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Fake Food Detection: Scientists Use Lasers to Detect Counterfeit Food

Fake Food Detection: Scientists Use Lasers to Detect Counterfeit Food
flickr/dmuth

It turns out that the everyday appearance of lasers in our lives isn't limited to corporate boardroom meetings and -- to our great annoyance -- on movie theater screens. If all goes according to plan for Dr. Damien Weidmann the head of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (a.k.a. RAL Space) in England, lasers will take on another role by helping us separate the real from the chaff in food. This cannot come at a better time as incidences of counterfeit food are occurring around the world at greater frequency.

Fake food has become a universal problem. Late last month, ABC News reported the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention's discovery of an increasing number of "fake ingredients in products from olive oil to spices to fruit juice." Meanwhile, China has seen more than its share of fake food in recent years with reports of counterfeit eggs and alcohol as well as pork sold as beef.

According to Dr. Weidmann, the lasers were originally designed to measure the amount of carbon on Mars. Specifically, the analysis of "carbon isotopic ratios can help identify its origin, and if it's bacterial in origin, it would mean a form of life occurred on Mars." And not only can the technology determine if there was life on Mars, but it can detect fake honey. All you have to do is burn a few milligrams and scan the carbon dioxide it releases.

If the lasers do become a tool used to detect food fakery, we'd have the European Space Agency to thank for providing Dr. Weidmann and the RAL Space crew with funding as a Technology Transfer Demonstration project. As he tells TG Daily, the team was then allowed to show the lasers' utility as an Earth application.

It may seem a whole lot of work -- and at the pace we make changes in our food regulations, we're probably years away from implementing this in our food safety practices. But imagine how much fun it would be to use Star Wars lightsaber toys and pocket laser pointers on your dinner.


Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Follow the author on Twitter at @chrstnchiao.


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