Rome, May 12, 2017 – A laser that can detect potentially toxic substances in the food directly on the counters of shops, markets and supermarkets in seconds.
It is not science fiction but innovative technology that has been developed by ENEA to counteract food frauds by discovering the presence of toxic substances such as histamine in fish due to poor conservation or adulteration of powdered milk with compounds Generally used for glues and plastics such as melamine.
Laser anti-fraud was developed by Frascati Center researchers along with six industrial partners within the three-year SAL @ CQO project funded by the Ministry of Economic Development with € 3 million.
These anti-counterfeiting technologies are also able to detect the addition of unreported water and sweeteners to fruit juices, in the extra-virgin olive oil the presence of low-cost vegetable oils and excessive methanol in wine.
“We have developed innovative optical instrumentation, based on infrared laser technology, which allows us to identify food frauds and ensure the quality and safety of food that ends up on our tables. For the time being we are in the experiment phase but we aim to realize in a short space of time transportable and handy instruments for a quick and accurate analysis of food both at the point of sale and at the place of production, to be entrusted to the control institutions and all Those industries and distribution chains that aim to maintain a high standard of quality. And all this will be possible without resorting to highly specialized personnel, “said Gianfranco Giubileo of the ENEA’s Diagnostic Laboratory and Metrology.
The team of ENEA researchers looks over and is already testing portable devices where the laser beam can travel along a fiber optic or even be replaced by a LED. But it also does not exclude the creation of miniature systems and smartphone apps that allow the consumer to do a few seconds of screening of the food they are about to buy, to know if it is of quality and whether it has been preserved well, respecting, for example, the chain of Cold as in the case of frozen foods.
“Currently,” says researcher Adriana Puiu, “there are no tools available with these features in the market, so anti-fraud controls are based on complex laboratory analyzes that require long times, costly equipment and specialized personnel. The results of our project are hoping to arrive shortly for quick, reliable, and simple execution controls. ”
Until now, ENEA anti-fraud technology has been tested on various food products such as fish and fruit juices. In the first case, the laser system has made it possible to detect the presence of histamine, a toxic molecule that is formed when the fish is old or is not stored well (in 2013 it has caused thousands of intoxications all over Europe). In the case of hymen, which mainly concerns tuna, sardines, mackerel and anchovies, they do not serve anything to cook, freeze and box and the only weapon to defend consumers is the preventive control that prevents the product from ending in the shopping cart.
In fruit juices and light drinks, the hi-tech system of ENEA has been able to disclose and distinguish the presence and quantity of five sweeteners (fructose, glucose, maltose, aspartame and sucrose) which are not declared on the label.