Rapid through-container detection of fake spirits and methanol quantification with handheld Raman spectroscopy
The spirits drinks industry is of significant global economic importance and a major employer worldwide, and the ability to ensure product authenticity and maintain consumer confidence in these high-value products is absolutely essential. Spirit drinks counterfeiting is a worldwide problem, with counterfeiting and adulteration of spirit drinks taking many forms, such as substitution, stretching with lower-grade products, or creation of counterfeits with industrial, surrogate, or locally produced alcohols. Methanol for example, which has been used as a substitute alcohol for ethanol, has a high toxicity in humans. The counterfeiting of spirit drinks is consequently one of the few leading reported types of food fraud which can be directly and unequivocally linked to food safety and health concerns. Here, for the first time, we use handheld Raman spectroscopy with excitation in the near IR (1064 nm) for the through-container differentiation of multiple spirit drinks, detection of multiple chemical markers of counterfeit alcohol, and for the quantification of methanol. We established the limits of detection (LOD) of methanol in the analysed samples from four different spirit types (between 0.23–0.39%), which were considerably lower than a quoted maximum tolerable concentration (MTC) of 2% (v/v) methanol for humans in a 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) spirit drink, and even lower than the general EU limit for naturally occurring methanol in fruit spirits of 0.5% v/v (10 g methanol per L ethanol). We believe that Raman spectroscopy has considerable practicable potential for the rapid in situ through-container detection of counterfeit spirits drinks, as well as for the analysis and protection of other beverages and liquid samples.