Food fraud and forensic analysis

Food is a valuable commodity across the globe. Everyone eats and consumer standards push demand and price for some foods in particular. This opens the door to opportunistic defrauders. There are various ways food fraud can occur:    

Consumers often shop by provenance. For example, coffees from specific regions are known for particular flavour attributes. In some cases, this can result in premium pricing. Falsifying country or region of origin is not always easy to determine by visual or sensory inspection.

While valuable foods may not be completely replaced, they can be adulterated. Products like olive oil can be blended with small amounts of cheaper vegetable oils to increase amounts of stock.

Organic food is another example of a product that can’t be confirmed with visual inspection. With organic foods becoming a popular trend among consumers and price increasing with that popularity, there is an opportunity for fraudulent claims.

While forensics is a term most relate to crime-solving TV shows, it has a much wider field of use. Forensic chemistry is a tool of investigation that explores samples on the molecular and even elemental level. TSW Trace technology employs forensic methods to give a trace element profile of different food matrices. Using mass spectrometry and atomic emission spectroscopy to ‘fingerprint’ the chemical composition of a sample assists in the detection of food fraud.

Soil that plants are grown in and food that livestock consumes all leave a trace in foods. By running a comparative analysis of controlled samples sourced in a particular region, trace element profiles can be used to determine the provenance of food.

Forensic fingerprinting can highlight adulteration even at low level and can easily identify pesticides and other agricultural chemical traces that are prohibited for use with organic produce.

Food fraud will continue to be an issue while it is profitable. The regular and random analysis will expose fraudulent activities and make it more difficult and less prolific. 

Go to TSW Analytical website to learn more.  

Watling, R. J., Lee, G. S., Scadding, C. J., Pilgrim, T. S., Green, R. L., Martin, A. E., … Valentin, J. L. (2010). The Application of Solution and Laser Ablation Based ICP-MS and Solution Based AES for the Provenance Determination of Selected Food and Drink Produce. The Open Chemical and Biomedical Methods Journal, 3, 179–196.