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Using HPLC to Combat Food Fraud

Food fraud is a broad term that refers to any deliberate effort to compromise the quality of consumer products by intentional addition of sub-par ingredients, substitution for another product, misrepresentation of ingredients or qualities, or general tampering. It is an unusual form of adulteration that has been at the heart of numerous food-chain scandals since 1981 when an outbreak of toxic oil syndrome in Spain caused the deaths of more than 600 individuals. High-performance liquid chromatography with ultraviolet detection (HPLC-UV) proved pivotal in determining the origin of the outbreak.

HPLC in the Rapeseed Oil Scandal

This outbreak was traced back to contaminated rapeseed oil that was illegally refined to remove the denaturing compound aniline, which is deliberately added to the product to make it unpalatable to avoid human consumption. Once refined, the unsafe product was fraudulently sold as olive oil to street vendors. Customers developed a raft of acute and chronic symptoms after consuming the contaminated oil, but a firm conclusion on the origin of the outbreak was not reached by the World Health Organisation (WHO) until 2002. A report claimed that:

After the outbreak of the disease, exhaustive analyses carried out mainly by high-performance liquid chromatography with UV detection (HPLC-UV) demonstrated that several aniline derivatives were present in these oils.

By procedurally testing over 2,600 different samples using HPLC, the initiative was able to quantitatively characterize the chemical markers of compounds related to the syndrome in oils. Demonstrating the presence of aniline derivatives was essential to the conclusion that this scandal was deliberately perpetrated by opportunistic producers. This was important in the context of food fraud as intention remains a key characteristic of the crime.

Using HPLC to Police Modern Food Fraud

One of the underlying challenges of food fraud is that it often takes a scandal of significant magnitude to catalyze more robust testing and firmer legislation. Despite the severity of the rapeseed oil scandal, numerous fraudsters have followed suit by deliberately compromising food quality at an industrial level. HPLC has proven useful in illuminating many of these issues, but it is not a universal tool.

One of the most significant examples of food fraud in recent memory – which was not detected using HPLC – was the horsemeat scandal of 2013. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced that it had tested a range of frozen beef products from well-known supermarket chains using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to detect DNA from other animal species. Over one-third of beef burger samples contained traces of horse DNA. One sample notoriously comprised of as much as 29% horse matter.

Yet, as with many cases of food fraud, this was a reactive study that uncovered an issue affecting the Europe-wide human food chain. Tackling food fraud before it becomes a mainstream issue would have significant cost and ethical benefits to both manufacturers and consumers alike. HPLC can dramatically assist in shoring-up food quality control (QC) and regulatory testing methodologies for a broad range of products, including:

HPLC Solutions from Knauer

Knauer is primly positioned to assist in the policing of food fraud with finely-tailored HPLC processes, guaranteeing superior quality of raw materials and end-products to meet the necessary regulatory standards for regional and global marketplaces.

If you would like any more information about using HPLC to combat food fraud, simply contact a member of the Knauer team today.  

 

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References:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/aug/25/research.highereducation

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21335872

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/98447/E84423.pdf

 

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