dispatches from RAFA 2015, Prague

RAFA: Solving food fraud, citizen science and Nestlé analytical results

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

RAFA is organised by the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague and RIKILT Wageningen UR (The Netherlands)
RAFA is organised by the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague and RIKILT Wageningen UR (The Netherlands)

Related tags: Food fraud, Food safety

It is not possible to solve food fraud by analytical methods alone, the rise of citizen science and the revelation that Nestlé collects 100 million analytical results per year were some highlights from the first full day of an international symposium.

Petter Olsen​, from Norwegian research institute Nofima, told RAFA 2015 attendees that food fraud is not necessarily a food safety issue and might not be detected by methods used in that area.

Many common food fraud issues may not have an analytical component such as when the fraudulent claim is related to original amount, weight or value, geographical origin, halal/kosher status, ethical or sustainable production, he said.

Olsen added paper-trail based methods (mass balance accounting, input-output analysis) can accompany analytical methods and help detect and prevent fraud.

He described the ‘golden hammer method’ which involves someone having a method they have invested a lot in which they believe has excellent and under-developed applications, so they look for problems the method can solve.  

This contrasts to the scientific method which includes describing the problem, describing results, gathering information, thinking of solutions, choose the best one, implementing it, evaluating results and making necessary changes.

Work is being done in two projects – FoodIntegrity and a Horizon 2020 project which started half a year ago called PrimeFish.

Olsen said the paper trail route is easier for industries such as fish as there is more mandatory recording than in other sectors.

Dawn of citizen science and Nestlé perspective

Paul Brereton​, of Fera, said food fraud is an old problem – giving the example that Romans often questioned the wine they drank – but people are now more sensitised to it.

He told the audience in Prague the impact of social media has an effect as consumers get involved.

Brereton said lots of new interactions will have a big impact and there will be citizen science that brings with it a lot of data that will need to be validated.

He added the topic will grow in the future but it is as yet unclear what will happen, the direction it will take and the implications.

Brereton also covered topics including defining what is an authentic product and what isn’t for food authenticity purposes, operating in a targeted world so it being unclear where the next incident will come from and developing analytical technology and the expanded informatics it needs.

Karin Kraehenbuehl​, a scientist at Nestlé Research Centre in Lausanne, said analytics must not be used in isolation with teamwork needed across the supply chain.

She identified several challenges including as knowledge grows more sensitive techniques lead to more positive findings, growing food demand, climate change, objective and subjective consumer concerns and regulations not being harmonised.

Kraehenbuehl said it has an in-house database supporting establishment of chemical surveillance plans, HACCP, and raw material specifications with colour coding indicating the chance of occurrence.

She added it was important to use the right tool at the right location in the food chain with analytical work starting as early as possible so any non-compliant raw materials can be refused as the longer one waits the higher possibility of a costly product recall.  

A total of 260,000 analytical results per day are done at factory level for product release and raw material acceptance with 11,500 results per day in 26 central labs to monitor products and materials.

Kraehenbuehl also said it is trying to obtain more and more non-destructive approaches.

Other areas of interest included rapid testing in the form of non-targeted profiling, validation to avoid costly false negatives and techniques needing to be globally supported with internationally recognised analytical standards (which are especially important in terms of a dispute) so different labs are not using different methodologies and obtaining different results.

Bert Popping​, from Mérieux NutriSciences, gave a presentation on novel approaches for allergen detection using MALDI-TOF and mass spectrometry. 

He said conventional technologies like ELISA and PCR are applicable for a number of matrices but problems can occur when it comes to processed matrices containing egg and milk as these allergens can go unnoticed.

Popping gave the example of ground cumin in peanut and the closer scrutiny of spices by PCR revealing paprika containing almond. However, further analysis using mass spectrometry found the alleged almond was actually Prunus mahaleb​, an Indian cherry.

Food crime and consumer protection

John Coady,​ from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), gave examples of how the country is working to stamp out food crime. 

He said science was a critical part in beating criminals alongside investigation work.

The country has a national food fraud task force involving FSAI, food inspectors, Gardai (Irish police force), the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and others.

Examples have included counterfeit vodka, honey labelled as Irish but coming from Spain, South America or China and fish substitution, he added.

Carsten Fauhl-Hassek​, from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany (BfR), said authentication is an integral point of consumer health protection.

He told the audience increasing globalization requires reliable strategies to investigate identity of goods with the aim of uncovering adulterated products.

Fauhl-Hassek added measurements of stable isotopes and profiling and fingerprinting-techniques have important roles as analytical methods.

Stay tuned for highlights of Day 2 and our interviews with the University of Purdue on light scattering technology to detect pathogens and the IAEA on its work in the food area and food safety challenges for developing countries.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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