Food and drink research firm Campden BRI has been chosen by the Rural Payments Agency to carry out authenticity testing of olive oil.
Authenticity of food and drink products and ingredients has become steadily more important to the consumer - and hence to regulatory authorities - in recent years.
Ingredient substitution can be classified as a fraudulent activity and is defined, by the Food Standards Agency, as: “The deliberate placement on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer, covering two main types of fraud. These include the sale of food which is unfit and potentially harmful, as well as the deliberate mis-description of food, such as products substituted with a cheaper alternative.”
In food testing, typical quality control questions asked include: is the rice basmati, is the burger really beef, and is the fish finger really cod?
These types of questions require a range of different techniques to determine the answers - including chemical and biochemical analysis, DNA fingerprinting, and various forms of spectroscopy and microscopic evaluation.
Authenticity is important because certain food characteristics, such as their origin and exact nature, are indicative of higher quality.
For example, the authenticity of olive oil has always been very important. EU olive oil regulations are coming into force in the UK to help ensure that olive oil is marketed correctly and to provide a deterrent against fraud.
Campden BRI will help enforce these regulations via chemical testing at its laboratories in Gloucestershire.
Head of chemistry and biochemistry at Campden BRI Julian South says: “The chemical analytical techniques that we will be using include methods and all sound quite familiar, but much of the skill lies in the interpretation of results which demands experience and understanding.
“We are responsible for all the testing of Extra Virgin olive oil, Virgin olive oil, olive oil composed of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils, and olive pomace oil imported into the UK.”
South says the contract is to analyse batches of olive oil for a range of lipid components which are used to categorise it into different grades.
“These results, in collaboration with sensory analysis to be undertaken by a laboratory approved by the International Olive Oil Council, will be used to determine whether the grade declared on the product label is genuine,” South says.