Authenticity of food


Authenticity of food signifies that all the food components present in a given food must be mentioned on the label. An adulterant or incorrect labelling can adversely harm human health as well as environment. A number of procedures and techniques have been discovered to keep a check on such fraudsters. Traceability is defined as tracing of the materials used in production of a particular food by the help of serial number. Therefore, this provides an assurance that the product is safe and sound. Consumers demand a greater transparency in maintenance of food quality and are also willing to pay for it. This has lead to the requirement of implementing traceability systems in the manufacturing units so as to provide better food safety. With the passage of time, more automated and computerised traceability systems are being implemented so as to minimize the room for human errors. The major drawbacks of these systems are their costs.


Food authenticity signifies that the contents of the food mentioned at the time of labelling are in agreement to the actual content of the same. This beholds great importance when the constituent present in the food can be harmful to human health such as an allergic component might be an ingredient. At times producers add undesirable compounds in the food as a substitute so as to reduce its cost of production, and have greater profit margins. This is also done by fraudulent manufacturers in food industry. The selling of an inferior product under the brand name or guise of a superior product, requires challenging the authenticity of the product. It applies to all levels of consumers whether rich or poor as well all levels of manufacturers too.

A corrupt supplier can manufacture a product containing low grade materials and then introduce it into the market under the name of a superior product, which will lead to a fraud. Therefore, it is necessary to check and establish the genuineness of the product. In this manner a large proportion of food adulterations that have been done in the past or are still being carried on can be checked.

Adulteration refers to the addition of foreign materials as a substitute into a given material which lowers its cost of production. At times frauds can even include poisonous substances as adulterants due to their low economic costs. Therefore, consumers are required to be more aware of the components mentioned in the label of a given food.

This paper will bring into account the various instances where food authenticity has been compromised but latter with help of several techniques the adulterants were finally identified. It will also illustrate the requirement for consumer awareness along with technological advancements to meet the pace of growing food adulterations.

Traceability provides knowledge to the consumer or buyer about the entire production procedure of the particular commodity. Hence, this way it acts as a link between the consumer and producer. Efficient traceability systems now a days make the tracking of a given product very simple. These techniques further help to maintain food authenticity. A variety of traceability systems has been discussed in this paper along with the case study of a Spanish vegetable industry that uses computerised traceability systems, which in turn affects the buyer-supplier relationship by providing better quality assurance.


Issues concerning food authenticity date back in the history unto 1850s. An example of this was the public concern regarding adulteration in coffee at that time (Farrer, 1997). Arthur hill hassal came up with an idea of testing the food samples with the help of microscope, which was previously used only in the filed of medicine. This made the detection of a range of contaminants based on the visual analysis of coffee samples such as chicory, sugar and roasted wheat.

A good modern-day example of this is honey, which can be adulterated with high-fructose corn syrup. Several techniques have been developed to check adulteration of honey and as a matter of fact in 1978, a large proportion of samples analysed of honey were found to be adulterated (Dennis,1997).

Another example of fraud in food authenticity is of pizzas manufactured by a number of small food manufacturers which are labelled as containing mozzarella when in fact they contained 'cheese analogue' - a cheese substitute made from vegetable fat (Dennis,1997).

One of the basic criteria of establishing food authenticity is by genuine labelling. The information that a consumer derives from a product label is significant in terms of his choice over the other varieties. For instance a vegetarian would not prefer any non vegetarian component present in his food, therefore the label should depict the presence or absence of any such components (Mafra, 2007). Similarly, if a person on the basis of religion does not want to consume any commodities that pose a risk to his belief should be well informed about the ingredients of the food.

An incorrect labelling is a commercial swindle (Mafra,2007). A high value component is primarily replaced by a low commercial value substitute, which can also pose potential health risk. This results in an increase in the occurrence of food-associated allergies. The most common food allergens include eggs, milk, peanuts, soyabean, walnuts, fishes etc (Directive 2003/89/EC). An example where substitutes having a poisonous nature were added to food is the Spanish toxic oil syndrome (Firestone, 1996) which was a result of Spanish oil containing ethylene glycol, which is poisonous in nature.

Significantly, the discovery of a fraud can affect honest and dishonest traders equally, because once a reputation for quality is ruined, it is not easily regained. A company having an established brand also suffers a setback, as the consumers begin to doubt its authenticity too. It also sometimes results in the establishment of set of rules by the government which regulate the quality of the product.

An example of this was the adulteration of Austrian wine with antifreeze (ethylene glycol) (Caccamo, 1986). It has the property of increasing the viscosity of the substance it is added to. Therefore, the resultant wine appeared to be thicker. Hence when this fraud was detected, an Appelation control was established to as to keep a check on the quality of wines.

Several methods have been advised since a long time, to check for food authenticity. A number of instruments are also used for this purpose, such as lactometer. It measures the density of milk and thereby checks for any adulterations present. However fraudsters have developed other ways to increase the density of milk by adding high density impurities to trick the lactometer. Also, a number of protocols involving the use of chemical agents to bring about specific chemical reactions have been devised to check for authenticity. Techniques such as HPLC can directly indicate the presence of any adulterant in the given food sample. Various enzyme assays are also employed, which indicate the presence or absence of a specific antigens, such as ELISA kits. An example of this approach is seen for checking the presence of alkaline phosphatases, an enzyme that disappears after pasteurization of milk (Garcia, 1993). Hence, authenticity of milk can be established and its suitability for consumption to a certain extent.

At times, a certain methodology developed in order to detect the fraudulent in a particular food, becomes of no further use after its primary usage. This is because the fraudsters change their adulterant component by finding new ways or sources of addition of other low economic substances, which cannot be detected using the same technique (Dennis, 1997).. An example of this is the case study of adulterations in the juice industry, for example orange.

Orange Juice is generally adulterated by addition of sugar to concentrates, which is then diluted to specific degrees. Since, the proportion of sugar in the orange juice is in a specific ratio of particular sugars i.e., glucose, sucrose and fructose in a ratio of about 1:2:1 (Hammond, 1996). Therefore beet medium invert sugar (BMIS) along with some fruit acid, such as malic acid is used as adulterants to have same sugar-acid composition as in an orange juice. Therefore, the best approach to check for adulteration is by observing the amount of trisaccharides that are formed when BMIS is broken down. Also, another approach involved the use of an enzyme test for detecting D-malic acid, which is absent in fresh orange juices. However it is present as a racemic mixture (1:1 ratio of D and L forms of Malic acid) in commercial preparations. Therefore, the presence of D-malic acid form signifies the unauthenticated orange fruit juice.

The use of these techniques proved to be quite beneficial in the 1990 when a large proportion of fruit juices were found to be adulterated and uncoupling with the labelled components (UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, 1991). However, after a few months with the knowledge of this method to the fraudsters it could not be further employed as the adulterants were now replaced with some other commercial preparations which are now undetectable, as the test is irrelevant to them. Hence, there is a continuous need for new methodologies to be invented in order to maintain the authenticity of the given product, as the existing methods are short lived.

The species of components present in a given food can also be determined either by DNA or protein analysis. Since, DNA is present in all the cells as well as is more stable than protein. Therefore, it can be amplified and analysed using PCR, polymerase chain reaction in preference to protein analysis. Protein fingerprinting ....+++++++++++++

PCR method helps establishing the species of origin in foods as well as checks the presence of GMOs (Genetically modified organisms) or other potential food allergens (Lockey, 2000). It is non-time consuming as well as highly efficient. It is based on the principle of hybridisation of nitrogenous base. Primers are small oligonucleotide molecules which hybridise to specific regions on the DNA of the sample. Upon binding the particular region undergoes repeated replication to give rise to a number of DNA copies, which can be then subjected to agarose gel electrophoresis to result in a specific gel pattern (Mullis, 1985). This gel pattern is characteristic of the given species, which makes this technique highly specific and efficient. The technique proved to be quite beneficial in terms of adulteration of beef (Bos taurus) by addition of pork (Sus scrofa) (Mafra, 2007). Undeclared pork is an undesirable contaminant on the basis of religious beliefs as well as health reasons. Some people can even be allergic to pork products. Hence, the contaminated food sample was subjected to PCR and compared with the gel patterns produced after electrophoresis of pure beef and pork meat samples. Since the contaminated sample has both beef and pork DNA, therefore it will give a distinct gel pattern from the standard pure species gel pattern (Meyer, 1994). These differences in gel pattern can be easily analysed and the adulterant be identified.

Further specificity is brought about by subjecting the DNA fragments generated after PCR to restriction endonucleases in the technique called as PCR- RFLP. It leads to digestion of the DNA by cleaving the glycosidic bonds at specific location due to high specificity of the endonucleases. This results in a different set of gel pattern which can be then matched to the gel pattern produced by the pure form of the species in order to establish the authenticity (Mafra, 2007).

Other DNA based techniques involve amplification of random DNA segments by the help of single and short primer molecules having random sequences to bind to different DNA regions. This selective amplification results in the generation of fragments which then produce a characteristic gel pattern. Similarly, analysis of SSR (single sequence repeats), which are specific DNA segments having repeated sequences can also be employed for authentification purposes (Lockey, 2000). These are called as micro satellites. It generates a different gel pattern upon electrophoresis which is then characteristic for the species.

Quantitative competitive PCR and Real time PCR are two techniques which are useful in quantification of the food species (Mafra, 2007). They play a major role when the amounts of GMO (Genetically modified organisms) or allergen compounds present in the food are to be quantified. They involve specific designed primers which are radio labelled also. These probes hybridise with the DNA sequence of the GMO in question and hence help in their detection and quantification simultaneously. Laube et al. developed two TaqMan real-time PCR systems which were able to distinguish between beef and pork in a total of eighteen animal species and with sensitivities lower than 0.1% (w/w) for both species.

Fish and sea food products are in high demand all over the world. They vary from unprocessed products where the fishes are sold without any changes in its initial composition to processed (beheaded, marinated, skinned, salted, smoked etc.) (Mafra, 2007). The processing increases the variety of sea food products as well as improves the desirable traits. Earlier the authenticity of the fish was decided on the basis of morphological examination; however, with the development of DNA based techniques even the closely related species can be easily distinguished. Species specific primers play a major role in establishing sea food authenticity (Garcia, 1999). It involves designing of artificial primers characteristic of binding to a particular species DNA, therefore, enabling its differentiation.

Similarly, PCR-RFLP technique has been employed by Russel et al. for the identification of salmon species based on the amplification of a region of the cytochrom b mitochondrial gene. Then it was subjected to polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE), whereby the gel pattern obtained allowed the distinction between of ten salmon species. Also other fish species such as Nile perch (Lates niloticus), flat fish, Tuna etc. have been differentiated from their closely related species by PCR-RFLP.

Processed dairy products such as cheese are often contaminated with nondeclared cow's milk which can be responsible for allergic reactions, if consumed. Therefore, it is necessary to establish authenticity of dairy products. For adulteration detection of goat's cheese with cow's milk, Maudet and Taberlet developed a species-specific PCR technique which contains probes targeting a specific sequence from the control region of mitochondrial DNA. This allowed the detection of 0.1% (w/w) of cow's milk in goat's cheeses being analysed.

Also in the case of mozzarella cheese which is essentially to be made from pure water buffalo milk is often adulterated by non declared milk from other species. This can be checked by a variety of PCR techniques. Species-specific PCR detected the presence of undeclared cow's milk in Mozzarella cheese samples with a sensitivity of 1.5% (w/w) (Di pinto, 2004).

Since most of the food materials are made up of granules of specific substances, therefore, their authenticity can also be established by determining its consistency and size of particles of the constituent components. Digital imaging technique and image processing is a rapidly growing area based on this principal [Carter, 2005]. It is an advanced, but cost-effective technique. It is based on characterising granular food stuffs either in real time process control or in an off-line, sample-based, manner. The imaging approach also allows precise characterization of individual grains of material by measuring the size of the particles present and then comparing it to the established data. This is especially important when high value grains are adulterated by the addition of low grade grains, as in the case of rice. Though DNA testing can be employed but since its an expensive technique and also not practically feasible for a huge mass of grains.

The image is taken having a contrasting background. It is then subjected to partitioning by which the constituent particles are analysed based on their sizes. This involves the help of thresholding, associating a particle boundary based on size. It also has its limitations, the perceived particle size from the image may change considerably with selected threshold value due to variations in the particle boundaries. This generally happens with change in the background contrast. In the case of rice authentication by Carter successful results were obtained, therefore this technique can also be used for other granular food authentication.

Authenticity can also be tested by isotope measurements. The ratio of stable isotopes of two elements is generally measured (hydrogen, 2H/1H and carbon 13C/12C). The technique used is stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry (SIRMS) which measures the ratio of carbon isotopes in the given sample, and therefore keeps a check on the source of the carbon isotope. This method is useful when different materials having different C-isotopes are added to the sample food. Addition of High fructose corn syrup to honey was detected using this (Dennis, 1997).

The disadvantage of this technique is that the sample under testing has to be burnt off on order to determine the C levels. Also, in case the food sample contains different forms of C-isotopes then it cannot be distinguished from foreign materials. Contrarily, spectroscopic techniques do not involve material destruction. MIR involves the analysis of samples molecular structure while NIR involves a more comprehensive understanding of the molecular bonds present in it by assessing their vibrational characteristics. MIR spectrum ranges from 4000-400 cmK1 while NIR spectrum ranges from 14,000 to 4000 cmK1 (Linda). These techniques have been employed successfully for the authentication and differentiation of red wines (Gishen, 2003), maple syrup (Paradkar, 2002), honey (Kelly, 2004).

Several spectroscopical techniques such as UV, IR, NMR & Fluoprescent spectroscopy for food authentication are a result of the advancements in this field. Raman spectroscopy is involved for establishing the authenticity of oils based on the principal of light scattering (Yang, 2001). Chromatographic techniques such as gas chromatography, HPLC have been extensively used in these fields due to their accuracy and ability to separate majority of compounds such as proteins, amino acids, phenolic compounds and carbohydrates present in the sample. These novel techniques show great



Traceability is defined as the history of a product in terms of the direct properties of that product and/or properties that are associated with that product, once these products have been subjected to exacting value-added processes (Manzini, 2007). It includes their production using specific production means and associated environmental conditions.

The International Organization for Standardization in 1994 (ISO standard 8402:1994) defines, ''Traceability as the ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food producing animal or ingredients, through all stages of production and distribution".

Food traceability specially for tracing the presence or absence of GMO's in food is quite essential. As GMO is applied to food industry in order to enhance certain features, but not much formation is available on its long term and environmental effects. Therefore, the consumer should be well aware of its presence which is possible only by an efficient tracking system.

A product/food traceability system, is fundamentally based on 4 pillars: product identification, data to trace, product routing, and traceability tools. Fig. 1 reports a general framework for product traceability system and illustrates this concept.


The first step of product identification involves the analysis of basic characteristics of the product. The second step is in relation to the data to trace requiring a detailed information of the product. The amount of information present in the system should reveal a correct design. The third step involves product routing which deals with storing the information about the product life and supply chain. Finally, the last step involves the use of different technical solutions for traceability (alphanumerical code, bar code, or RFID) (Manzinni, 2007). The choice depends on the degree of compatibility with the product and the production process & the degree of automation supported by the supply chain analysis.

Alphanumerical codes are a series of numbers and letters of various sizes placed on labels, which in turn are placed on product or on its packaging. They do not follow any specific standards and are generally called as ''owners" codes, so there is uniqueness but it is not constant throughout the stages of product development, i.e., manufacturers and distributors will have separate codes (Manzinni, 2007). The designing of this system is very simple and economic, but its management requires significant human resources because writing and reading of code has to be done manually. So, the performance is not predominantly good.

On the other hand, bar codes system provides automated, high speed and accuracy. It is much simpler and economical too. Most of the industries are switching to the use of bar code system. In a bar code system when an item is moved from one point to another, at a time, its bar code label is positioned in a way that it should be detected and recognized by the reader (Manzinni, 2007). This is called as line of sight positioning which requires human involvement. So, there are chances of error. Also, the label is placed on materials that can be easily damaged by either improper handling, moisture or even optically, therefore, limiting their application.

Radio frequency identification uses wireless microchips to create tags that do not need physical contact or particular alignment with the reader (Manzinni, 2007). Therefore, it is completely automated resulting in less labour cost. The tags are very small and are not easily damaged. They also show unreactivity towards food components, hence can be easily used in food industry. The radio wave used for communication between tags and traceability database use very little power, so electromagnetic interaction is almost absent (Manzinni, 2007). The major drawbacks are its cost and standardization requirement, beyond which this technique shows great potential.

Traceability is also stated as tracing of the materials involved in the production process, therefore, providing a food safety assurance (Jose,2008). Jose and Rabade did a case study of an anonymous FF company, a firm in the Spanish vegetable industry, in order to show how the use of a traceability system has provided them with many qualitative and quantitative advantages along the different stages of their supply & manufacturing operation chains.

FF started its activities as small firm in 1984 for the production of canned vegetables. At present the business of the company comprises manufacturing, packing, and commercializing of production consisting of frozen vegetables. The type of end product and packing is copious as per the requirement of the customers. The important raw materials used by the company are green beans, peas, peppers, broccoli, potatoes and carrots. The volume of sales rose from 18 million Euros in 1995, to 151.25 million Euros in 2006, year in which the firm processed 180,000 tons of vegetables. The manufacturing process ,in which FF is involved starts with the scheduling of the production needs and ends with the delivery of final products to the consumers. The above process shows the complexness of implementation of traceability in the firms like FF .

FF started the implementation of traceability system in January of 2002. Auxiliary components like plastic and raw material like vegetables are traced by the company. The firm tracks the entire production schedule and the end products. Computer software helps in attaining this traceability information on a real time basis. End products can also be traced backwards. The total investment was approximately 2 million euros. Approximately 50% was used on the equipments and the remaining on the computer software. The estimated payback period was 2 years but the investment was returned in 18 months.

Reasons of implementing computerized traceability system by FF were firstly, the top management of the company was committed to anything that helps in competitive challenge, which aids the implementation of traceability system. Secondly, FF had the required human strength and financial resources which were needed was putting up such a costly system. Thirdly, FF has been exporting products to Great Britain, Germany and the Scandinavian countries since the mid 1990s, so a tracking system was prerequisite. These experiences were very helpful in implementing computerized traceability system. Finally, the people at FF learned that this traceability system would bring qualitative and quantitative beneficial in terms of control.

A number of advantages were obtained from traceability in FF. Since the very beginning, FF has used the traceability system to constantly monitor its complete production process, so at any point of time if something goes wrong then the firm can easily find out that at what stage and point the error has taken place. With FF`s traceability system, each supplier can be audited in such a way that a price-quality ratio can be calculated. The computerized traceability system has given FF the possibility of analyzing individual production lots such as manufacturing, warehousing and inventory management. The distribution costs also has been significantly reduced.

So, the computerized tracking system gave the firm FF full control over its production system. The firm has improved their stocks and the optimization of the warehouse. It has reduced the workforce and inventory level. While processing of the vegetables, the chemicals, coolants and temperature were now strictly controlled.

Some problems were also faced by FF. Firstly, the top management was not eager to accept the investment proposal because of the investments required for setting up the system. Secondly, there was also resistance from the intermediate managers who felt that with the implementation of the tracking system, the top management will have accurate information on every chain of production and in that case their involvement will be less decisive. Although a number of advantages are associated with traceability systems, however, the acceptance among people is still less.



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