattoir and associated environment which may be managed or manipulated to improve animal welfare, meat quality and meat safety outcomes.


  1. To determine the most important VOC targets for welfare and meat safety investigations.
  2. To develop and fine-tune VOC sensors to detect these specific VOC targets.
  3. To assess the VOC sensors in comparison with industry approaches in a selection of abattoir scenarios to determine their efficacy as a real-time detection approach.


This research will identify the main VOC targets for welfare and meat safety present in the abattoir environment using air sampling techniques and GC-MS headspace analysis. Pure chemicals and cultures of red meat-related microorganisms will be used to assess the reactivity and specificity of developed sensors. Fine-tuning the sensors (primarily by varying the materials used) will make VOC detection more specific and sensitive, allowing rapid and accurate detection of the emergence of VOCs related to welfare and meat safety. Likely scenarios will be established to test sensor performance to evaluate how well the generated VOC data correlate with existing industry welfare practices/observations, and meat quality and meat safety analytical results.


Hayes, J. E., Stevenson, R. J., & Stuetz, R. M. (2014). The impact of malodour on communities: A review of assessment techniques. Science of the Total Environment, 500, 395-407.

Kizil, Ü., Genç, L., Genç, T. T., Rahman S. & Khaitsa M. L. (2015). E-nose identification of Salmonella enterica in poultry manure. British Poultry Science, 56(2): 149-156.

Nielsen, B. L., Jezierski, T., Bolhuis, J. E., Amo, L., Rosell, F., Oostindjer, M., ... & Hepper, P. (2015). Olfaction: an overlooked sensory modality in applied ethology and animal welfare. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 2, 69.

Nimmermark, S. (2001). Use of electronic noses for detection of odour from animal production facilities: a review. Water Science & Technology, 44 (9): 33-41.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Sustainable Agriculture and Food - Animal Health and Welfare and Micorbial Food Safety

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Classical microbiology techniques (culture, enumeration, presence/absence, identification) in combination with industry testing (carcase swabbing)
  • Air sampling techniques (to be determined based on needs)
  • VOC analysis (using GC-MS and RoboScientific Bloodhound VOC analyser)
  • Data analysis using XLSTAT

Contact: Dr Karim FaragLink opens in a new window