A professor at the University of Saskatchewan has developed an internal tracking system that would combat food fraud.

“Adulteration of food products, either through mislabeling, ingredient substitution or dilution with a less expensive ingredient is a growing concern for Canadian consumers,” said Nicholas Low, who is leading the project with Robert Hanner, a professor at the University of Guelph.

“Through this project, we are aiming to develop a cost-effective molecular internal tagging system in order to track food products as they move through the supply chain.”

According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, five to ten percent of foods sold commercially are subject to adulteration.

Details of the project will be revealed later this month by Low at the Advanced Foods and Materials Network’s annual scientific conference. He believes the tracking system would benefit both producers and consumers.

“For example, if there is an issue with a food product, it could be rapidly identified in the supply chain where the problem occurred, and so then we could identify where it is happening,” says Low.

An example of this would be a milk producer in China who is using an internal tag, shipping to a facility making instant formula. If the formula was diluted somewhere along the way, anyone testing the formula would be able to tell.

In 2008 over 300,000 children were sickened and 6 infants were killed after consuming milk products containing the chemical melamine.

“A food product has a number of ingredients so if you can identify where the problem occurred you would be able to identify who made the error and whether it was intentional or unintentional,” Low says.

The purpose of these tags, he says, is “to help ensure food safety and security and another way that consumers can start to feel comfortable.