The label can survive temperatures up to 1,400C and should be readable after cooking ©maytheevoran/
The label can survive temperatures up to 1,400C and should be readable after cooking ©maytheevoran/

Spray-on barcodes could reduce counterfeit meat

24 September 2018

Silicon-based labels printed directly on food products could reduce the amount of counterfeit meat sold.

PwC Australia is developing a technique where a tag made of silicon dioxide – an additive already used in food production – can be sprayed directly onto the meat and read using a smartphone app.

The tag can be programmed to contain the meat’s National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) number, an existing centralised livestock tracker, allowing the end consumer to trace the beef’s journey through the supply chain to the original farm.

It is hoped the verification technique will make it more difficult for beef to be purposely mislabeled as Australian, a problem PwC says is growing. The firm said $483m of counterfeit beef mislabeled as Australian was seized by Chinese authorities in 2015 alone.

Speaking to ABC Radio, Craig Heraghty, agribusiness leader at PwC Australia, said: “I’ve lost count of how many stories I’ve heard, and seen with my own eyes, where people are taking products out of well known Australian brand packaging and repurposing the packaging and selling it for a least the same amount, if not more."

The label is currently being trialed in primary packaging – any packaging that comes in direct contact with the meat product, however Heraghty said a change in the food standards code is still needed before it can be sprayed directly onto meat. “The use is slightly different to what silicon dioxide is already approved for, but we are already pursuing that,” he said.

The particles of the label are very fine, he said. “If you imagine a small amount of icing sugar between your finger and your thumb and you’re rubbing it together and you can only just feel the icing sugar, it’s really, really fine. It’s just about the same as that.

“But the particles are translucent and you can’t see the individual particles to the naked eye,” said Heraghty.

The label can survive temperatures between -40C and 1,400C, meaning it should still be readable after cooking. “The particles will still be there after you barbecue the steak, so you could scan it post barbecue,” he said.

“From a fraud protection perspective that’s gold because it’s a covert measure you can’t see and you don’t know where it is.”

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