The portable device is based on the SORS-technology (Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy), which through the use of lasers allows accurate chemical analyses to be performed through materials such as glass bottles or even opaque plastic. So far, such devices had only been used in the testing of hazardous materials and the analysis of pharmaceutical substances. The Manchester researchers have now succeeded in using the process to check for possible counterfeiting in alcoholic beverages.
“Food and beverage counterfeiting comes with the very real potential for serious health, economic and social consequences, especially when it comes to alcohol products,” explains Professor Roy Goodcare who authored the project. “An essential part of ensuring consumer confidence is to provide assurance that these products are authentic and have not been either contaminated or counterfeited.”
The advantage of the SORS method is obvious: the device is portable and can be used directly on site, without the need for laboratory conditions. In addition, no direct contact is required with the liquid to be examined, instead it can be analysed through the packaging. As a result, potentially hazardous substances are safely kept enclosed while original products are not opened unnecessarily.
About 150 well-known brands of Scotch whiskey, rum, gin and vodka were examined by the researchers during their tests. Among the real products were also 40 fakes, which were precisely identified by the device. In addition, the ingredients of counterfeit alcohols can also be determined by the SORS technology, for example revealing methanol contamination. For the functionality of the device, it did not matter whether the containers of the tested samples were made of white, green or brown glass.
“Sales of illicit spirit drinks can also have serious health impacts when industrial alcohols or methanol are used by counterfeiters and unknowingly consumed, with multiple deaths reported worldwide each year,” explains Dr. David Ellis, who co-authored the project. “That is why we have developed this approach, not only to ensure brand authenticity, but also to safeguard public health”, the researcher continues.
A total of ten additives, which are often used when alcohol is adulterated, can already be detected by the device. Now, the research team would like to expand the range of applications for the device in order to enable, for example, wine testing in the future.