Space lasers to thwart counterfeit olive oil trade

Summary:Olive oil fraud dates back to the time of Julius Caesar. Now a laser developed to measure gases on Mars could help stop this earthly problem.

A super accurate laser technology was developed over the past decade to measure gases in the Martian atmosphere. Now, researchers are shifting their focus to a more practical, earthly application: thwarting food fraud. Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

About $19.6 billion worth of olive oil is traded globally every year. The item is one of the most fraudulent foods, a problem dating back to the time of Julius Caesar. Just last month, European lawmakers tried to address the booming trade in counterfeit olive oil by proposing a ban on refillable olive oil containers at restaurants and bars.

And while there’s no way to know exactly how much is cut with a lower-quality oil, chances are you’ve bought extra-virgin olive oil recently that’s neither “extra virgin,” nor even 100 percent olive oil, food quality researchers say.

The laser technology -- isotope ratio-meter -- measures and authenticates a sample’s molecular structure when it’s converted from a solid or liquid to a gas. Specifically, it isolates basic isotopes to determine if the substance 100 percent pure or if it’s been mixed with something similar.

So, a Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) team led by Damien Weidmann burned small olive oil samples under a flame and measured the gases it emitted to determine its type and origin.

Now they’re looking for commercial partners to develop shoebox-sized prototypes for field testing. Weidmann wants to make the fraud detection tool inexpensive and mobile, although another $294,000 or so would be needed to bring a smaller version to market.

In a first-of-its kind brainstorming session, the International Olive Council will convene a summit with scientists to develop new innovations to combat this centuries-old fraud problem this month.

The same kind of testing could verify the authenticity of honey and chocolate as well.

[Via Businessweek]

Image: fdecomite via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

About

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.