Detecting food fraud and contaminants with portable nuclear-based technology

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In Austria, the International Atomic Energy Agency launched a coordinated research project to develop methods for using hand-held devices to quickly detect food fraud and contamination. In cooperation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the effort includes scientists from thirteen countries that will explore opportunities in field-deployable analytical equipment.

Ion mobility spectrometry, a nuclear-based technology used by border police in the detection of illicit drugs and explosives, is one of several methods that could be adapted to perform point-of-use screening tests to check for adulterants, contaminants and mold in food. The project will initially focus on devising methods to quickly analyze milk powder and vegetable oil, two commodities that are particularly vulnerable to adulteration.

Fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion every year, affecting around 10 percent of all commercially-sold food products, according to the United States-based Grocery Manufacturers Association.