Fingerprinting technology to prove the authenticity of agri-food products


Proving the authenticity of food products has never been so much in the public's mind as is currently the case. The recent scandal of horse meat and pig meat found in so many beef products has raised awareness that food fraud is a proactive that can be widespread and remain undetected. Unknown to many except those who study the topic of food fraud the range of food commodities that are susceptible to fraudulent activity is enormous. Fish, meat, honey, wine, beer, cheeses, milk, juices, spices, olive oil are just a small example of well documented cases where adulteration of lower cost, lower value materials has been detected.


The results of such cheating can be purely economic as was the case with the horse meat scandal in Europe where consumers lost trust in the food they were purchasing. However in some cases the fraud results in the selling of very dangerous products which can make the consumer ill or die. Such examples of this in recent times were the scandal in China where milk was adulterated with the toxic chemical melamine resulting in hundreds of thousands of babies being hospitalised and in the Czech Republic where vodka fraud resulted in many deaths due to chemical poisoning.


Estimates suggest that up to 10% of all the food we purchase has some degree of fraud associated with it. Recent data has shown up to 25% of fish sold in both Ireland and the US is mislabelled. The estimate of the cost of fraud to the UK processing and retail industry sits at around £300M. Protecting the integrity of the food supply chains has become a major policy agenda item across Europe and in the UK both DEFRA and the FSA are undertaking reviews of how the crisis happened and what measures can be put i place to spot further episodes occurring. Professor Elliott, the PI of this project, is leading the UK's government's review on preventing future food fraud.


This project investigated the feasibility of developing a rapid laboratory based system for producing chemical "fingerprints" to a wide range of animal feed and foods based on the availability of a unique range of novel technologies. these fingerprints will be stored in a database and subsequent samples of the same types of feeds and foods will be compared to these references to check for conformity. An aberrant fingerprint will give a strong indication that the material is either not what it is claimed or has had another ingredient added to it. Further investigations using the high powered mass spectrometry will identify the precise cause of the aberrant fingerprint.


The project will validate this novel approach by working with a range of local feed and food companies to develop systems whereby they can check the authenticity of raw materials they purchase and also provide clear evidence that their own products are authentic. Unique databases of spectral fingerprints will be generated for a range of goods (and their ingredients) produced in Northern Ireland (initially). The ability to test batches of products from these companies and prove that they are genuine in terms of ingredients and geographic origin will be demonstrate. Such information can be used by companies to ensure their supply chains are functioning correctly and to their customers to show they have a unique level of verification to prove the quality and authenticity of their products.


The ability to provide a rapid system for testing the authenticity of feed and foods to industry will be the cornerstone of the development of a spin-out company to provide an advanced analysis service to a range od business sectors.

Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Alex Chacko
The Queen's University of Belfast
02890 973370
  • Food authenticity
  • Food diagnostics
  • Food security
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