Nanotechnology could help weed out fake olive oil

A new method of labeling olive oil could prevent fraud in the supermarket. By “labeling” oils with unique tags of DNA, regulators can make certain that supplies of olive oil stay pure. There’s a real need for these high-tech oil tags: A study led by Edwin Frankel, former professor at University of California’s Department of Food Science and Technology, found that as much as 69% of “extra virgin” olive oil sold in the U.S. doesn’t meet the standards of the term. 

Fake olive oil is—believe it or not—a big problem, but it’s now getting a tiny solution. In a paper in ACS Nano, Swiss researchers demonstrated a way to “tag” oil with a few grams of DNA wrapped in a tiny magnetic silica capsule while the oil is being bottled. That way, if someone doubts the extra virginity of the olive oil, they can extract and analyze the marker—mystery solved, tortellini saved. Between December 2013 and January 2014, Interpol and Europol confiscated more than 1,200 tonnes of counterfeit or substandard food, and 430,000 liters of counterfeit beverages. This included more than 131,000 liters of oil and vinegar. An estimated 70 percent of the extra virgin olive oil imported to the US has been adulterated, meaning that it’s cut with cheaper oils, like vegetable oil disguised with chlorophyl and beta carotene to look like the good stuff. 

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