Purdue team test anti-counterfeit tech for whiskey

A team of researchers at Purdue University in the US has tested edible silk tags – previously proposed as an anticounterfeit technology for pharmaceuticals – as a security measure for whiskey.

The technology developed by a team led by Young Kim, associate head for research and an associate professor in Purdue's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, is based on a cyberphysical watermark.

The fluorescent silk tags can be printed with a QR or 2D barcode – invisible to the naked eye – that a consumer can scan with a smartphone to confirm whether a product is authentic. As a natural protein silk is safe to ingest, and the ink used to print the codes is an FDA-approved food dye.

Prior work by Kim et al adhered the silk tags to pharmaceutical tablets in order to give each pill a unique identity that could be used to confirm it was genuine, as well as provide additional information when scanned such as dosing information and potential side effects.

Working with Jungwoo Leem and other scientists at the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences in South Korea, Kim decided to adapt the technology for use in alcoholic beverages, which are also a target for counterfeiters, and also test its compatibility with alcohol-based liquid medicines.

"We wanted to test this first in whiskey because of whiskey's higher alcohol content," he said. "Researchers apply alcohol to silk proteins to make them more durable. Because they tolerate alcohol, the shape of the tag can be maintained for a long time."

Kim and Leem placed tags in various brands and price points of whiskey (80 proof, 40 per cent alcohol per volume) over a 10-month period and were able to continually activate the tags and codes with a smartphone app.

The team says the tags are an additional authentication mechanism for marked safety seals on bottles or pills, and could be placed in high-value bottles of alcohol or on expensive medications individually.

The research is published in the journal ACS Central Science.

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