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27 Nov 23

Verifying Food and Beverage Items are Genuine, Not Counterfeits

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 07:04 pm

 

Verifying Food and Beverage Items are Genuine, Not Counterfeits

Food fraud—the act of intentionally mislabeling, adulterating, or counterfeiting food products for economic gain—is a growing problem around the world. From olive oil to honey to seafood, counterfeit foods find their way onto store shelves and into consumers’ kitchens. So how can we tell if that fancy bottle of balsamic vinegar is the real deal?

Verifying authenticity is no easy task. As the global food supply chain stretches farther than ever before, it opens the door for more and more opportunities for food fraud along the way. But with advanced analytical techniques, we can follow the trail back to a product’s true origins and composition.

Tell-Tale Traces

Many authentication techniques focus on detecting subtle traces or markers in food and drinks that indicate provenance and production methods. Chemical analysis can pinpoint the isotopic signatures tied to certain geographical areas in products like honey, olive oil, and wine. Genetic markers distinguish types, breeds, and strains that impart unique flavors. And spectroscopic scans serve as “fingerprints” to identify additives not listed on labels.

By comparing these markers against verified reference samples and compositional databases, analysts can confirm whether products contain what their labels proclaim. Adulterated foods will show anomalies that give away their true nature.

The Nose Knows

Our senses can also detect when foods aren’t quite right. Trained sensory panels conduct taste and aroma profiling on products to judge quality and freshness compared to expectations. Experts intimately familiar with key characteristics—the grassy, peppery bite of extra virgin olive oil or the sweet, hay-like perfume of saffron—can spot fraudulent additions or omissions.

While chemical analysis reveals the concrete, sensory evaluation captures the essence of an authentic food or drink. Both analytical and subjective evidence together make a more convincing case for genuineness.

Follow That Food

Tracking items along the supply chain also verifies proper handling according to regulations or traditions tied to geographical designations. Monitoring time, temperature, and more confirms that products arrived safely and undamaged to retailers and consumers.

Some companies embed radio frequency identification (RFID) tags with unique serial numbers into individual food packages. Linked to online databases, the tags allow customers and distributors to instantly check provenance, ingredients lists, shipping details and more by scanning labels with smartphones.

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Blockchain technology offers another way to digitally track and record transactions from farm, factory or fishery to table. The encrypted distributed ledger permanently registers each step of the process across a supply chain network, making it difficult to falsify records or introduce unauthorized ingredients along the way.

An Evolving Arms Race

As the old adage goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”—and more than one way to doctor a food product. Unscrupulous fraudsters respond to detection innovations by developing more sophisticated tampering methods.

Threat assessments help the food industry keep up in this ongoing arms race. By analyzing ever-shifting vulnerabilities across various products, processes and supply chains, companies can target resources toward technologies and testing methods where they’re most needed.

Food authenticity verification combines science, technology, and human intelligence to reveal the whole truths—and lies—about what we eat and drink. This multifaceted approach aims to ensure that ingredients and flavors live up to what’s promised each time we lift a fork or glass.

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