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Home > Combating the Rise of Food Fraud

Combating the Rise of Food Fraud

Food Authenticity and Spectral Sensing

Food fraud is big business. By some estimates, 10% of the world’s food supply is adulterated or counterfeited in some fashion. The consequences are significant: higher costs passed on to food producers and consumers; brand damage to food and beverage suppliers; and inadvertent illnesses and death from substandard ingredients and harmful contaminants.

Spectroscopy is taking a bite out of food fraud. Using UV-Vis, NIR and Raman spectroscopy techniques, authenticators are stemming the flow of deficient, mislabeled and contaminated food and beverages. For example, spectral analysis of foods like olive oil and honey identifies characteristics that help to discriminate authentic samples from fakes. Raman analysis has detected trace levels of fungicides and other contaminants in processed food. Absorbance signatures of spirits can be measured to screen for dilutions and substitutes.

With these and other spectroscopy techniques – and tools such as Ocean Optics modular spectrometers, Raman analyzers and accessories – users have an abundance of options for authenticating the origin, identity and purity of food. Here is a sampling of food fraud detection applications using Ocean Optics products:

The Challenge: Edible oils are among the most counterfeited food products in the world. The multi-billion dollar olive oil industry is the top target of food fraudsters. (Source: The Atlantic)

Top Producers: Spain, Italy and Greece account for about 75% of the worldwide olive oil market (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2009)Olive-Oil

Fraudulent Techniques: Dilution (often by adding lesser oils to high-value extra virgin olive oil); adulteration (adding plant pigments to lesser oils to imitate the color of high-value oils)

Spectroscopy Techniques: absorbance; fluorescence

Solutions: UV-Vis absorbance measured with a modular spectrometer such as Flame or a spectral sensor like Spark can be used to authenticate the spectral signature of true extra virgin olive oil; fluorescence intensity of olive oil components can be measured with a QE Pro spectrometer and compared with olive oil substitutes

Example Applications:


Spirits producers estimate annual losses of more than $1 billion to counterfeit alcohol.

The Challenge: Top-shelf liquor commands premium prices, tempting resellers and serving establishments to pass off substandard or diluted product in high-end brand bottles.

The Application: By measuring the UV-Vis absorbance signature of different spirit samples and comparing them against a library using partial least squares analysis, the brand, integrity and distillery of origin of a spirit can be verified.

Download the Spirit Sampling Application Note

Fraudulent Techniques: Mislabeling; dilution; adulteration

Spectroscopy Technique: Absorbance


The Spirit Sampler scans clear, light and dark liquids.

The Solution: A fully integrated spirit sampling system with laptop PC and sample chambers, capable of identifying and authenticating more than 15 brands of rum, whiskey, and vodka in under 5 seconds.  A traffic light-style interface is simple enough for use in the field by non-experts.

Also Notable: For some spirits, spectral measurement of color can be used as an indicator of brand authenticity. Learn more.


The Challenge: Serious health issues have resulted from the adulteration of food with compounds like melamine and trace contaminants from pesticides and antifungal agents, with effects ranging from digestive problems to death.

salmon filets

Despite heavy regulation, trace elements of toxic anti-fungal agents have been found in farm-raised fish.

The Application: The use of Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) and improved Raman sampling methods offer a viable alternative to chromatographic and other screening techniques now used for detection of trace contaminants in food.

Fraudulent Techniques: Adulteration (for example, using melamine to boost protein content of milk); willful contamination (bioterrorism)

Spectroscopy Techniques: Vibrational spectroscopy such as Raman and SERS; NIR

Solution: High-sensitivy Raman systems and SERS substrates provide a combination of signal enhancement and chemical specificity for the selective identification of compounds including harmful food contaminants and additives