EXPO: nuclear technologies to ensure food safety and tackle food fraud


Detecting food fraud and testing food authenticity with the use of nuclear-related technologies. It’s one of the innovative tools for the agro-food industry to be presented at EXPO Milano by ENEA, present in the Future Food District with its “vertical farm”

The method, developed by the researchers of the Traceability Laboratory at the ENEA Bologna Technopole (www.tracciabilità.enea.it), consists in the analysis of the fingerprints left by isotopes on both raw and processed food products.

The techniques employed are specifically those used in mass spectrometry of heavy isotopes to detect fraud of raw materials and misdescription of production processes and also to determine the geographical provenance of food and trace products from field to consumer.

Our activities draw on a long tradition in experimental nuclear research and are used innovatively to address environmental and food safety issues, focusing on trace elements” Paolo Bartolomei, Head of the Laboratory, explains. “Isotopic fingerprinting of food to trace it to its source is a technique that could contribute significantly to cracking down on the counterfeiting of Italian food products of excellence, one of the issues the agro-food sector is increasingly dealing with”.

The fact that isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons and electrons but different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei forms the basis for food traceability. Isotopes have the same chemical behavior and food products have the same organoleptic and nutritional properties and cannot be distinguished, but the relative concentrations of the isotopes may vary significantly. The same variety, grown in different regions, presents different isotopic compositions in relation to the temperature, humidity and composition of the soil of the site of origin and these differences make it possible to trace products throughout the supply chain.


For further information, please contact:

Paolo Bartolomei, Bologna Research Centre, paolo.bartolomei@enea.it

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