Call me naïve but if I splurge on some expensive wine or some Manuka honey from New Zealand I believe it is the real thing.  Imagine my surprise when that assumption turns out to be wrong and that it is suspected that 5% to 10% of the food trade is fraud.  A CBC radio show, Day 6, broadcast a segment on April 1, 2016 entitled: ‘The big cash in counterfeit food: why you might not be eating what you think you’re eating’ where they discuss how we need to watch out for not just counterfeit watches, jewelry and clothing circulating but counterfeit food as well.

Some of the examples they give are:

  • Painted olives
  • Dyed herbs and spices
  • Re-labeled or fake labels on food and drink including low quality wine and scotch
  • Fake local food ‘best example being that of Manuka honey. The honey, produced exclusively in New Zealand, is considered the best-tasting in the world – and carries a price tag to match.’

 

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The article cites a March 30, 2016 Interpol announcement Largest-ever seizures of fake food and drink in INTERPOL-Europol operation where more than 10000 tonnes and one million litres of hazardous food and drink seized across 57 countries.

Criminals and organized crime are behind this business and find it hugely profitable.  So what can be done to try to counteract counterfeit food?

 

One answer that can help is smart packaging use NFC (near field communication).  A recent article on NFC in Flexible Packaging Magazine – Packaging Increasingly Enters the Internet Age with Printable Electronics gives some information on the technology and use cases.  They use an example of a shopper tapping her cellphone against a bottle of wine to verify that the label is original and the bottle seal has never been broken.

The article goes on to describe the technology “What makes all of this possible at the level of scale required by the IoT are the latest developments in printed electronics. Unlike the rigid, printed circuit boards of years past; today’s technology makes it possible to print electronics onto hair-thin substrates using inks containing conductive, organic compounds. The results are highly flexible, both in terms of their bendability and in their applications.

In 2011, ThinFilm (www.thinfilm.no) introduced the world’s first printed, rewritable memory and has since launched printed NFC (near-field communication) products. Now the company is helping lead the charge to apply these innovations to commercial packaging.

The company’s latest product, NFC OpenSense, can enable everything described in the hypothetical wine bottle scenario and more. The product authentication capabilities of OpenSense are a key advantage, particularly in industries where fake products and knockoffs are rife. For example, although exact estimates are tricky, it is thought that as much as 50-70 percent of all wine sold in China is counterfeit, particularly among bottles with high-end labels.

Wireless Intelligence

OpenSense works by combining printed electronics technology with near-field communications, a wireless protocol that is used to exchange data between devices such as smartphones, printers and cameras. NFC uses very little power. In fact, the OpenSense tags require no power source of their own, being activated entirely by the electromagnetic field emitted by a smartphone or reader.”

It seems to me that the packaging industry will adopt this type of technology and help consumers make sure they are buying authentic food products and legitimate companies remain profitable.  I noticed that some of ThinFilms partners are SAP customers like Bemis and Constantia Flexibles. 

As ThinFilm points out, it is another example of the Internet of Things (IOT) is changing the face of the packaging business.

 

For more, see How Digital Transformation Can Save Paper And Packaging

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