Philippines deploy scanner to spot 'plastic rice'

TacticID-GPThe authorities in the Philippines have turned to a handheld spectroscopy device to screen for plastic rice that has caused health problems across Asia.

The synthetic rice has been encountered in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, India and Vietnam and is potentially lethal if consumed in large quantities, causing serious disruption to the gastrointestinal tract.

The counterfeit material looks almost identical to rice grains but is generally made of potato starch mixed with a plastic - styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) copolymer - that is generally found as a thermal insulation material in packaging such as food containers, kitchenware and battery cases.

In some cases, the criminals behind the scam mix the plastic rice with regular grains as a bulking material, making it harder to detect.

The Philippines federal safety agency has been road-testing B&W Tek's TacticID-GP handheld Raman spectroscope to see if it can rapidly distinguish authentic rice from fake rice.

In the pilot, the system quickly and accurately identified real rice as starch - displaying a green 'all clear' background screen and the fake rice as SAN with a yellow background warning screen.

The TacticID-GP system has an on-board library of thousands of hazardous and common chemicals, explosives, narcotics, pharmaceutical drugs and more - including many polymers, according to B&W Tek.

The instrument can scan directly through clear packaging bags containing food products such as rice.

In another twist to the fake rice tale, reports have started to emerge in China of another counterfeit product made of rolled-up paper.

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