A new tool for the dairy industry to use in fighting food fraud might also help food safety investigators track illegally shipped raw milk.

Food fraud might be creeping into 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply, according to researchers at Michigan State University.   Whenever inferior products or ingredients are substituted for the real thing, consumers are victims of food fraud.

drinking-milk-featured.jpgBut at the recent Food Safety Summit, two innovative companies announced they have teamed up and developed a new tool for the $20 billion dairy industry to deploy before food fraud strikes at the consumer level.  It’s called the Milk Origin Verification Solution, which will allow food companies to quickly verify the geographic origins of wholesale milk with a high degree of confidence.

“With [Milk Origin Verification Solution], a ‘Wisconsin cheddar’ cheese company can independently screen their supply chain for milk that does not come from Wisconsin,” said James Ehleringer, chief executive officer for the Salt Lake City-based IsoForensics.  “They can verify milk origin on a regular basis without disrupting production,

Until now, food companies have had to rely on the bar code on the container to determine the origin of the milk they are buying.

Along with Sunnyvale, CA-based Picarro, which has developed a number of food fraud detection applications, IsoForensics has developed the Milk Origin Verification Solution to be “push-button” simple.

While its unlikely there will ever been a consumer version of the Milk Origin Verification Solution, Picarro’s Alex Salkever says food safety investigators may find the commercial Milk Origin Verification Solution useful.   The system is based on stable isotopes that provide a molecular “fingerprint.”  The fingerprint can be used to determine where the milk was produced.

Picarro offers a system called Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy that is a stable isotope analyzer that rapidly assigns isotope rations to milk samples.  Food companies can then match the sample ratios to isotope fingerprint databases developed by IsoForensics and Perdue University.  It provides a statistical assessment on the likely origin of milk.

In a number of recent cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been attempting to shut down the interstate sale of raw milk.  The Milk Origin Verification Solution might help in those kinds of investigations, according to Salkever, especially “if the milk is shipped from one ‘isoscape’ to another.”

For example, milk produced in Michigan and moved to Wisconsin might be hard to authenticate but milk produced in Oregon then sold in southern California would be easy to spot. He said the Milk Origin Verification Solution would be faster, cheaper, and equally reliable to other methods that are out there, and that there are really no other readily available molecular level detection methods.

Picarro will lead sales for the Milk Origin Verification Solution.  The company is already providing its products and services to government, business, and academic institutions in 46 countries.

“Food fraud is multi-billion dollar economic problem that also affects families, including mine, at the breakfast time every morning,” added Picarro’s CEO Michael Woelk.  He predicts “stable isotope analysis” will become routine in the global food supply network.