Food forensics provides evidence for British food brands

Waitrose is one of the first to pilot a new service which is able to verify the origin of British foods.

Whether the product is fruit, meat or alcohol, Food Forensics, based on the Norwich Research Park, can determine not just the country of origin, but potentially also the local region from its unique ‘environmental fingerprint’.

Alison Johnson, Director of Food Forensics, discusses the benefits of the technology.

“Our aim is to protect the selling point of British farmers and growers. TheUKis less than 60% self-sufficient for food and for some products less than 20%. For consumers who want to buy British, it’s important they can trust their suppliers.”

One company that prides itself on sourcing British food is Waitrose. Alan Wilson, Technical Manager for Agronomy at Waitrose Supermarkets, has been involved in testing Food Forensics’ technology with some of the company’s own British suppliers; he says:

“As a leading British supermarket, we use every means at our disposal to understand food authenticity. This not only helps build consumer confidence, but also strengthens relationships with our British suppliers.

“When we hear about new methods that might help us prove the authenticity of British products, such as is offered by Food Forensics, then that’s certainly a bit of science we want to investigate further.”

Alison explains how Food Forensics establishes the geographical origin of food products:

“We carry out a process known as ‘stable isotope ratio analysis’ on the products we test. The result is similar to a fingerprint in that it shows a unique pattern that allows us to trace the true origin of the sample. Just like real fingerprints, these results cannot be falsified, so they are vastly more reliable than paperwork.”

Food Forensics studies the isotope ratios of five different elements, namely carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur. Using five elements means that the company is able to identify the geographical source of a food product with incredible precision.

“We generally start by comparing the product’s isotope profile or ‘environmental fingerprint’ against our known samples in our British database,” says Alison

“If the results are outside what we would expect forBritain, we can use stable isotope mapping to determine the most likely area it came from. We can then compare our results to the paper trail to ensure no fraud has taken place.

“These tests could also form part of routine due-diligence checks at food packaging establishments that pack produce from a number of different countries.”

Food Forensics, based in the Norwich Research Park Innovation Centre, has an extensive database of British products against which they are able to test and continues to add to this database over time. The company is also collaborating with scientists from across the Park on a range of topics.

“We have started two different research projects, one with the Institute of Food Research on potatoes and one with the University of East Anglia looking at free-range versus ‘enriched-cage’ or colony-produced eggs.

“NorwichResearchParkis a food-centric location and we are enjoying building new relationships and expanding our expertise.”

If you are interested in verifying the origin of produce or proteins and would like to find out more information or submit a sample for testing, please email or visit

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