A team of researchers at the ENEA Centro di Frascati and six industrial partners did the work in the three year SAL@CQO project which received €3m funding by the Ministry of Economic Development.
The technology will help detect if food has been incorrectly stored, chemical compounds have been added, water has been diluted into fruit juices, sweeteners not declared in the label have been added, vegetable oils added to extra-virgin olive oil and excess of methanol in wine.
It can detect the presence of histamine in fish and adulteration of powdered milk.
Gianfranco Giubileo, of the ENEA Diagnostic and Metrology Lab, said the tool is based on infrared laser technology and allows detection of food fraud.
“We are now in the experimental phase, but we intend to develop transportable and handy tools soon for a quick and accurate analysis of food both in stores and manufacturing plants, to be given to all institutions involved in monitoring and all industries and distribution chains that aim at maintaining high quality standards,” he said.
Food alterations can be natural, voluntary or fraudulent, said ENEA.
Natural alterations are the result of bad or prolonged preservation (rancidity, decomposition, acidity) and voluntary are due to chemical, physical or biological technological treatments applied to improve product quality or preservability.
Fraudulent alterations can be sophistication, when the composition is altered by partially replacing some elements with food of lower quality and value; adulteration, when a food is modified by adding lower quality substances or removing the element(s) characterizing it and counterfeiting, when the food is marketed with a composition or values other than those declared.
ENEA researchers are testing portable tools with the idea of developing miniaturized systems and apps for smartphones that allow screening in a few seconds before purchase.
“Currently there are no tools on the market with these characteristics, and anti-fraud controls are based on complex laboratory tests that are time-consuming and require expensive equipment and specialized personnel,”said researcher Adriana Puiu.