Tag Archives: fraud

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraud in Alcoholic Beverages

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

Recently, a group of researchers published a paper that documented unique chemical “fingerprints” left by whiskies after evaporation that could be used to identify the origin (specifically, American whiskeys in relation to Scotch and Irish whiskies.) Authentication of value-added label attributes in wine and spirits is important for protection of producers, brands and markets. Other examples include varietal fraud and geographic indication misrepresentation with wines and counterfeit production (intellectual property infringement) of a variety of spirits.

Food Fraud, wine
The Food Fraud Database has captured 220 incidents of fraud involving all alcoholic beverages and 63 specifically involving wines. (Source: Grape Wall of China)

Unfortunately, alcoholic beverages are also prone to fraud involving the addition of substances that can cause illness or death. This often happens at the local level, with the production of “moonshine” or other unlicensed spirits. Some of the substances used have included methanol, isopropyl alcohol and industrial-grade alcohol.
One notable incident from the 1980s had global implications and severe market effects. Diethylene glycol was added to Austrian wines, resulting in recalls around the world when the adulteration was detected. Fortunately, no illnesses or deaths were reported. Just a year later, methanol added to Italian wine caused both hospitalizations and deaths. More recently, incidents involving the addition of methanol to spirits have caused deaths in India, China and Malaysia.

Authentication and traceability for alcoholic beverages, and specifically wines, lend themselves to technology-enabled solutions such as blockchain. On a lighter note, take a look at some of the labels documented by reporters covering the wine market in China. In a high value marketplace such as the wine business, there is no end to creativity in labeling.

Chocolate

Chocolate and Big Data: The Recipe for Food Safety Is Changing

By Steven Sklare
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Chocolate

Almost everybody loves chocolate, an ancient, basic, almost universal and primal source of pleasure. “The story of chocolate beings with cocoa trees that grew wild in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin and other areas in Central and South America for thousands of years… Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the New World” between 1502 and 1504.1

Unfortunately, the production of chocolate and chocolate products today is as complex as any other global food product with supply chains that reach from one end of the world to the other. The complexity of the supply chain and production, along with the universal demand for the finished product, exposes chocolate to increasing pressure from numerous hazards, both unintentional and intentional. For example, we know that more than 70% of cocoa production takes place in West African countries, particularly the Ivory Coast and Ghana. These regions are politically unstable, and production is frequently disrupted by fighting. While production has started to expand into more stable regions, it has not yet become diversified enough to normalize the supply. About 17% of production takes place in the Americas (primarily South America) and 9% from Asia and Oceania.2

In today’s world of global commerce these pressures are not unique to chocolate. Food quality and safety experts should be armed with tools and innovations that can help them examine specific hazards and fraud pertaining to chocolate and chocolate products. In fact, the global nature of the chocolate market, requires fast reflexes that protect brand integrity and dynamic quality processes supported by informed decisions. Digital tools have become a necessity when a fast interpretation of dynamic data is needed. If a food organization is going to effectively protect the public’s health, protect their brand and comply with various governmental regulations and non-governmental standards such as GFSI, horizon scanning, along with the use of food safety intelligent digital tools, needs to be incorporated into food company’s core FSQA program.

This article pulls information from a recent industry report about chocolate products that presents an examination of the specific hazards and fraud pertaining to chocolate and chocolate products along with ways to utilize this information.

Cocoa and chocolate products rely on high quality ingredients and raw materials, strict supplier partnership schemes and conformity to clearly defined quality and safety standards. During the past 10 years there have been a significant number of food safety incidents associated with chocolate products. The presence of Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, allergens and foreign materials in cocoa/chocolate products have been reported on a global scale. Today, information on food safety incidents and potential risks is quickly and widely available by way of the internet. However, because the pertinent data is frequently siloed, food safety professionals are unable to take full advantage of it.

Top Emerging Hazards: Chocolate Products (2013-2018)

Publicly available data, from sources such as European Union RASFF, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, UK Food Standards Agency, FDA, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), shows a significant increase in identified food safety incidents for cocoa/chocolate products from 2013 to 2018. For this same time period, the top emerging hazards that were identified for chocolate products were the following:

  • Allergens: 51.60%
  • Biological: 16.49%
  • Foreign bodies: 13.83%
  • Chemical: 7.45%
  • Fraud: 6.38%
  • Food additives & flavorings: 4.26%
  • Other hazards: 2.66%

By using such information to identify critical food safety protection trends, which we define to include food safety (unintentional adulteration) and food fraud (intentional adulteration, inclusive of authenticity/intentional misrepresentation) we can better construct our food protection systems to focus on the areas that present the greatest threats to public health, brand protection and compliance.

A Data Driven Approach

Monitoring Incoming Raw Materials
Assessment and identification of potential food protection issues, including food safety and fraud, at the stage of incoming raw materials is of vital importance for food manufacturers. Knowledge of the associated risks and vulnerabilities allows for timely actions and appropriate measures that may ultimately prevent an incident from occurring.

Specifically, the efficient utilization of global food safety and fraud information should allow for:

  • Identification of prevalent, increasing and/or emerging risks and vulnerabilities associated with raw materials
  • Comparative evaluation of the risk profile for different raw materials’ origins
  • Critical evaluation and risk-based selection of raw materials’ suppliers

A comprehensive risk assessment must start with the consideration of the identified food safety incidents of the raw material, which include the inherent characteristics of the raw material. Next, the origin-related risks must be taken into account and then the supplier-related risks must be examined. The full risk assessment is driven by the appropriate food safety data, its analysis and application of risk assessment scientific models on top of the data.

Using food safety intelligent digital tools to analyze almost 400 unique, chocolate product related food safety incidents around the globe provides us with important, useful insights about cocoa as a raw material, as a raw material from a specific origin and as a raw material being provided by specific suppliers. The graph below represents the results of the analysis illustrating the trend of incidents reported between 2002 and 2018. It can be observed that after a significant rise between 2009 and 2010, the number of incidents approximately doubled and remained at that level for the rest of the evaluated period (i.e., from 2010 to 2018), compared to the period from 2002 to 2005.

Cocoa incidents, FOODAKAI
Graph from Case Study: Chocolate Products: lessons learned from global food safety and fraud data and the guidance it can provide to the food industry,
an industry report from FOODAKAI. Used with permission.

By further analyzing the data stemming from the 400 food safety incidents and breaking them down into more defined hazards, for incoming raw materials, we can clearly see that chemical hazards represent the major hazard category for cocoa.

  • Chemical: 73.46%
  • Biological: 16.49%
  • Organoleptic aspects: 5.93%
  • Other Hazards: 4.38%
  • Fraud: 2.32%
  • Foreign bodies: 2.06%
  • Food additives and flavorings: .77%
  • Allergens: .52%
  • Food contact materials: .52%

Using the appropriate analytical tools, someone can drill down into the data and identify the specific incidents within the different hazard categories. For example, within the “chemical hazard” category specific hazards such as organophosphates, neonicotinoids, pyrethroids and organochlorines were identified.

Comparative Evaluation of Risk Profiles for Different Origins of Raw Materials
The main regions of origin for cocoa globally are Africa, Asia and South America. After collecting and analyzing all relevant data from recalls and border rejections and the frequency of pertinent incidents, we can accurately identify the top hazards for cocoa by region.

The top five specific hazards for the regions under discussion are listed in Table I.

Africa South America Asia
1 Organophosphate 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP) 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP)
2 Molds Pyrethroid Poor or insufficient controls
3 Neonicotinoid Aflatoxin Aflatoxin
4 Pyrethroid Cadmium Spoilage
5 Organochlorine Anilinopyrimidine Salmonella
Table I.  Top Five Hazards By Region

After the first level of analysis, a further interpretation of the data using the appropriate data intelligence tools can help to reach to very specific information on the nature of the incidents. This provides additional detail that is helpful in understanding how the regional risk profiles compare. For example, the prevalence of chemical contamination, as either industrial contaminants or pesticides, has been a commonly observed pattern for all three of the regions in Table I. However, beyond the general hazard category level, there are also different trends with regard to specific hazards for the three different regions. One such example is the increased presence of mold in cocoa beans coming from Africa.

The primary hazard categories for cocoa, as a raw ingredient were identified and a comparison among the primary hazards for cocoa by region (origin-specific) should take place. The next step in a data-powered supplier assessment workflow would be to incorporate our use of global food safety data in evaluating the suppliers of the raw materials.

The Role of Global Food Safety Data

This article has been focused on chocolate products but has only touched the surface in terms of the information available in the complete report, which also includes specific information about key raw materials. Let’s also be clear, that the techniques and tools used to generate this information are applicable to all food products and ingredients. As we strive to produce food safely in the 21st Century and beyond, we must adapt our methods or be left behind.

The regulatory environment the food industry must operate in has never been more intense. The threats to an organization’s brand have never been greater. This is not going to change. What must change is the way in which food companies confront these challenges.

Global food safety data can contribute to the establishment of an adaptive food safety/QA process that will provide time savings and improve a quality team’s efficiency and performance.

Based on the continuous analysis of food recalls and rejections by key national and international food authorities, a food safety / quality assurance manager could establish an adaptive supplier verification process and risk assessment process by utilizing the knowledge provided by such data. In that way, QA, procurement, food safety and quality departments can be empowered with critical supplier data that will inform the internal procedures for incoming materials and ingredients (e.g., raw materials, packaging materials) and allow for adaptive laboratory testing routines and compliance protocols. Moreover, food safety systems can become adaptive, enabling quality assurance and safety professionals to quickly update points of critical control when needed, and intervene in important stages of the chocolate manufacturing process.

References

  1. Discovering Chocolate. The Great Chocolate Discovery. Cadbury website. Retrieved from https://www.cadbury.com.au/About-Chocolate/Discovering-Chocolate.aspx.
  2. Chocolate Industry Analysis 2020 – Cost & Trends. Retrieved from https://www.franchisehelp.com/industry-reports/chocolate-industry-analysis-2020-cost-trends/.
Nuts, tree nuts

Q3 Hazard Beat: Nuts, Nut Products and Seeds

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Nuts, tree nuts

The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in nuts, nut products and seeds from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. For the past several weeks, Food Safety Tech has provided readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report. This week’s hazard snapshot concludes the series.

Nut hazards, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in Milk & Dairy Products.

Seafood

Q3 Hazard Beat: Seafood

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Seafood

The following infographic is a snapshot of the hazard trends in seafood from Q3 2019. The information has been pulled from the HorizonScan quarterly report, which summarizes recent global adulteration trends using data gathered from more than 120 reliable sources worldwide. Over the past and next few weeks, Food Safety Tech is providing readers with hazard trends from various food categories included in this report.

hazards, seafood, HorizonScan
2019 Data from HorizonScan by FeraScience, Ltd.

View last week’s hazards in herbs and spices.

Food Fraud

Fertilizer-Tainted Sugar, Formalin-Drenched Chicken Guts Top Fake Foods List

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Fraud

–Update– 4/1/2016 16:40 pm–

This article was part of our April Fool’s special edition. While the information about the Interpol seizure is indeed factual, we made up the new detection method (EFAS). 35% of poll participants were correct in guessing that this was the article that contained false information.

This week Interpol-Europol announced its largest-ever seizure of fake foods and beverages across 57 countries over a four-month time period. In total, Operation Opson V seized 10,000 tones and 1 million liters of food products between November 2015 and February 2016, with the following topping the list:

  • Fertilizer-contaminated sugar from Khartoum, Sudan (nearly 9 tons)
  • Olives painted with copper sulphate solutions to enhance color (85+ tons)

“Today’s rising food prices and the global nature of the food chain offer the opportunity for criminals to sell counterfeit and substandard food in a multi-billion criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers. The complexity and scale of this fraud means cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach,” said Chris Vansteenkiste, cluster manager of the Intellectual Property Crime Team at Europol in an agency release.

Other seized products worthy of note include:

  • Chicken intestines preserved in formalin from Indonesia (70 kg)
  • Monkey meat from Belgium
  • Locusts (11 kg) and caterpillars (20 kg) from France
  • Fake whiskey from Zambia (1300 bottles)
  • Tilapia unfit for human consumption imported to Togo (24 tons)
  • Honey from Australia  (450 kg)

And for the false information:

At a recent conference for food laboratory professionals, Gavin Rosenberg, Ph.D., discussed an emerging analytical method that could be game changing in detecting adulterated products in the field. Using electrostatic fluorescence absorbance spectroscopy (EFAS), Rosenberg’s lab has been able to probe the chemical composition of products, from liquids to bulk and high-moisture foods, while simultaneously assessing concentration in products such as meat and even spices. The rapid and portable method is also highly sensitive and can provide trace detection of pathogens, dyes, antibiotics and pesticides within 60 seconds.

“While still in the research stage, EFAS has been utilized in several studies and has successfully been shown to detect contaminants as well as ingredients that are frequently added to adulterate food products,” said Rosenberg.  He indicated that his team will pursue initial applications of the product to identify adulteration of olive oil (nearly 70% of olive oil is adulterated or diluted) and ground beef, specifically in the European and Asian markets.

David Fried, Food Labs
In the Food Lab

Food Labs: Authentic and Safe Food is Key

By David Fried
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David Fried, Food Labs

The recent Foods Lab Conference (co-located with Pittcon) was an intersection of compliance, technology and best possible practices. One of the goals of this international symposium was to have laboratories and the food industry recognize one another as part of an effort for a more intentional and collaborative system in the industry, especially in terms of policies and practices.

As a Food Science student from Tallahassee, Florida I ended up at this incredible conference after seeing a blurb for it on LinkedIn and was able to attend as an intern. The two main objectives of my role were to assist with various tasks to help ensure the event transitioned smoothly, as well as further my knowledge base of the enormous realm of food safety. The following are some themes that I heard throughout the two days.

Having the analysis and validation performed or overseen with preventative types of controls from a qualified individual should ideally occur before the food safety plan is implemented. This appears to be desired by the consensus and was a common thread during the conference. If there is a change in a process control, it can have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the documentation if the change is not taken into account. The ISO implementations are food safety management systems and hazard analysis identification, which is the international benchmark for compliance standards.

Analytical scientific instrumentation is absolutely necessary for guaranteeing data and reproducibility on a consistent basis. The scope and complexity of modern technology should be considered when used for repeated trials in which the narrowest margins of results are being demanded by consumers and industry. Microbiologists confirm their peace of mind is reliant on the ability for reproducible experimental trials. In a laboratory, the presence of variables and species must be handled in an extremely controlled manner. All too frequently undesirable organisms appear in foods, and this is often the result of poor food handling practices, fraudulent practices or summed up, lazy shortcuts for the most unthinkable reasons. An effort to decrease these microbes is being made through transparency in supply chains to trace the journey of the food from seed to the table.

Food production is being shaped as a result of FSMA, which is a milestone in food safety. A few features of this legislation are to offer assistance for the food technology sector and address questions about policy and safe handling practices. It has and will continue to influence the process of laboratory accreditation, validation and compliance in order to provide thorough transparency for the development of more modern food systems. There were many fascinating perspectives shared about validation and accreditation for both laboratories and facilities. Many large companies have their laboratories in-house, because it is easier from a production perspective if the product is going to market, to test it repeatedly in order to have less delay in the market launch. There have been times in which carcinogenic fillers or fake foods were portrayed. Examples would be the horse meat and melamine scandals. An additional perspective would be the possibility in protecting the own interests of the company by not disclosing true ingredients, practices, or actual comprehensive food safety evaluation. All are truly unacceptable with regards to mega food base distribution companies. Small- to medium-sized businesses typically source laboratory evaluations to third-party assessors to perform product validation because it’s simply too expensive to implement on their own because of labor, technology and space constraints. Claims of 100% pure olive oil are not true the majority of the time. A sunflower oil and chlorophyll solution can be made to mimic the coloration of pure extra virgin olive oil. So it is commonplace for this sort of solution to be created and combined with pure olive oil at a ratio of 2:1, as a conservative figure. True wording and claims are becoming a thing of the past, because it is way too simple for big food business to engage in such unthinkable practices to maximize their own profits.

A key thread running throughout the conference was the importance of necessitating the collaborative efforts needed to achieve a comprehensive dialogue set in place as a universal type of database. This database would serve as the foundation to ensure safe food practices throughout worldwide food production companies, accredited laboratories, governments, and consumers.

The Food Labs Conference was truly one of fantastic speakers, interesting participants, and fascinating conversation. The advanced topics were explored by professionals who share a deep passion for this vital industry sector. Food Laboratories and the conference, respectively, will become even more revolutionary in terms of future technology, the influence garnered by key publics, and future experts.

Mislabeled Salmon

Rapid Salmon ID Test the Latest in Fraud Prevention

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mislabeled Salmon

Two rapid test kits have been launched for the identification of salmon species: Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka). The tool kits were developed in collaboration with the University of Guelph and allow distributors, food processors and government regulators to positively identify the salmon species in less than two hours. 

Recent studies have revealed that a significant amount of the salmon sold in the United States is mislabeled.

The test kits are used in conjunction with a portable, real-time PCR system that provides DNA detection. The tools are part of the Instant ID Species product line from InstantLabs, which include seafood identification tests for Atlantic (Salmo salar) and Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch as well as Atlantic Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus) and U.S. Catfish (Ictalurus species).

Is Your Company Prepared to Fight Food Fraud and Product Adulteration?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Having the ability to detect and identify contamination and adulteration in product is a top priority for companies, especially when working with foreign suppliers. In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Craig S. Schwandt, Ph.D., director of industrial services at McCrone Associates, discusses how companies, especially those with limited resources, can use technologies to improve contamination detection to be ahead of the FSMA implementation curve.

Food Safety Tech: From your perspective, what key elements of FSMA will have a big impact on manufacturers and processors?

Craig Schwandt: For U.S. manufacturers, more and more of their ingredients are coming from foreign countries. [Companies] are responsible for reporting to FDA what measures they have taken to assure food safety in all aspects. Participating in the Foreign Supplier Verification Program will be critical to [their awareness of] whether their foreign suppliers are meeting those obligations. That critical element hasn’t been realized yet.

FST: Is navigating the foreign supplier relationship more of a challenge for smaller businesses versus larger companies?

Schwandt: Global companies have the resources to address contamination concerns and can monitor the processing that takes place in foreign countries. It’s the small companies that don’t have the financial resources to be present in foreign countries. There will be many more issues for them to address—are they really receiving product that they’re paying for? Is the testing that is being conducted in foreign countries really meeting the requirements.

FST: What steps can small companies take to ensure they have testing programs in place to meet requirements?

Schwandt: This ties in with the difference between testing and investigational analysis. Testing involves identification methods that are done to ascertain what is present—it might be an elemental concentration basis or an organic molecule basis—but they’re bulk analysis that determines whether the product is meeting the expected composition.

Then there might be components for which there are actionable levels, if the concentration exceeds actionable levels. But with bulk analysis testing methods, they only understand that they have a component in their product that exceeds an action level, and those methods don’t really specify where that component might be introduced into the product. This is where microscopy-based investigational analysis can assist smaller companies with understanding at what point the contaminant might have been introduced into the product. It can be isolated in individual particles, establishing a forensic pathway for stage of the process in which the contaminant might have been introduced.

FST: Can you expand on the technologies and methods that can be used to detect fraud or adulterated product?

Schwandt: In the case of intentional adulteration and fraud, current technologies include ultrahigh pressure liquid chromatography, liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry, and the food industry is doing a great job of using them.

In the case of intentional adulteration or fraud, the level of adulteration has to be fairly high, otherwise there isn’t an economic incentive to adulterate it. A great example is with pomegranate juice—if you’re going to intentionally adulterate pomegranate juice with grape juice to cut it down, a fairly large percentage of the final juice will be grape juice in order to make that intentional adulteration process economically motivating. It’s not really so difficult to identify it with [current] technologies.

Where the technologies need to be improved is in instances in which there might be more unintentional adulteration or contamination at trace levels:

  • When there are solid phase particulate contaminants, use of microscopy-based methods (which isn’t new technology) where you isolate the contaminant particles of interest; they occur at trace level. Because we isolate them from the matrix, we can analyze them and [detect] if there were metal particles from processing machinery; we can identify them to the alloy level and give clients a way to trace back to what part in the process stream those particles may have originated.
  • Likewise, Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, especially for pesticide residue analysis, will be increasingly more valuable using the QuEChERS program FDA has outlined for quick, safe, reliable and easy analysis of trace contaminants in food products.

FST: What factors are contributing to under-use of microscopy-based methods?

Schwandt: I think the expensive–instrument vendors would like you believe it is as simple as pushing a button to receive your complete quantitative answer. In many cases, the instruments, even though they might be designed with the best intentions, actually do require expert chemists to use them for complete success. There’s a push on the part of instrument manufacturers to provide instrumentation that they sell as providing the complete answer. And there’s a willingness in the food industry to believe it would be as simple as putting a less-skilled person in front of the instrument to run the analysis, push the button, and get the answer, as opposed to hiring an analyst with a lot of expertise.

FST: What industry partnerships/collaborations are essential in testing and analysis?

Schwandt: The partnerships are productive in this area when they’re between production and quality assurance branches of companies and third-party laboratories that can offer niche solutions and third-party verification.

Food Defense Culture is Coming

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment

FSMA’s proposed rule on intentional adulteration isn’t the only reason companies should be paying attention to food defense.

Establishing metrics in food defense, similar to the growing awareness around the importance of measuring behaviors in a food safety culture, was a topic recently brought up at FDA’s FSMA public meeting in the spring. The agency acknowledged that it will need to both clearly define what exactly is intentional adulteration and how it can be measured.

While food safety involves assessing and mitigating hazards, food defense is all about the threat and protection against intentional contamination. “The threat of fraud is a growing problem as supply chains get more complex, resources grow scarcer and the cost of food increases. All this provides more opportunity and potential reward for food adulterers,” stated a recent PwC report on food trust.

The FSMA final rule Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration is scheduled to be published in spring 2016, and companies need to be revisiting and revamping their food defense plans to prepare.

Prevention is the key word and on the most fundamental level of a food defense plan, businesses need to have management commitment before building, or even revisiting, a food defense plan—do they understand the resources, time and cost involved?

Conducting a vulnerability assessment is the first step in finding the gaps and examining whether a facility is secure. Beyond the standard questions that companies may ask when embarking on this assessment, businesses should identify potential attackers, asking how an attacker could have access to a product or process and what would be the outcome of an attack. Then look at the protective measures that are already in place—would these act as a deterrent? And if deterred, would the attacker proceed to the next target or would he or she stop? What measures are in place to find the attacker before there is an effect on the product?

When developing a food defense plan, there are several areas of potential vulnerability:

  • Shipping and receiving and packaging
  • Laboratories and testing sites
  • Recall and traceability programs and processes
  • Water used in processing/manufacturing—what is its origin?
  • Employees—what are the health risks? Is there a process for employee health reporting? Is there a process for reporting disgruntled employees?
  • Security personnel

With food fraud on the rise, it’s important for companies to continue to revisit and update their food defense plans, considering changes to facility designs or strategies, packaging changes, security improvements, etc. Companies should also be proactive in monitoring their employees both from a satisfaction (reducing the incidence of a disgruntled employee) and awareness perspective. FDA has initiatives to help companies build a food defense culture and employee awareness, including the ALERT training course for owners and operators of food facilities and Employees FIRST, and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense has programs aimed at workforce training as well as undergraduate and graduate curriculum on food defense.

Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.
In the Food Lab

Is that Pricey Wine the Real Deal? Using IRMS to Detect Fraud

By Paul Dewsbury
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Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

By Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

Upon conducting some online research to find a nice bottle of wine to bring to a party, I became distracted by a story about the world’s most expensive wine, priced at an eye-watering $195,000. With just a few clicks, I uncovered stories about auctioning a single bottle of wine for more than $300,000, and a case of 114 bottles selling for a record $1.6 million. Some of the reasons for the huge sums invested in pricey wines include rarity, social status of owner (aka famous), vintage, and perhaps most importantly, region and vineyard.

Ever the analytical chemist, I wondered, how do buyers identify whether that the extravagant bottle of wine they’re purchasing is the real thing? Perhaps the serious wine collectors out there could benefit from having an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS) in their cellar! But seriously, could IRMS play a role in authenticity testing?

Testing for Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Wine

Increasingly, fraud surrounding the provenance of wine has become a problem. Last year, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling millions of dollars of counterfeit wine. He not only created fake labels, but he also mixed and blended lower-priced wines to imitate the taste and character of rare and much more expensive wines.

An article published last year about the authenticity and geographic origin of wine discusses the results of investigating the stable isotope composition (C and O) of wine samples.1 The authors claim to have found significant isotope variations within samples from the same country as well as between samples from different countries.

¹³C and Simultaneous ¹⁸O and ²H Isotope Analysis in Ethanol with Thermo Scientific DELTA V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometers is also a useful resource, as it defines the configuration required for such testing. The method demonstrates excellent results and could be quite suitable for origin testing of wine. Isotopic analysis of wine has become a widespread tool to evaluate the quality, authenticity and origin of labeled products. This application note shows the ability and performance of the analysis of ethanol with combustion and with a high temperature carbon reduction technique in combination with a DELTA V IRMS. With this configuration, the ethanol can be analyzed for oxygen and carbon isotope composition. The analysis allows for the quantification of exogenous sugar added during the fermentation process, which is used to increase the alcohol content of the wine. This control is also needed for the detection of frauds, such as mislabeling regarding both ingredients and origin.

Most laboratories will seek alternative or complimentary techniques for authenticating wine. A few months ago, I blogged about using an ion chromatography method to verify the authenticity of your wine. I was also captivated by the poster, Related Seasonal and Geographical Differences in Wine from California’s Central Coast, which describes how a high performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) configuration was successfully implemented to analyze several wine varieties from different areas to show simultaneous detection and relative quantification of the wine’s components.

Wine authenticity is a fascinating subject, and I will leave you with this unbelievable but true story. In 1989, a bottle of 1787 Château Margaux from Thomas Jefferson’s wine collection was valued at more than $500,000 by its owner, William Sokolin, a New York wine merchant. At a dinner, it was accidentally knocked over and broke. What’s more,  the insurers paid $225,000 for the loss of the wine.

And to get back to where I started—I went to the supermarket and picked up a cheap bottle of wine. I don’t think anyone was the wiser, either.

References

1. Horacek, M., Papesch, W., Ogrinc, N., Magdas, A., Wunderlin, D., and
Misurovic, A. (2014). Control of Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Austrian, Slovenian,Romanian, Montenegrin and Argentinean wine, Geophysical Research Abstracts, 14. Retrieved from: http://www.josephinum.at/fileadmin/content/BLT/Puplikationen/1444-00_E.pdf.