Exploring the transformative capabilities of handheld Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectrometers, Luis Rodriguez-Saona of The Ohio State University emphasizes their pivotal role in ensuring food integrity and safety across the entire supply chain.
Q: Can you briefly define “food fraud” and, in contrast, why “food integrity” is an important concept both in theory and, most importantly, in practice as it relates to the sustainability of the food supply chain and the health effects of the products therein?
A: Food integrity reflects the desire of consumers and the food industry for food that is safe, authentic, ethical, and sustainable, while food fraud is the intentional adulteration of food for financial gain, including deliberate substitution, dilution, counterfeiting, or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or packaging; or even false or misleading statements made about a product. Food fraud can have a negative impact on the quality and safety of foods and damage consumer confidence. Food fraud affects all sectors of the food industry and can have devastating outcomes to consumers and businesses.
Q: In general terms, why is FT-IR preferable for this type of analysis over other methods of spectroscopy?
A: FT-IR systems operating in the attenuated total reflectance model offer unique capabilities with regards to ease of data acquisition and eliminating the problem of sample pathlength, as the pathlength is defined by the characteristics of the crystal. Infrared offers unique fundamental vibrational modes of molecules that serve as fingerprints for identifying food fraud.
Q: When examining the “farm to fork” pipeline, can you talk about the advantages of using portable or handheld FT-IR instruments?
A: Portable systems offer ruggedized instrumentation for field deployment, little or no sample preparation requirement, and have incorporated the analytical precision of spectroscopy to field applications with spectral resolution equivalent to benchtop instruments. These handheld or portable devices speed up identification and certification of incoming materials, screening potential adulteration, detecting chemical contaminants and streaming quality control capabilities. We expect these types of systems to operate rapidly with minimal user interface, to discriminate between signals from the target and those from other sample constituents, and to provide high sensitivity and specificity for the spectrum of adulterants.
Q: What food products did you analyze in this study and, in summary, what were your findings? Did they align with your hypotheses?
A: We have been working in the field of food fraud for the past two decades, applying rapid and field-deployable alternatives to the food industry. We have investigated different vibrational spectroscopy (NIR, FT-IR and Raman) technologies combined with pattern recognition analysis to screen food adulteration. Fingerprinting approaches for untargeted detection of economic adulteration can offer the food industry the ability to detect the presence of known and unknown contaminants. Implementation of these technologies would help to streamline quality assurance and food safety, preventing the growing danger to the health of consumers from adulterated or substituted products as evidenced by the melamine incident (Ed. note: In 2008 in China, 54,000 children were hospitalized and six died after ingesting milk that had been adulterated with melamine). In general, counterfeiters target high-value products and products with a strong brand name. We have shown the potential of vibrational spectroscopy in screening for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), fluid milk, butter and margarine, honey and maple syrup, cocoa butter, Pisco spirits, among others.
Q: Anything else about this study or future research that may be of interest?
A: We are exploring the sensitivity of the technology for detecting food contaminants such as mycotoxins, pesticides, acrylamide, hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF), and phthalates, among others.
Cebi, N.; Bekiroglu, H.; Erarslan, A.; Rodriguez, Saona, L. Rapid Sensing: Hand-Held and Portable FTIR Applications for On-Site Food Quality Control from Farm to Fork. Molecules 2023, 28 (9), 3727. DOI: 10.3390/molecules28093727