UN agencies explore nuclear applications to combat food fraud and contamination via UN News Centre

9 June 2017 – Through a joint project, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are exploring mobile tools to combat food fraud and contamination, which result in global annual in the billions and pose a serious public health threat. 

Traditional, professional laboratories have the ability to detect different types of fraud and contamination in food relatively quickly but such capacity is often limited in many countries and by their nature not very portable. The FAO-IAEA initiative is trying to fill this gap. 

“The goal is to make available low-cost devices and methods for food authorities to use directly in the streets and markets, particularly in developing countries,” said Simon Kelly, a Food Safety Specialist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, who leads the project. 

The project seeks to build on the opportunities created by advances in field-deployable analytical equipment, such as adapting ion mobility spectrometry – a nuclear-based technology used by border police agencies to detect illicit drugs and explosives – to perform point-of-use screening tests to check for adulterants, contaminants and mould in food.


The project will initially focus on devising methods to quickly analyse milk powder and vegetable oil, two commodities that are particularly vulnerable to adulteration. In many countries, gutter oil – the waste cooking vegetable oil recovered and recycled back into the food chain – has raised alarm. 

The FAO-IAEA project – part of the two organizations’ efforts to help their member states with nuclear and related techniques for science-based solutions to improve global food security and sustainable agricultural development – kicked with a meeting in the Austrian capital, Vienna, last month and the first results are expected with the next two years.

Read more at UN agencies explore nuclear applications to combat food fraud and contamination 

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