Alliance sets its sights on milk fraud with testing platform

Food security firm SwissDeCode has joined forces with Dutch microfluidics company DigiBio to develop an automated detection platform for adulterated milk.

Milk is vulnerable to adulteration and has been a common target for fraudsters, most notoriously in the melamine in milk scandal that rocked China in the 2000s, in which the toxic ingredient was added to milk to boost protein content on testing.

The scandal resulted in at least six deaths and thousands of hospitalisations, mainly among children. Meanwhile, other less serious forms of adulteration include dilution with water, part substitution with other, cheaper types of milk, and removal of fat - which that can be sold separately – to be replaced with vegetable oils.

Accidental contamination has also been an issue, particularly for companies switching between dairy and dairy-free production lines within the same production plant. That can raise the risk of allergies and other health issues.

The project with DigiBio – called BEAMitup – combines a digital microfluidics platform that slots into the production line with DNA testing that can be placed into facilities for automated milk validation and fraud testing, and doesn’t need to be carried out by technical personnel.

The device analyses samples and aims to provide ISO certified results in just 30 minutes, according to the Swiss company.

Currently, many food companies still rely on external labs to analyse their samples, a process which can take up to 7 days, causing delays, recalls and food waste, it adds.

The system has received funding from the European Commission and is being developed in collaboration with Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and EuroStars, an EU scheme to support new product development at small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Last month, SwissDeCode received a €2.5m ($2.8m) grant from the EU to help develop BEAMitup.

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