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Major Price Increases Create Conditions for Fraud for Food Oils

Global wars, product shortages and rising prices have set the stage for vulnerable conditions in the world oil market. Unscrupulous producers seeking greater profits can take advantage of a market experiencing peak demand and waning supply.

Across the world and in North America, the highest quality oils are the most vulnerable to fraud. These include olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil which is one of the most frequently adulterated oils due to its high price and consumer demand. Truffle oil, sesame oils and avocado oils are also targets for adulteration.

However, in today’s market, oils used daily for cooking such as sunflower oil, are also vulnerable. The Ukraine is one of its major producers and supplies are reaching unprecedented low levels, causing prices to increase by 40% on supermarket shelves in Europe

Consumers and distributors may find oil adulterated in several ways:

  • Mixing and Substitution: When a lower-cost oil or other substance is mixed or substituted with a higher-cost oil. For example, extra virgin olive oil might be adulterated with cheaper oils like sunflower oil, soybean oil, or lower quality olive oils.
  • Mislabeling: An oil could be labeled as "extra virgin olive oil" when it doesn't meet the necessary standards, or the country of origin might be misrepresented.
  • Counterfeit Branding: High-quality oils may be counterfeited, with cheap oils being sold under the labels of reputable brands.
  • Old or Degraded Oils: Sometimes, old, degraded, or improperly stored oils are sold as fresh. Over time, exposure to heat, light, and air can degrade oils, altering their taste, nutritional content, and safety.

The Best Defense Against Oil Fraud: Authentication Services

Regulatory bodies, oil manufacturers, and other stakeholders in the food industry are constantly working on strategies to combat food fraud in oils. This includes better traceability and transparency in the supply chain, as well as tougher penalties for food fraud.

The best defense against oil fraud is offering customers authentication services that validate that what is on the label is actually in the product. The most thorough way to do this is through Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) testing.

NMR spectroscopy is an analytical chemistry technique used in quality control and research to determine the content and purity of a sample as well as its molecular profile. In the context of detecting adulteration or fraud in oils, NMR works by exploiting the magnetic properties of certain atomic nuclei.

The NMR spectra of pure oils are well-characterized, so by comparing the NMR spectrum of the test sample with the spectrum of a known, pure oil, scientists can identify differences that may indicate the presence of adulterants. For instance, if a sample of extra virgin olive oil has been adulterated with sunflower oil, the NMR spectrum of the sample would show signals corresponding to the sunflower oil molecules, which would not be present in the spectrum of pure olive oil.

As a non-targeted analytical technique, for any sample, NMR can provide information such as:

  • A comprehensive picture of the metabolomic profile of a product versus targeted methods that focus only on specific, pre-defined targets
  • Detailed information about the chemical composition of a product
  • The quantification of compounds present in a sample
  • The presence of adulterants

Fight food fraud! Learn more about the power of NMR and the testing services available at Purity-IQ.

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