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Bee-rilliant! Eurofins develops NMR test for honey

By Joe Whitworth+

19-Mar-2014
Last updated the 19-Mar-2014 at 14:53 GMT

Eurofins develops NMR method for honey testing
Eurofins develops NMR method for honey testing

Eurofins has developed an analytical technique to test different kinds of honey using high resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) profiling.

The system, developed in their lab in Nantes, France, provides information that is targeted (quantification of defined substances) and non-targeted (identifying deviations from reference spectra).

Applied to honey, the analytical method can detect exogenous sugars (fromcane, corn, beet, wheat, rice) and confirm the floral origin on the product’s packaging (mono-floral honeys).

It can also find irregularities such as excessive heat treatment or a start of fermentation and quantify parameters included as analytical criteria defined in the EU directive 2001/110 and Codex Alimentarius: sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose) and the sugar breakdown product 5-HMF.

Honey adulteration

Eric Jamin, manager of the authenticity business unit at Eurofins Nantes, said it brings a new analytical tool to the market.  

“The most common adulteration blends honey with cheap sources of sugar like sugar syrup,” he said.

“Authenticity issues are from the botanical origin and origin mis-labelling. Users can make use of the method to secure their supplies more than they have now.

“Honey adulteration occurs because to date there are no methods to detect all sources of added sugar and you can apply sources to bypass the existing methods.”

From the entrance of samples to final report delivery can take a week but Jamin said shorter turnaround times are available on request.

The most common economic adulteration of honey is from the addition of sugar.

C4-plant sugars (cane, maize), can be reliably detected using the AOAC 998.12 Carbon 13 – IRMS method (down to 7% addition in total sugars).

However this method and chromatographic methods using multi-component LC-IRMS profiles, LC-MS detection of specific sugar syrup markers or foreign enzyme activities fail to detect the addition of refined syrups which perfectly mimic honey composition, said Eurofins.

Other methods

Jamin said the AOAC method is good for C4-plant sugars but not as much for C3 sugars, as is the LC-IRMS tool.

“Other methods look for foreign enzymes or specific markers but do not work for universal testing.

“NMR uses a non targeted approach – we recognise any method has limits in sensitivity and we are aware that some adulterants can go undetected but we cover a lot of potential adulterants including sugar additions from all sources, false botanical declaration and acid additions.”  

Other types of fraud also exist such as the false declaration of botanical or geographical origin.

A database is being added to which has 650 reference honeys, with 30 different botanical origins and 25 countries.

The firm said the method, combined with the AOAC 998.12 analysis, ensures an optimum level of control on the authenticity of honey.

It was investigated as part of the AgriFood GPS research project which runs until 2017.

The project focuses on the development of analytical approaches to understand dietary risks by detecting emerging threats of fraud in food and prevent food safety hazards.

Eurofins launched three applications in the middle of last year from the project: honey, milk and milk powder and coffee. The firm had already verified the method for use on fruit juices.

The firm hopes to present the method in scientific publications this year and gain accreditation by the end of 2014.

Eurofins acqauisition

Meanwhile, Eurofins Scientific (EUFI.PA) has acquired Applus Agrofood Testing from Applus Servicios Tecnológicos S.L for an undisclosed sum.

Applus Agrofood Testing generates revenues of over €10m and employs around 160 people.

It operates three laboratory sites in Spain with three satellite facilities in Spain, China and Portugal.

Dr Gilles Martin, Eurofins CEO: "Applus Agrofood Testing is an excellent strategic fit with Eurofins' expanding footprint in Spain, Portugal and China.

“It reinforces the group’s relationship with the Spanish retail industry and is entirely complimentary to our existing activities for food producers in the domestic market.”

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