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World Food Safety Day puts the focus on the global importance of high-quality food

25/2021, 04.06.2021

BfR researching complex fingerprinting methods to detect food fraud

The United Nations World Food Safety Day will take place for the third time on 7 June 2021. The campaign day's motto is that safe food directly and sustainably benefits people, the planet and the economy concerns everyone in one way or another. "Providing high-quality food and feed safely every day is a major challenge for everyone involved in the product chain," says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). On the occasion of World Food Safety Day, he is drawing attention to fraudulent practices with food. "Deliberately adulterated products present a global problem and often pose health risks," says Hensel. For this reason, the BfR is currently researching innovative laboratory technologies as part of the EU research project MEDIFIT, which aim to improve authenticity controls and traceability across borders.

Does thyme honey really come from Spain, as the label says? Was the goat cheese made from goat’s milk? In short: is what it says on the label true? Products are often diluted, substituted or deliberately changed by addition of substances - and false information is printed on the label. Popular and expensive products in particular provide criminals with a high profit margin. However, long, global product chains make it difficult to convict the fraudsters.

Complex technologies in chemical analysis and equally sophisticated software solutions are, therefore, required to ensure food authenticity and improve traceability. The BfR is researching these as part of the MEDIFIT project together with eleven partners from authorities, research institutions and companies from Germany, Greece, Malta, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey. The EU research project began in June 2020 and the cooperation will run for another two years. At present, analytical methods are being optimised, initial data is being compiled, and the IT application basics are being created.

The BfR is focusing on the further development of what are known as “fingerprinting methods”. With their help, the composition of food can be precisely determined and an individual chemical "fingerprint" detected. Spectroscopic analytical methods are notably used, which are increasingly being applied in routine food controls.

With a view to the future joint use of fingerprinting methods for food authentication, specific software solutions are required with which producers, food retailers and authorities can manage their respective analysis data together with information accompanying the product, such as label details, and also share it between system partners. Furthermore, a cloud-based system is being developed with which members of any product chain can inform each other about measured values and suitable data evaluation procedures. The MEDIFIT system is oriented towards the consumers’ need for information and always protects the property rights of data owners.

MEDIFIT stands for "An Interlinked Digital Platform for Food Integrity and Traceability of relevant Mediterranean Supply Chains". The project is initially focusing on goods from the product groups cheese (in brine) and honey (e.g. thyme honey). MEDIFIT is being coordinated by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. Funding is provided by the international funding initiative PRIMA (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area), which is supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme for research and innovation.

More information on the MEDIFIT project:

About World Food Safety Day

In 2018, the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations in New York established 7 June as "World Food Safety Day". Since 2019, the campaign day has been drawing attention to the importance of safe food for the protection of health. The WHO estimates that in the WHO’s European region alone, more than 23 million people become ill each year from eating contaminated food.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States ('Laender') on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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