All Posts (397)

India is the largest producer of milk globally, producing 155 million tonnes/year worth nearly US$ 70billion. However, it has been reported that  roughly 68% of all milk and milk products have been found to be in violation of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's (FSSAI) standards – despite the regulator's recent proposal of a penalty of around US$14,000, or a maximum of lifetime imprisonment for intentionally adding adulterants to food products. Adulterants found to be added in milk include white paint, refined oil, caustic soda, formalin, glucose, urea, salt, liquid detergent, boric acid, sodium bicarbonate, and hydrogen peroxide. Many of these pose a health risk to Indian consumers. The FSSAI has even produced a simple kit for consumers to test milk themselves for adulteration. The main problem being that only 66% of milk is handled in the main supply market and the rest is dealt with privately. 

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A Novel Approach for Scotch Whisky Authentication

Scotch whisky, a popular high value spirit drink, is vulnerable to fraud. In this study, a non-targeted screening (metabolomics fingerprinting) of volatile and semi-volatile substances was used. After pre-concentration, gas chromatography (GC) coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (Q-TOF mass analyser) was employed. Unsupervised principle component analysis (PCA) and supervised partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS–DA) were used for evaluation of data obtained by analysis of a unique set of 171 authentic whisky samples. A very good separation of malt whiskies according to the type of cask in which they were matured (bourbon versus bourbon and wine) was achieved, and significant ´markers´ for bourbon and wine cask maturation, such as N-(3-methylbutyl) acetamide and 5-oxooxolane-2-carboxylic acid, were identified. This unique sample set was used to construct a statistical model for distinguishing malt and blended whiskies. In the final phase, 20 fake samples were analysed, and the data processed in the same way. Some differences could be observed in the (semi)volatile profiles of authentic and fake samples. Employing the statistical model developed by PLS-DA for this purpose, marker compounds that positively distinguish fake samples were identified.

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Robusta coffee is usually cheaper than arabica coffee. Mixtures of the two can be produced and labelled correctly for consumer taste. However, 100% arabica coffees may be mixed with robusta coffee to reduce costs. Brazilian researchers have developed primers which specifically amplify arabica coffee but not robusta in blends of roasted and ground coffee. The percentages of arabica coffee  in blends can be determined using real-time PCR.

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The Food Authenticity Network was discussed at the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in July during the side events “food integrity and food authenticity: a way forward”: 

Side event 1 - IGO Panel Discussion Food Integrity and Food Authenticity: A Way Forward

The Food Authenticity Network was quoted a number of times at both side events by the panellists as being a leading example of an integrity network.

A discussion paper is being developed through the Food Import and Export Inspection (CCFICS) and Certification Systems (CCFICS) to define and distinguish the various terms related to the subject e.g. food integrity, food fraud, economically motivated adulteration (EMA).

Side event 2 – NGO Panel Discussion Food Integrity and Food Authenticity: A Way Forward

The UK provided an overview of the Food Authenticity Network and distributed material on the Network to delegations.

Countries attending the side events indicated both their progress and challenges related to the subject, highlighting the diversity of Codex Members in terms of their capacity to identify and address fraudulent activities. They also underlined the very practical daily challenges they face due to lack of regulation, capacity and knowledge on this issue.

In summarising, panellists concurred that Codex was an ideal arena in which to further explore the issue and to promote harmonization, especially regarding definitions.

Read full report.

Watch webcast.


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The BBC made a Freedom of Information (FoI) to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for the results of meat product testing by local authorities in 2017. This revealed that out of 665 results from 487 businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland collected by the FSA, 145 were partly or wholly made up of unspecified meat. Of these 145 samples,73 came from retailers - including three supermarkets, and a further 50 came from restaurants, while 22 originated from manufacturing or food processing plants. The most commonly mislabelled product was mince, followed by sausages, kebabs and restaurant curries, and lamb products were the most commonly found to contain traces of other animals DNA.  

The FSA has responded by stressing that the results are not representative of the food industry. Local authorities taking the samples, were targeting the high risk businesses. 

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In 2017 a cross government framework was agreed for the provision of Knowledge Transfer (KT) of scientific method development to support food standards and food safety analysis in Public Analyst (PA) and industry laboratories.

The KT will be delivered through a three year project funded in partnership between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS) and the Government Chemist (GC) programme (funded by BEIS). The framework will provide a more sustainable and cost-effective programme of KT on analytical tools to support food law enforcement for ensuring food authenticity, safety, hygiene and quality.

The aim is to deliver a strategic three year programme of scientific KT activities to ensure effective analytical laboratory capability in the UK for food standards and food safety analysis. The programme will upskill laboratories on new and emerging food safety and standards detection methodologies, disseminating best practice in their application and providing the tools and know-how to respond to current and emerging analytical needs.

The activities to be undertaken are agreed by the partners on an annual basis by means of a prioritisation exercise. The activities delivered in year 1 (FY17) were:

  • A one-day workshop “An analytical roadmap for detecting allergens in spices” attended by 19 participants from Public Analyst laboratories, industry and the project partners.
  • Two e-seminars on digital polymerase chain reaction (dPCR) and designing quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assays.

The e-seminars and the materials from the allergens workshop are now available in the training section of the Food Authenticity Network website:

Activities for delivery in year 2 (FY18) are currently being agreed.

If you have ideas for training that are not currently addressed by other avenues such as the National Reference Laboratories, commercial training etc.. then we'd love to hear from you; please email










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Two Australian media companies instructed a law firm to investigate the Australian honey industry. Twenty eight samples were collected from the Australian retail market and sent to two European laboratories for analysis by both NMR and carbon isotope analysis. The results indicated that 12 out of the 28 samples were not pure honey.

The companies involved with the non-compliant samples have challenged the results indicating that the honey samples were blends of Australian honey with other countries' honey (mainly China), which the tests especially NMR might not recognise as pure honey. However, the Australian official test is based on carbon isotopic measurement, which would only detect adulteration with C4 sugars such as cane sugar or sugars derived from maize starch. NMR is able to detect adulteration from C3 sugars such as beet sugar or sugars derived from rice starch. The European laboratory QSI undertaking the  analyses has indicated that adulteration is becoming more sophisticated where a tailored blend of C3 sugars are being added honey to even avoid detection by NMR.

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Italian researchers have used carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) of caffeine in green and in the corresponding roasted coffee, evaluated with a omprehensive approach using as a second parameter, the δ13C value of the whole volatile fraction of the roasted coffee samples. The method is based on evaluating the effect of roasting on caffeine by using a gas chromatograph connected directly to the carbon isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS). The results are then evaluated based on a novel comprehensive isotopic data evaluation (CIDE) model demonstrating that regardless the effect of roasting and the different geographic origin, the coffee bean samples analysed can be discriminated based on their botanical origin and in particular whether they are arabica or robusta coffee.

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Located in China's Heilongjiang province, Wuchang is known for its high quality Wuchang rice. However, over the past few years, there have been reports that packages delivered from the region were sometimes mixed with low grade rice. Ant Financial, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has announced a partnership with the municipal government of Wuchang to deploy a consortium blockchain for tracking the entire production process of locally grown rice in the province in an attempt to prevent counterfeit rice products entering the market. One of the  benefits of the introduced blockchain technology is that for the first time Wuchang rice has changed its long-distance distribution method for the whole country, shortening the original delivery time of 3-7 days to less than 2 days. 

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Oceana Canada has  conducted a study in 2017 and 2018  and collected 382 samples of snapper, sea bass, sole and other fish that other studies indicate are often substituted. The samples came from 177 retailers and restaurants in five Canadian cities, and were sent to the University of Guelph for DNA barcoding. The study found that 44% of the samples were mislabelled. In particular it found cheaper haddock and pollock substituted for cod; farmed salmon served up as wild salmon; and escolar (a fish banned in many countries because of its health risks) masquerading as butterfish or white tuna. In addition, every single sample of so-called “red snapper” tested was actually another species.

Read Oceana's Report here

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There is a increasing use of High Resolution Mass Spectrometry non-targeted approaches to examine the authenticity of food. The diversity in experimental design/data handling in scientific literature makes evaluation of method performance challenging. Developing an appropriate model validation is therefore a crucial step to assess reliability for quantitative or confirmatory purposes. This review assesses the state of the art and proposes a harmonised workflow for all such applications. Additionally, global considerations on the applicability of these methods for legal challenges are provided.

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Indian researchers have concluded that in order to be able to authenticate saffron and check its purity, no single test is appropriate. This study has  proposed cross validation using 3 tests based on microscopy, DNA barcoding and ISO3632 standards. The combined use of these three tests is novel and more effective compare to any single test. 36 commercial saffron samples were tesed using the multiple test approach and found that over 45% of samples tested were questionable, and first grade saffron is rare on the Indian market.

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Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security and Young's Seafood have published comprehensive research on the subject of the seafood supply chain and the points where fraud can occur. The research reveals opportunities for fruad by mapping the supply chains of finfish, shellfish and crustaceans in the UK, and looks at many factors, including species substitution and adulteration, chain of custody abuse, modern day slavery and catch method fraud, among others.

The entire paper is available on open access here.

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Just days after its IPO, eCommerce site Pinduoduo has been investigated by the China's State Administation for Market Regulation (SAMR) after reports that counterfeit products were being sold on the site, such infant milk powder.

SAMR recommended that Pinduoduo take extra precautionary steps to make sure the products listed on the site follow regulations, which Pinduoduo CEO Huang Zheng pledged to do. 

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With many reports of increasing levels of fraud in the organic food sector including from The Grocer in March 2018, the IFST statement on organic food is a useful guide that looks at current EU rules related to organic food, explores how this type of food should be labelled and advises on where to begin if a food business seeks to move into organic food production.

 It covers the following areas:

  • What is organic food
  • Labelling of organic food
  • What EU Regulation applies to organic food?
  • Where next
  • References

Read the full statement here.


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Less than 1% of the world's vanilla flavour comes from real beans.

We are used to seeing vanilla all around us - in candles, cupcakes and creme brulees. But if you’re eating something vanilla-flavoured or smelling something vanilla-scented - it’s probably artificial.

Scientists have been making synthetic vanillin - the compound that gives vanilla its aroma - since the 19th Century. It has been extracted from coal, tar, rice bran, wood pulp and even cow dung.

Today, the vast majority of synthetic vanillin comes from petrochemicals.

It can be 20 times cheaper than the real thing.

The burgeoning interest in “artisanal” food made in a traditional way explains some of the demand for natural vanilla. But much of the rocketing price can be put down to food rules on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Europe and the United States, ice cream labelled “vanilla” must contain natural vanillin extract from vanilla pods. If the flavour comes wholly or partly from artificial sources, the packaging must say “vanilla flavour” or “artificial vanilla”.

Vanilla from vanilla pods will have a taste and potency unique to the area in which it is grown, much like wine. The vanilla from Madagascar has a distinct rummy taste and sweet aroma, which is why ice-cream makers choose it over vanilla from other countries.

And there is more and more pressure on food companies to switch from artificial vanilla to vanilla beans. Big corporations such as Hershey and Nestle have started buying natural vanilla extract for their products in large quantities, which injects more demand into the limited supply chain and raises prices further.

After being immersed in hot water the beans are left to dry in the hot sun

Over the past decade, vanilla prices have gone through dramatic booms and busts.

Madagascar’s 80,000 growers produce more vanilla than any other country - so what happens on the island affects the global industry.

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On 11 August, the environmental protection service of the Spanish civil guard SEPRONA announced the seizure of 45 tons of illegally treated tuna fish. Four people were investigated and face possible criminal penalties of up to four years in prison for endangering public health, as well as administrative sanctions. The investigation has so far uncovered three companies and three fishing vessels involved in the fraudulent scheme.

Investigators found that frozen tuna only suitable for canning had been illegally treated with substances that enhance the colour and then been diverted to the market to be sold as fresh fish. This treatment can pose a serious public health risk associated with allergic reactions to histamine.

The investigation was coordinated by EUROPOL under the OPSON VII operation, in collaboration with the European Commission and other Member States, which was previously reported on the Food Authenticity Network in May 2018.

Criminal investigations are ongoing.

For more information on this case including the European Commission's contribution and information on other successful outcomes for EU coordinated cases.

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In a move that customers have labelled very fishy, the Chinese government has ruled that rainbow trout can now be labelled and sold as salmon.

The seemingly bizarre move comes after complaints earlier this year that rainbow trout was being mislabelled.

In May, media reported that much of what was sold as salmon in China was actually rainbow trout, to widespread consternation from fish-buyers.

But instead of banning vendors from deceiving their customers, the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA), which falls under the Chinese ministry of agriculture, has ruled that all salmonidae fish can now be sold under the umbrella name of “salmon”, reports the Global Times.

Rainbow trout and salmon are both salmonidae fish and look quite similar when filleted. However, salmon live in salt water and rainbow trout live in fresh water.

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New cereal based foods, particularly pasta, bread and biscuits, made with mixed flours containing ancient wheat species and other cereals, have become popular in recent years. This calls for analytical methods able to determine the authenticity of these products. Discrimination among closely related plant species, particularly congeneric ones like Triticum spp, remains a challenging task. Italian researchers have utilised and optimised a relatively new DNA fingerprinting method based on tubulin-based polymorphism (TBP) and a new assay, TBP light, for the authentication of different wheat and farro species and other cereals, and tested these on a set of commercial foods. The assay has a sensitivity of 0.5–1% w/w in binary mixtures of durum wheat in einkorn or emmer flour and was able to authenticate the composition of test food sample and to detect possible adulteration.                                     

  Read the abstract here

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Italian researchers have made a preliminary study to use non-targeted metabolomic profiles to distinguish between PDO and non-PDO Grana Padano cheeses. Using ultra-high-pressure liquid chromatography coupled to quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (UHPLC/QTOF-MS) followed by chemometrics, a range of chemical metabolites - lipids (fatty acids and their derivatives, phospholipids and monoacylglycerols), amino acids and oligopeptides, together with plant-derived compounds gave the highest discimination potential between the two groups of cheeses. It is postulated that the PDO production specification rules drive the biochemical processes involved in cheese making and ripening process in a distinct manner, thus leaving a defined chemical signature on the final product.

      Read the abstract here

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