`'Space Laser' Can Detect Fraudulent Olive Oil

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'Space Laser' Can Detect Fraudulent Olive Oil

Feb. 17, 2013
Naomi Tupper

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A new laser device, orig­i­nally devel­oped to detect car­bon on Mars, could be used detect food fakes, includ­ing fraud­u­lent olive oil, here on Earth.

The laser, known as an iso­tope radio-meter’, was cre­ated by the Ruther­ford Apple­ton Lab­o­ra­tory in the UK and is used to scan for very small quan­ti­ties of gas to iden­tify iso­topes in space. Dif­fer­ent mol­e­cules have a unique fin­ger­print spec­trum’, allow­ing easy iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In the case of food, cer­tain mol­e­cules are expected to be present and the laser can be adjusted to the cor­rect fre­quency in order to detect these iso­topes. When the fre­quency is adjusted to that which is spe­cific to a cer­tain gas, light is par­tially blocked and the unique pat­tern is gen­er­ated. In this way, olive oil which does not con­tain the expected con­cen­tra­tion of cer­tain mol­e­cules, such as phe­nols, can be iden­ti­fied.

To detect fraud­u­lent food using the device, a few mil­ligrams of the prod­uct is burnt. Dur­ing the burn­ing, car­bon diox­ide is released which can be tested with the laser. This pro­duces the unique car­bon fin­ger­print for the prod­uct which can then be com­pared to a sam­ple that is known to be a true prod­uct from the same geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion. In this way it is pos­si­ble to tell if an olive oil gen­uinely comes from a spe­cific loca­tion or if it is a fake.

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The laser is not only lim­ited to use with olive oil, but may also be use­ful in detect­ing coun­ter­feit prod­ucts in other food types, such as honey made from cheap sugar instead of bees, wheat and even fake’ choco­late.

There are an increas­ing num­ber of coun­ter­feit foods being sold to unas­sum­ing con­sumers, with the U.S. Phar­ma­copeial Con­ven­tion in Jan­u­ary report­ing the dis­cov­ery of increased fake ingre­di­ents in every­thing from olive oil to fruit juice. China is also has par­tic­u­lar prob­lems in this area, with reported cases of fraud­u­lent eggs and beef prod­ucts. The new laser holds great poten­tial for the quick, easy and accu­rate deter­mi­na­tion of these coun­ter­feit prod­ucts in the food chain.

Equip­ment cur­rently used to iden­tify food con­t­a­m­i­nants and fraud is bulky, but hav­ing been devel­oped for use in space, the new laser is com­pact and could be used in lab­o­ra­to­ries with lim­ited space.



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