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Preventing food fraud: Europe’s battle against the spice pirates

Spices are among the oldest food products in the world and still enjoy great popularity today. But h..

Spices are among the oldest food products in the world and still enjoy great popularity today. But how can we be sure of their quality and authenticity? With serious money to be made, counterfeiters are often attempting to fradulently pass off inferior products as the genuine article.

To find out more about how fraud in this arena can be identified and stopped, we went to Belgium to meet a spice trader – and also to see scientists working at the Joint Research Centre’s Fraud Detection Unit.

Spice expert

Herbs and spices are the daily business of Alexandre Veuve; he is the manager of the prestigious spice specialist and gourmet grocery store Le Tour Du Monde En Epices in Waterloo, south of Brussels.

As an expert in the sector, he always guarantees that the products he sells are of the highest quality:

However, he knows only too well that fraud is a common risk in this market:

“There is generally fraud on quite expensive spices, for example saffron. This is a spice that is worth as much as gold, so obviously there are a lot of scams involving it.

“Powders are also the target of fraud because they can be more easily falsified.

“That’s why we make our own powders; we buy the spices whole and then we create them ourselves.”

“There is ofen fraud on quite expensive spices – for example, saffron. This is a spice that is worth as much as gold, so obviously there are a lot of scams involving it.”Euronews

Europe’s food fraud unit

One of the facilities of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Geel in Belgium hosts the European Food Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit. Here, teams of scientists analyse samples of spices imported to Europe using state-of-the-art technologies, in some cases using methods similar to those used for police investigations.

One of the most powerful tools at their disposal is DNA analysis. The genetic map of the spice can indicate whether or not there are foreign biological elements present.

The most common types of fraud are the use of less expensive plants, or the addition of dyes to make the spice appear more attractive or authentic.

Antoon Lievens, a Molecular Biologist at the Unit, says saffron is a good example of where fraud is regularly attempted:

“We’ve found one or two samples that were not saffron at all and the sequencing analysis has shown that it was safflower that has been sold as saffron.

“Another exemple is curcuma (turmeric). We’ve found a sample that was not curcuma, but actually paprika powder that had been dyed or coloured to look like curcuma.”

Analysis via spectroscopy

The detection of fraud is based on a set of investigative protocols, each of which unveils a part of the puzzle. Spectroscopy is one powerful method; it doesn’t require special sample preparation and allows a rapid result through the examination of the samples molecules by a laser beam.

Jone Omar, an Analytical Chemist at the Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit, says this is a foolproof method:

“Spectroscopy is basically based on a ray of light touching the sample, which makes the molecules vibrate and we then obtain a light spectrum readout of the vibration of those molecules.

“So when we focus on a pure food, we have a pure spectrum for it.

“When we spot an adulteration, the spectrum of the vibration of the molecule bands is different.”

This x-ray fluorescence technique, which is also used for non-invasive analysis of artworks to establish authenticity or otherwise, reveals whether or not inorganic materials – such as sand or clay – are present in the plant sample.

Chemical tests such as liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry allow, through the separation of the molecules, the establishment of whether or not there are traces of external dyes present.

These same techniques are also used to create chemical fingerprints of spices, which can then provide even more in-depth information about the nature of the sample.

If the adulteration is confirmed, certain measures can then be taken.

Franz Ulberth, Head of the Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit, explains:

“One of the further measures could be that you send inspectors to check the company, to look into the books, to (examine) transportation papers, establishing a chain of traceability, to trace it back to the origin.”

The spice production and distribution supply chain is spread between different countries and this makes controls more complicated.

In a growing market of global scale, the use of these techniques is key to certifying the quality of the product.

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The post Preventing food fraud: Europe's battle against the spice pirates first appeared on NewswireNow – A Press Release Publishing Service.

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How artificial sweeteners affect your health?

Sugar and sweeteners are ubiquitous in our diets and are often used to enhance the taste of food and drinks. However, their impact on human health has been a topic of much debate and research. While sugar and some sweeteners provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, consuming too much can have negative effects on our health.

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is naturally present in many foods and drinks, including fruits, vegetables, and milk. However, it is also added to processed foods and drinks, such as soda, candy, and baked goods. The World Health Organization recommends that sugar should make up less than 10% of a person’s daily calorie intake. However, in many countries, the average sugar intake is much higher than this, leading to health concerns.

Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to several health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. When we consume too much sugar, it can cause our blood sugar levels to spike, which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, high sugar intake can contribute to weight gain, which is a risk factor for many health problems, including heart disease.

Another issue with sugar is its contribution to tooth decay. Sugar provides a source of energy for bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to the production of acid that erodes tooth enamel. This can result in cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss.

In recent years, sweeteners have become popular as an alternative to sugar, with some people using them to reduce their calorie and sugar intake. However, the impact of sweeteners on health is also a topic of much debate and research.

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, are commonly used as a sugar substitute. They are many times sweeter than sugar, so only small amounts are needed to provide the same level of sweetness. However, the safety of artificial sweeteners has been a subject of concern, with some studies suggesting that they may be linked to health problems such as cancer and weight gain. However, the evidence for these claims is not strong, and the majority of research suggests that artificial sweeteners are safe for most people when consumed in moderation.

On the other hand, natural sweeteners, such as stevia and erythritol, are also becoming increasingly popular. These sweeteners are derived from plants and have a lower glycemic index than sugar, which means they have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar levels. Some studies have also suggested that natural sweeteners may have additional health benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases.

In conclusion, the impact of sugar and sweeteners on human health is a complex issue and is influenced by several factors, including the type of sweetener, the amount consumed, and the individual’s overall diet and lifestyle. While both sugar and sweeteners provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, consuming too much can have negative effects on our health. It is important to consume all types of sweeteners in moderation, and to focus on a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Additionally, limiting the consumption of processed foods and drinks that contain added sugars can help reduce the risk of health problems associated with excessive sugar consumption.

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Does lack of milk cause calcium deficiency?

Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in the human body, including the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, blood clotting, nerve and muscle function, and the regulation of the heart’s rhythm. While milk is often associated with high levels of calcium, there is a common misconception that a lack of milk consumption automatically leads to calcium deficiency.

While milk is a good source of calcium, it is not the only source. There are other foods that are rich in calcium, including dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, leafy greens, almonds, and fortified foods like tofu and orange juice. Therefore, it is possible to get enough calcium in the diet without consuming milk.

However, it is important to note that a lack of calcium in the diet can lead to a deficiency, regardless of the source of calcium. If a person does not consume enough calcium from any food source, their body will take calcium from their bones, which can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of osteoporosis.

Additionally, certain groups of people may be more at risk of calcium deficiency, including those who have a limited diet or dietary restrictions, elderly individuals, and those with conditions that affect the absorption of calcium, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease.

Lifestyle factors can also impact calcium levels in the body. For example, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a lack of physical activity can all contribute to lower calcium levels and a higher risk of deficiency.

It is recommended that adults consume between 1000-1300 milligrams of calcium per day, and this can be achieved through a balanced diet that includes a variety of calcium-rich foods. Supplements may also be used to meet calcium needs, but it is best to speak to a healthcare provider before starting any supplementation.

In conclusion, a lack of milk consumption does not necessarily cause calcium deficiency. However, a lack of calcium in the diet, from any source, can lead to a deficiency. It is important to consume a balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods and to maintain a healthy lifestyle to ensure that adequate levels of calcium are maintained in the body. If you are concerned about your calcium levels or have a medical condition that affects calcium absorption, it is best to speak to a healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.

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The Importance of Vitamin D on Young Children


During childhood, vitamin D plays a vital role in skeletal development and bone health. It is produced by the body through sunlight exposure. However, most children aren’t getting enough of this vitamin from their food alone.

Vitamin D deficiency is known to cause rickets. Rickets can lead to fractures and delayed motor development. Fortunately, it can be prevented. In addition, vitamin D deficiency in adults has been associated with osteoporosis and heart disease. Nevertheless, there is little scientific evidence about how vitamin D deficiency affects younger children.

One of the best ways to know whether your child is getting enough vitamin D is to ask your doctor. He or she can order a blood test to determine your child’s vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D is also important for maintaining strong bones in older children and adults. Some studies have suggested that increased physical activity may be linked to an increased level of vitamin D. Children who are overweight, have celiac disease or are taking anti-epileptic drugs are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency.

Most pediatric bone specialists believe that a vitamin D level of greater than 20 ng/mL of 25(OH)D is appropriate for most children. The European Food Safety Authority has endorsed an upper limit of recommended intake for children.

If your child isn’t getting enough vitamin D, there are many ways you can help them get it. For example, some milk products, cereals and orange juice are fortified with it. You can also add foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D, such as egg yolks, fatty fish and mushrooms.

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