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The Challenges of Detecting Food Fraud

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An interview with Dr. Saskia Van Ruth, Professor, Wageningen University.

Head of the Food Authenticity and Nutrients group at RIKILT Wageningen UR, Dr. Van Ruth tells us a little about her research and the food fraud field.

Q: Can you tell us what led you to become interested in food science, and what some of your most rewarding achievements have been so far?

A: I was initially interested in food technology, and its impact on the sensory properties of food. The development of an artificial mouth during my PhD, and later on the development of the group in Wageningen towards a well-known food authenticity group, have been most rewarding so far. 

Q: Can you tell us a little about your lab's research directions?

A: We focus on two main aspects: understanding the factors that affect the risk of food fraud, and novel fraud detection technologies.

Q: What are some of the challenges of detecting food fraud?

A: One of the challenges is the verification of the newer aspects of added value to foods such as where and how foods were produced, the provenance and production system (e.g.organic). A second difficulty is that we cannot add test on test to consider lots of different kinds of adulterations. Therefore we see a trend of ‘broad anomaly testing’ which will examine whether a product is authentic or not, but it will not tell you what is wrong. It will just tell that it shows an unusual profile.

Q: Can you tell us more about some of the portable screening methods you are helping to develop?

A: Development of miniaturized equipment allows building of applications for the authentication of foods on site by professionals but also by consumers. On the one hand this will help to reduce costs, because only suspect samples will be sent to the lab. Furthermore, the consumer is no longer just the victim, but may even become the last line of defense.

Q: How do you see the food fraud field developing in the future?

A: Understanding how and why fraud occurs will certainly be an important area. In addition, the understanding of how consumers and businesses respond to these issues is a developing area. For fraud detection those areas of food provenance and production systems will receive attention, they are complex. Finally, development of machine vision, hearing, odor perception and other physics based techniques will be important too for more rapid testing.

Q: Aside from science, what are some of your interests and passions?

A: I like to get to know new places and cultures. Furthermore I like to play music.

You can find out more about Dr. Van Ruth and the work being carried out in here lab here https://www.wur.nl/en/Persons/Saskia-van-Ruth.htm 

Dr. Van Ruth was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor for Technology Networks.