Combating Food Fraud with Science

Food fraud is serious business. While the numbers are difficult to pin down due to the secretive nature of the enterprise, officials have pinned at least $10 billion of lost revenue to counterfeit food. This is a huge chunk of change, and the industry isn’t taking it lying down.

People love meat. It’s no surprise that this would be one of the most egregious examples of food fraud. If you think you have ever eaten a Kobe steak, you probably haven’t, I’m sorry to say. Unless you’ve been to Japan or one of three very exclusive, very expensive restaurants in the United States, what you had was more than likely wagyu, which is still a high-quality piece of beef. On the other side of the equation, one of the most infamous food scandals in recent years was “Horsegate” in the United Kingdom, where fast food burgers and beef from frozen meals were found to contain horse meat.

Luckily, there has been a movement to prevent things like this from happening. Some of the cooler technologies include a lab on a chip platform for detecting what animal the meat is really coming from, ensuring that inspectors can easily tell if a meat is what it claims to be. There are laser tests which can be done by examining the smoke that emerges from a piece of meat flash-seared by ultra hot beams of light. There’s even a DNA test for ensuring that the proper breed of pig is being used for pork.

Dairy is also a market that has been adulterated by fraudsters for far too long. For cheeses made with whey, Italian scientists have developed a detection method using mass spectrometry to see which animal the whey came from. By testing the quality of the calories in butter, scientists can now determine whether it’s been cut with palm oil.

Vegetable oils are also subject to counterfeiting on a huge scale. Olive oil has a long and sordid history of being cut with other, cheaper oils. Without getting too into detail, very few people outside of oil-producing areas have had real olive oil, without paying exorbitant prices for it, at least. And while most cases of olive oil fraud are harmless (albeit less than healthy, depending on the added ingredients), almost 700 people died in Spain as a result of rapeseed oil laced with coal tar extract being sold as olive oil.  

Luckily, scientists have found ways of testing vegetable oils to ensure what’s on the label is also what is in the bottle. Using a combination of two tests – one which uses near-infrared light, electronic noise, and ultraviolet visual spectroscopy, and the other which uses statistical analysis of isotope abundance – researchers were able to determine not just what vegetable oils were in the samples, but which countries the olives themselves came from.

Aside from people being put into danger, the reputations and profits of food companies are at stake. A person can survive a little bit of olive leaf mixed in with oregano and even have no adverse effects to eating horse meat instead of beef, but they will stop buying from companies who are guilty of selling fake food. Governments, companies, and producers around the world have taken steps towards protecting the food chain from fraud so people are kept safe and can feel confident about the foods they buy, and it’s all being headed by advancements in fraud detection science.

Here at IDLogiq, we’re also working on solutions which will make this task even easier. We are developing new blockchain-powered solutions to ensure the supply chain isn’t fooled by food coming in from unsavory sources.

 

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