FOOD FRAUD is an increasingly critical issue in all areas of the complex and global supply chain.
The problem of counterfeiting involves not only the deliberate re-labeling or incorrect labeling of cheap to premium products, but also the stretching with inferior components as well as the mixing of genetically unmodified products with genetically modified products.
Information on authenticity parameters, such as geographical or botanical origin and chemical identity of plant raw materials, can be checked in principle by means of control of freight documents or block chain contractual agreement invoices (traceability) by UN mandate.
In practice, this method has often proved to be inadequate, especially in the case of skillful criminal manipulations (FOOD CRIME), so that there is a need to develop safe analytical strategies.
High-tech method development
For the differentiation of raw materials of different geographic origins as well as different biological identities, firstly highly resolved data (fingerprints) are recorded on all relevant cellular levels:
Genomics: The study of all of the nucleotide sequences, including structural genes, regulatory sequences, and noncoding DNA segments, in the chromosomes of an organism. The study of the complete genome of an organism. The branch of genetics that studies organisms in terms of their genomes (their full DNA sequences)
Proteomics: Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteins. Proteins are vital parts of living organisms, with many functions. The proteome is the entire set of proteins that is produced or modified by an organism or system. Proteomics has enabled the identification of ever-increasing numbers of protein. This varies with time and distinct requirements, or stresses, that a cell or organism undergoes
Metabolomics: Metabolomics is the scientific study of chemical processes involving metabolites, the small molecule substrates, intermediates and products of metabolism. Specifically, metabolomics is the "systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind", the study of their small-molecule metabolite profiles. . Metabolomics is particularly suitable for phenotyping, which in turn provides an indication of the geographical origin, the production method, and the degree of freshness.
Bioinfomatics: is an interdisciplinary field that develops methods and software tools for understanding biological data, in particular when the data sets are large and complex. As an interdisciplinary field of science, bioinformatics combines biology, computer science, information engineering, mathematics and statistics to analyze and interpret the biological data.
Isotopolomics These studies are complemented by high-resolution element and isotope profile analyzes called isotopolomics. Isotopolomics on the other hand, summarizes the analysis of isotopic ratios and rare earth elements. It is the metabolomic approach, however, which allows taking these deep insights into the overall composition of food products..
Food Profiling: Tracing the Authenticity of Food
More than 250 years ago, Carl Linne, a Swedish natural scientist created the basis for describing nature with a taxonomical system for all botanical and zoological life; a taxonomy which is still used today. 100 years before Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he asked two basic questions in order to differentiate plants and animals by their phenotype: In which ways do they differ and what are their similarities?
Carl Linne next to his book, Systema Naturae
Carl Linne was in a way one of the first systematic profilers of natural features and therefore a link to modern molecular profiling techniques.
This system changed to the PhyloCode this year, 2020, to a clade system whereby life is determined and fit into clades of unrelated life-forms.
Like the systematic classification of nature, quality of food is defined by specific parameters and can be described by a profile of characteristic features.
Food profiling enables the determination of a whole series of properties of food which can be divided into two main categories: intrinsic factors and extrinsic factors. The former can be summed up as the ingredients of the food. These are the major and minor components or sensory properties.
Extrinsic factors on the other hand are mainly influenced by cultivation procedures.
Food can be produced in very different ways like organic farming, aquaculture etc.
Other important factors are the use of pesticides and the occurrence of contaminants in food.
Many recently developed analytical methods try to meet the desire of assuring healthy food. Analyzing and improving the quality of food is therefore an important field on the food market.
Pricing is after all directly correlated to quality definitions like size, color and cultivation.
New varieties bred from existing types can be protected and developed as trademarks.
Such extrinsic factors as well as traditional manufacturing procedures and the designation of origin enable products to stand out against competitors.
Food products are influenced by a vast range of factors which are spread across the whole cycle of production, storage, shipping and consumption. These factors like variety, cultivation, time of harvest, country of origin, and storage are all influencing the metabolic profile of a product.
In order to develop a robust data base which can be used to categorize and differentiate food products, these influencing factors must be considered and their influence must be implemented into the profiling model. The topic of food authenticity is therefore strongly interconnected with every step of the making of a certain food.
Schematic depiction of Food Authenticity
Over recent years, consumer’s interest in knowing where and how food products are produced, has steadily been increasing. Consumers want to get to know where the products come from. This is reflected in the rising popularity of organically grown food and new local food markets. The European Union’s Database of Origin and Registration, called DOOR, labels more than 1500 food products either as protected designation of origin (PDO), as protected geographical indication (PGI) or as a traditional specialty guaranteed (TSG). Such products represent the long tradition and culture of food production in Europe.
Passion in Food and Field, "Passion in Food and Field,“ 30 August 2018. [Online]. Available: https://passionhorticulture.wordpress.com.
The fight against food fraud to prevent adulteration, substitution or tampering and counterfeiting of food, is one of the most pressing reasons for the development of food profiling methods.
The topic of food fraud is a priority in the European Union which employs the highest food safety standards worldwide.
The European Union does not provide a harmonized definition for “food fraud“.
However, the lack of a harmonized definition does not prevent the European Commission and the EU countries from taking coordinated action against “fraudulent practices“ in the food supply chain.
A broadly accepted explanation defines food fraud as a violation of EU food law, which is committed intentionally to pursue an economic or financial gain through consumer deception.
While adulteration, substitution, tampering and counterfeiting of food are all different ways to produce fraudulent food, diluting high quality products with lower quality products is the most widespread form.
Olive oil, fish and organic food are most prone to fraud, since they are produced in high abundance and usually are valuable products.
European Commission, “European Commission,“ [Online]. Available: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food-fraud_en.
Increasing demands in quality of the products also cause the cost of production to rise which increases also the value. This leads to a growing abundance of food fraud cases.
The annual financial damage in the European Union alone is in the tens of billions of Euros.
Analytical methods for testing and controlling food authenticity are therefore needed. By analyzing food products with food profiling techniques, a database can be generated which is then used to test quality parameters like geographic origin, production type, variety and many more.
Authenticity of food can be traced by various food profiling techniques
Genomic approaches trace nuclear, mitochondrial or plastidic DNA and generate genetic profiles. Proteins and peptides can also be used to characterize food and food products which is referred to a proteomics. Isotopolomics on the other hand, summarizes the analysis of isotopic ratios and rare earth elements. It is the metabolomic approach, however, which allows taking these deep insights into the overall composition of food products.
Food Profiling Methods—Overview
Food safety testing labs currently are involved either in microbiological or chemical analyses of food. Their network of costumers consisting of producers, sellers and consumers, makes food testing labs the prime candidates for establishing analytic food authentication methods. In addition, food labs can usually rely on their expertise in food analytics and food safety legislation. Mass spectrometric methods for the detection of various substances in foodstuffs have become well known applications. They are used worldwide, for example for controlling pollutants and other harmful substances.
Such targeted analyses which are performed using MRM (multiple reaction monitoring) enable the qualification as well as quantification of a variety of analytes, such as pesticides, mycotoxins, antibiotics and others, in food and food products. This kind of trace analysis is being accomplished by using triple quadrupole mass spectrometry (QQQ). Institut Dr. Wagner operates multiple GC-QQQ and LC-QQQ systems and has been accredited according to ISO 17025 for these techniques. We can therefore rely on years of experience with such technologies. However, many important questions regarding quality, type, variety and origin of foodstuffs cannot be answered with these applications alone. Investigations regarding these questions are demanded by many producers of foodstuffs as well as consumers.
New Methods in Food-Profiling
In recent years, a new approach has been established which is capable of providing answers to these questions. Using a “food profiling workflow”, every molecule which is typical for a certain product is being detected using “molecular feature extraction” and characterized via statistical evaluation.
This so called “untargeted differential analysis” is being performed using TOF (time of flight) mass spectrometry, which can detect the slightest differences between molecular masses accurately. The composition of the substance spectrum as well as the ratios of detected molecules can be combined with multivariate data analysis to obtain information regarding food authenticity.
- Where does the product come from?
- Has something been added to the product?
- Which variety is it?
- Is the best before date accurate?
These questions and more can be answered by the new approach. Whereas stable isotope analysis, which has been established for some time already, is focusing only on the mass ratio of few elements in the product, this new approach enables the construction of a metabolic fingerprint for the product. The goal of ongoing project is to use the new method (QTOF mass spectrometry and statistical analysis via data mining by mass profiling) for the investigation of food authenticity and to develop a service to test the quality of food.
Food analytics of the future: How authentic and safe are our foodstuffs?
Authenticity verification continues to be an important topic in the food industry. As consumers become more aware of healthy eating habits, and consequently demands for organic produce and food from sustainable regional agriculture and organic farming increase, provenance analysis, alongside pesticide, herbicide and hormone analysis, continues to gain in importance. For with increasing market potential, the danger of food adulterations and fraud in this segment likewise increases.
Food analytics of the future, Messe München GmbH
In the customers’ interest, counterfeiting of foodstuffs, so-called food fraud, is indeed prohibited, but the practice of official surveillance shows the opposite. Incorrectly made declarations regarding geographical origin, differentiation of “organic” versus “conventional”, as well as “non-genetically engineered” versus “genetically modified”, are omnipresent.
Mixing with cheaper ingredients such as syrup and fat, dilution and cutting of expensive foods such as oils and wines, or incorrect variety information, for example in cereals, and prohibited admixtures such as dyes, flavorings and other additives contribute significantly to profit maximization.
Even in case of crop failure caused by extreme weather conditions, ingenuity in food fraud knows no bounds, as the latest example shows. After seventy percent of the hazelnut shoots in the main growing region in Turkey died off last year due to the weather, hazelnuts and hazelnut products adulterated with other kinds of nuts, such as peanuts, showed up on the market.
Although the detection capabilities in foodstuff analytics are constantly being optimized to clearly identify impurities, illegal additives, or allergens in the target as well as in the non-target area, yet today professional food counterfeiters are often at the same technical level as the official surveillance is, and hence highly publicized scandals keep on occurring.
This applies to organic eggs, organic vegetables, and organic fruits, as it does to special honeys, to milk, regional meat products, fish, and seafood from certain fishing zones or wines from special producing areas, as well as to spices, vegan and vegetarian or gluten- and lactose-free products. In the interest of consumer protection and for avoidance of such food scandals, declarations must be clearly verifiable.
High-performance analytical systems and future-proof detection methods for verification of origin and authenticity, as they will be exhibited at the Analytica 2018 in Munich, are essential here. The goal must be to expose any adulteration and fraud in the fields of food, drink, and food-contact materials. Given a total volume of EUR 230 million of counterfeited food products confiscated by Europol-Interpol, the issue is becoming more relevant from an economic perspective.
Ultimately, the information provided on food and beverage packaging’s must match the contents and additives. These must not pose any health risks for the consumer. The consumer must not be deceived in his or her purchase decision. Misleading information and inaccurate indications of certain effects are prohibited, as are unauthorized additives.
Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other residues in food
In food production, incoming goods controls of the raw materials and legally compliant quality control are prerequisites for food safety. Against this background, compliance with existing maximum residue levels for plant protection products and pesticides, mycotoxins and microorganisms, but also for veterinary medicinal products and heavy metals or dioxins, is being monitored.
More than 1000 active substances are used in crop protection worldwide. In pesticide analytics, multicomponent methods are required, in particular for non-target screening. Here, microplasmas as an alternative to electrospray ionization open up new detection potentials in LC/MS coupling. The quantitatively most important active ingredient of herbicides, glyphosate, continues to be the subject of much criticism from the perspectives of the public and science due to its health hazards and plant resistance.
Extreme rainfall, which can be ascribed to climate change, leads to increased pest and mold infestation. Here, the actual hazard potentials often come not only from the plant pathogens but also from the toxic metabolites formed. The number of foodstuffs contaminated with mycotoxins is increasing rapidly. Globally, the risk from mycotoxins such as the carcinogenic aflatoxins to health and economy is considered significant. Against this background, the development of powerful analytical methods capable of identifying previously unknown metabolites and toxins is becoming increasingly important. Mass spectrometry methods, such as the LC/MS/MS couplings underlying metabolomics technologies, are used to detect bacterial and fungal metabolites and mycotoxins in order to be able to quantify the burden from mold toxins. Harvested products such as corn, rapeseed, soybeans, vegetables, nuts, coffee beans or tea plants and foodstuffs made from them are particularly affected.
In our society, the focus is on healthy nutrition. This increases the demand for functional foods and nutritional supplements. Pre- and probiotics as well as nutraceuticals are becoming increasingly popular. Secondary plant agents and functional ingredients are already being used in a targeted manner for specific dietetic nutritional models in high-performance sports, in allergies and in certain neoplastic and metabolic diseases, as well as for prophylaxis and prevention of atherosclerosis. The market for gluten- and lactose-free products is growing steadily, and with it the number of adulterants, so that the requirements in the EU are becoming stricter. Future-proof food analytics is of central importance, so that limit values can be met and risk potentials excluded.
These new systems have been weaponized and are a part of the new Legal Autonomous Weapon System (LAWS), that is very legal, and deadly.
Genuine or Counterfeit
To be able to unambiguously identify biological identity, geographic origin, and specific factors of production in foods, reference-based acquisition of molecular and sub-molecular fingerprints is required. Here it is expedient to combine a plurality of technologies having maximum resolution. So-called ‘omics technologies’ such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and isotopolomics provide a high-resolution image of the sample with maximum information content. Coupled chromatographic and spectrometric analysis methods as well as sequencing and next-generation sequencing procedures define modern food analytics today. Here, multidimensional data acquisition presents raw data processing and meaningful evaluation with special challenges. Constant reference check, chemometric fundamentals, and new developments in the fields of software and bioinformatics have become important for data management in food analytics as well. The need for archiving of large volumes of data makes development of databases and their integration into the processes necessary.
Despite all this complexity, routine analysis methods are expected to become both easier and cheaper for users. Analysis simplification can be made possible from food targeting up to food sensing in terms of single-marker detection.
The goal is to obtain quantifiable results using barcoding and simple ready-to-use tests quickly and cost-effectively that are comparable to those from medical diagnostics and can be routinely used by staff after a short familiarization period.
Looking ahead, such easy-to-use test systems could become a reality for consumers in the fields of home testing and point-of-care testing as well.
Food analytics of the future—powerful and secure!
From sampling through analysis to evaluation and storage in databases, the Analytica covers the entire spectrum of food analytics. High-tech developments, method optimizations, and routine applications are presented by well-known experts at the Live Lab, at the exhibition and at the conference.
Find out about the latest industry trends at the analytica 2020, and learn on-site about the food laboratory of the future!
This my friends is why your food will soon be sold by the 1/1000th of a calorie according to the UN or by the molecule according to DARPA.
UN document: https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000106760/download/
DARPA Living Foundries: https://www.darpa.mil/program/living-foundries
Celeste has worked as a contractor for Homeland Security and FEMA. Her training and activations include the infamous day of 911, flood and earthquake operations, mass casualty exercises, and numerous other operations. Celeste is FEMA certified and has completed the Professional Development Emergency Management Series.
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