Verifying food authenticity: how to navigate the method jungle

Arne Dübecke expounds the virtues of communicating with your testing lab and getting specific.

Several industry standards require clients to check the authenticity of their products. The variety of products is huge and the requests are multifaceted, so it is not surprising that the analytical options used to answer these requests are also diverse. But how does one find the right path through this maze of methods?

The request, ‘can you analyse the authenticity of my product?’ is a common one and usually necessitates an interview to gather more information around the matrix and understand the precise authenticity that is required.

What are you actually asking for?

The more specific the question, the higher the probability it can be answered by the lab. Let us consider olive oil as an example. The question, ‘is the olive oil authentic?’, for example, is complicated as it will involve several different analyses. Authentic in terms of geographical origin? Authentic in terms of foreign oils added? Authentic in terms of processing (eg, refined oil in extra virgin olive oil)? Authentic in terms of colourants added? You may recall the sunflower oil + chlorophyll = extra virgin olive oil case that Europol discovered in 2019.1

But perhaps you are not interested in every single aspect of authenticity. Maybe you only want to know if other oils have been added to your olive oil. This can usually be ascertained with a single method. What about if you just want to know that your olive oil is really from Italy? Again, that is possible with a single analysis.

Analysing authenticity depends on asking the right question. Different methods determine different aspects of authenticity. Some methods are focused on speciation, others on geographical origin or the addition of illegal substances, eg, to enhance/disguise the look of a product. Some look at only one aspect, others can check for several aspects at once. Indeed, authenticity of foods is a highly complex topic and communication is the key.

Italian olive oil in bottle

If you just want to know that your olive oil is really from Italy, that is possible with a single analysis