"Fingerprint" helps to convict food counterfeiters

Whether it's glycol in wine, methanol in spirits or "rotten meat", food scandals undermine confidence in manufacturers, retailers and authorities. Given the global nature of supply chains, increasing product diversity and new manufacturing technologies in place, it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish where goods come from and whether they are what they say they are on the label. The "fAuthent" open source software was developed against this backdrop as part of the "FoodAuthent" research project. This three-year project demonstrated that the software has the potential to introduce analytical "fingerprinting" methods within food monitoring on a broad basis. The results from the project were presented at an expert conference held by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on 26 November 2019.

The project, due to come to an end in December 2019, also trialled analytical methods that are able to determine the composition of foods and, in doing so, map out their individual chemical "fingerprint" (so-called "fingerprinting methods"). This "fingerprint" can then be compared with authentic food samples stored in a reference database. Counterfeits, including any substances that have been added, can be identified in this way. Likewise, the geographical origin of a product, the varieties used and the manufacturing processes can also be analysed. This comparison allows to clarify whether a product is actually the same as the food indicated on the label. "Analytical fingerprinting methods supplement traditional targeted examinations", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the BfR. "They are a key element in the efforts to combat food fraud."

Analytical fingerprinting methods were trialled in the project on goods from hard cheese, edible seed oil and spirits product groups, for example. The intention of the fAuthent software is to give both official institutions as well as food companies the opportunity to exchange fingerprinting information efficiently in the future. To this end, fAuthent provides the necessary software infrastructure with which the various "fingerprints", reference measurement values and data analysis methods can be locally stored and provided as a shared resource.

The project partners are planning to further expand the IT platform on an open source basis and design it in a more user-friendly way as it allows to securely transfer fingerprinting information  between manufacturers, retailers and authorities. The fAuthent system will ensure that all system partners stay in control over their own data.

The FoodAuthent research project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), with the research in question focusing on the "guarantee of origin of food". The project involves collaboration between the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the University of Konstanz and the companies benelog GmbH & Co. KG, Eurofins Analytik GmbH, GS1 Germany and Lablicate GmbH.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the German federal government and federal states on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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