Food and beverage integrity is supported at the regional level through legislation, such as the EU legislation, and in the laboratory by applying official methods that have been designed and developed for specific applications related to food and beverage integrity.
The ratification of these methods is overseen by institutions like the Association of Analytical Chemistry (AOAC), with the objective of creating a standardized approach to sample analysis between laboratories, allowing laboratories to obtain comparable answers. When it comes to food and beverage, these methods are also aimed at protecting consumers and market value.
To the international source of methods, scientists worldwide contribute with their expertise to develop standards, method, and the systematic evaluation and review of the latter.
At European level, the European Food Safety Authority guides scientists providing a step-by-step framework, aimed at having a transparent, rational and accountable process for scientific decisions so that the process can be repeated by other scientists and results can be compared among laboratories.
For example, when it comes to origin, the legal framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed to be identified as such in commerce. This regulation aims to help producers of agricultural products and foodstuffs to communicate the product characteristics and farming attributes of those products and foodstuffs to buyers and consumers, thereby ensuring fair competition for farmers and producers of agricultural products and foodstuffs having value-adding characteristics and attributes. In the lab this is translated into official methods recognized by specific intergovernmental organization of a scientific and technical nature (for example the International Organization of Vine and Wine [OIV]).
Take wine, for example: for some countries wine represents a very important part of a country or region’s economy and it is part of the national identity. Imagine that any other country can have the same economic benefits, but via illegal ways. Thanks to regional level legislation or labeling and origin alongside official methods analysis, the evaluation of wine products, can be carried out and the market value of original products protected.
Among the methods aimed at identifying geographical origin and determining potential adulterations, the methods listed in the table below focus on the use of isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) as the analytical technique.
The reason why IRMS is indicated in official methods is because each sample contains an isotope fingerprint. Isotope fingerprints are a unique chemical signature that allows the product or the fraudulent changes of the original product to be identified.
The isotope fingerprint of food and beverage goods is region or process specific, which means that products can be differentiated based on geographical region (cheese, coffee, sugar, fish and animal feeding areas), botanical processes (beans, seeds, olive oil, vanilla), soil and fertilization processes (fruits and vegetables) and fraudulent practices (sugar addition to honey, watering of wines and spirits). These processes can be traced using carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen and hydrogen isotopes, with their variations indicating the origin and history of food and beverage products.
IRMS measures the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, or oxygen isotopes in the sample and their variations. Isotopic measurements provide quantitative and empirical data that are reproducible and easy to validate.
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Table 1. Official methods for isotope analysis using isotope ratio mass spectrometry
In the case of wine, it is not only the isotope fingerprints that can indicate the origin of the product, being the representative of specific regions, but they can also reveal if a product has been adulterated — such as additional water added — indicated by different isotope ratios. Read more here.
Thanks to the definitive answers of isotope fingerprints, their applications vary a lot. They can be used for the source identification of PM2.5 particles in air pollution. They can also be used for identifying material origin, human and animal provenance, or origin of drugs of abuse to support criminal forensic investigations (read the post on forensics analysis by using isotope ratio mass spectrometry here) or for doping control analysis.
To discover more about isotope fingerprints, attend the free e-learning and investigate with the Isotope Hunter (a man on a mission to investigating the origin and authenticity of samples with isotope fingerprints). In the different chapters you will discover why isotope fingerprints enable scientists to get conclusive answers on origin and authenticity of samples for a variety of applications. Are you ready to become an Isotope Hunter?
If you are interested in more resources about isotope fingerprints, visit thermofisher.com/IsotopeFingerprints
If you want to start your journey to become an Isotope Hunter, attend the e-learning.
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