Collaborative approaches to honey adulteration detection

Honey fraud remains one of the global food industry’s biggest threats, with NMR technology at the forefront of detecting, characterizing, and cataloging occurrences of honey fraud across a range of markets.Thought LeadersJavier Nascel
Marisa Amadei
​Professor Noberto Luis Garcia

We recently spoke to two of Nexco’s leading experts in honey fraud - Marisa Amadei and Professor Norberto Luis Garcia – to explore the impact of honey fraud on global food supply chains and ecosystems.

The aim was also to discover how a robust analysis program with Bruker’s NMR FoodScreener at its core can help ensure authenticity, protect companies’ reputations, and meet stringent quality and regulatory standards.

Marisa Amadei, Please could you start by giving our readers an introduction to your experience and role at Nexco?

I am a biochemist and the Quality Manager at Nexco, with almost 20 years of experience working with honey.

Nexco’s honey testing laboratory has been ISO 17025 accredited since 2008, and the company has supported vital work against global honey fraud since that time.

Nexco consistently tests all the bee feeds available in Argentina, trains beekeepers on good beekeeping practices, and continues to update its knowledge and testing capacity.

What approach does Nexco take to detect potential honey adulteration and how does the NMR FoodScreener from Bruker factor into this?

Detection of foreign sugars in honey is traditionally performed via a range of techniques. The whole sugar profiles of honey can be tested using HPLC with a refractive index detector.

Microscopic pollen analysis is also a valuable part of our authenticity testing toolkit, while the evidential presence of C4 type sugar is tested using a combination of isotopic analysis with elemental analysis, liquid chromatography, and isotopic ratio mass spectrometry.

Last year, Nexco decided to incorporate the latest NMR FoodScreener from Bruker as a core component of the company’s quality assurance program.

We consider the NMR-based honey profiling from Bruker’s FoodScreener to be one of the most comprehensive tests available as it is able to confidently detect the presence of foreign sugar syrups from C4 and C3 plant types.

Installation of the NMR FoodScreener technology was streamlined and straightforward. The setup of the honey methodology, the training of our professionals, and the acquisition of the initial NMR report was efficient and simple.

Bruker has also continued to support Nexco throughout the ISO 17025 accreditation process.

Collaborative approaches to honey adulteration detection - Nexco

The impact of honey fraud on producers and consumers from AZoNetwork on Vimeo

Could you outline a typical honey fraud detection workflow?

Sample preparation follows a standard operating procedure, making this incredibly simple and fast. NMR handling is also straightforward, with the whole honey analysis being fully automated and completed within just 20 minutes.

No NMR expertise is required to operate the instrument, and once the analysis is complete, a PDF report is generated, which contains all of the information.

How has the FoodScreener been utilized thus far, and how is this being developed?

Over the past month, we have tested a significant number of Argentinian honey samples. These tests have revealed excellent reproducibility and reliable results.

As the NMR spectrum highlights the fingerprint of the tested honey, it allows both non-targeted detection and targeted quantification of specific marker components.

A total of 36 different constituents of honey are quantified, including sugars, acids, amino acids, and other parameters regulated by the European Directive and related standards.

The non-targeted tests have allowed us to observe any deviation in the spectra compared to the reference dataset, which can give us an indication of adulteration or any other quality issues.

This can also reveal new forms of adulteration, as well as identifying the botanical variety of the honey and its geographical region of origin. The instrument’s honey profiling method provides us with a complete approach to authenticity testing.

We are now beginning a collaborative project with Bruker to characterize our premium honey varieties and build a fingerprinting database of the different types of Argentinian honey.

Having this information available will allow us to inform our customers and consumers of this information, ultimately helping boost our sales.

So far, our experience with the Bruker NMR FoodScreener has been positive, and we have already come to trust the enormous utility and value of this powerful tool.

Professor Norberto Luis Garcia, Could you give us a brief introduction to your role at Nexco?

I am a Senior Consultant at Nexco and also a Professor of Beekeeping in Argentina. I normally deal with honey quality and international honey markets.

Honey is a natural healthy food, requiring a bee colony to visit 2 million flowers to release 1 lb of honey. What are some of the benefits of incorporating honey into consumers’ diets?

A great deal of literature details the properties of honey and its benefits for human health, but it is also important to recognize that when a consumer eats honey, it is much more than a sweet product – bees are vitally important pollinators and essential in maintaining environments and ecosystems.

Over the last few decades, there has been an increase in food fraud, and in particular, honey. Could you provide an overview of food fraud and why honey has seen an increase in its adulteration?

When a product like honey becomes difficult to produce, demand increases more quickly than supply. This directly affects the price of a product, and when a certain food becomes more expensive, this often results in food fraud.

Honey production has increased in recent years, but not at the same rate as the demand for honey. This has led to increasing honey prices, and over the past ten years, we have witnessed increasing numbers of fraudulent honey products flooding into the market.

This fraudulent honey has caused an oversupply that has collapsed the market, placing the livelihoods of many beekeepers in jeopardy.

Honey

Image Credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

Why is origin determination important in the production and export of honey?

There are multiple ways of committing honey fraud beyond diluting honey with syrup. Masking honey’s geographical and botanical origin is also a common mode of adulteration. A country like Argentina is a traditional exporter of honey, so it is very important to be able to assure our clients that our products are 100% Argentine honey.

How has food fraud impacted the livelihood of beekeepers as well as the honey market financially?

The price of honey has a direct impact on the livelihood of many beekeepers, as well as the consumer who has to pay in terms of price and quality.

Beekeepers are ultimately responsible for attending the beehives, which help maintain the environment and which are vital to the pollination of many other food crops.

How has Nexco helped address this aspect of honey supply?

Since 2013, Nexco has worked to develop consumer and industry awareness of the problem of honey fraud via presentations and interviews around the world. In parallel, the company has worked to ensure the purity and authenticity of its honey.

This combination of technological innovation and the sharing of knowledge is a core part of Nexco’s work.

What contribution is Nexco making to traceability in honey production and supply?

Argentina has access to a comprehensive online traceability system, and Nexco is adhering to this to assure our clients of the traceability of honey from the drum through to the beekeeper’s honey extraction room and the exported product.

By ensuring robust traceability, we can trace any deviation in honey quality and ensure that the consumer is receiving the quality of honey purchased.

The impact of honey fraud on producers and consumers - Norberto Garcia

The impact of honey fraud on producers and consumers from AZoNetwork on Vimeo

Bee populations are in decline. How does Nexco’s work help stop the numbers from decreasing?

By assuring the purity and authenticity of honey, Nexco is able to play a central role in the combat against honey fraud. Simply by assuring honey quality and purity and communicating this to consumers, we can help safeguard the livelihood of many beekeepers, increasing their capacity to maintain sufficient beehives and helping to make the global honey market clearer and fairer.

Bee populations are essential to the pollination of many crops and the Earth’s overall biodiversity of the planet. Essentially, safeguarding the livelihood of beekeepers and maintaining bee populations helps ensure the survival of vital ecosystems.

How does Bruker’s FoodScreener and NMR technology help to build consumer trust with a brand?

Honey is a very complex food, and the methods of its adulteration are increasingly sophisticated. NMR has led to significant changes in the market due to its two core capabilities: its ability to ensure the purity of honey and its ability to confirm honey’s geographical and botanical origin.

NMR allows consumers to be confident that the honey they are consuming comes from the country and is of the botanical origin included on the label.

NMR is also able to detect purity deviations, which offers enormous potential for the future of honey production.

NMR offers the potential to characterize and document the thousands of honey varieties produced around the world – an important consideration as consumers are increasingly demanding details of honey’s origin in terms of its geography, plant, and flowers of origin.

These factors each have a significant impact on consumer confidence and a brand’s reputation.

How does NMR help detect honey fraud?

Honey is a complex food with more than 200 components, so the methods used to detect honey fraud must constantly evolve and become increasingly sophisticated.

A single method cannot detect the different types of fraud for the different types of honey, so we typically try to select the best available combination of methods. NMR remains a central part of almost all our honey analysis workflows.

NMR can be used to quantify normal, natural honey components, but it can also be used to identify a diverse array of components and markers that are atypical and should not be present in honey.

NMR can detect the addition of serums to honey, as well as deviations in the declarations of the botanical or geographical origin of honey. There are at least five different methods of honey fraud, and NMR offers the unique possibility to detect all of these.

FoodScreener

Image Credit: Bruker

What are some of the advantages of using Bruker’s FoodScreener to detect adulteration in honey?

We initially used the FoodScreener to ensure the purity of Argentine honey, but it is our intention to fully develop the potential of NMR for investigating honey. We are currently working with Bruker to explore the use of the FoodScreener to characterize the entire range of honey varieties that Argentina produces.

One of the main advantages of NMR as a screening method is that it is possible to see the whole spectrum of components in honey within a single test run, including potential adulterants and even non-target substances.

This allows the detection of new adulterants as well as honey components that are unique to particular honey varieties.

What are the next steps in the fight against food fraud in honey?

Food fraud is an ongoing issue and while it is unlikely that this can ever be wholly eliminated, we continue to work to control and minimize honey fraud. New methods suitable for the detection of food fraud and new modes of adulteration are continually being developed and discovered.

I foresee a future where honey supply is scarce and food fraud remains a constant challenge, but powerful new screening technologies like NMR will guarantee positive outcomes for consumers, beekeepers, and the environment.

About Bruker BioSpin - NMR, EPR and Imaging

Bruker BioSpin offers the world's most comprehensive range of NMR and EPR spectroscopy and preclinical research tools. Bruker BioSpin develops, manufactures, and supplies technology to research establishments, commercial enterprises, and multi-national corporations across countless industries and fields of expertise.


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