Carbon-14: A tool for catching adulteration in “natural” ingredients


Author: Haley Gershon, Marketing Specialist, Beta Analytic
The food and beverage industry is undergoing a paradigm shift away from the use of synthetic ingredients towards the use of biomass-based food ingredients. This goes hand-in-hand with the increasing consumer awareness of the sources of ingredients in the foods and beverages they buy and consume.1 Within both Australia and New Zealand, 67% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products containing all-natural ingredients.2 Manufacturers are, therefore, under pressure to produce food items comprised of natural ingredients from plant or animal sources.
As the trend in favour of natural ingredients continues, incidents of food fraud scandals are widespread. Economically motivated adulteration includes the deceptive use of cheaper artificial ingredients.3 As a result, it is in the common interest of stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain to authenticate food product ingredients in order to detect possible adulteration.
For over a decade, carbon-14 analysis has been used as a tool to screen for adulteration. Under standardized analytical methods such as International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) 16620-2 and American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) D6866, carbon-14 testing is used to determine the biobased content of solid, liquid and gaseous material.4,5 This testing reflects the percentage of material that is comprised of biobased, or in other words, biomass, sources as opposed to petrochemical-derived synthetics. Biomass has a known level of the radioactive isotope carbon-14, whereas the latter does not contain any carbon-14. The reported result yields a percentage between 0% and 100% biobased, depending on the composition of the material tested.6
Applicable to food and beverage ingredients, carbon-14 testing can, therefore, detect if an ingredient with natural source claims has been adulterated with a synthetic counterpart. As manufacturers are inclined to cater to consumer demand, it is critical for food ingredients to undergo testing such as carbon-14 analysis to authenticate natural ingredients.
1 Olayanju, J.B. Top Trends Driving Change In The Food Industry. [Internet]. New Jersey: Forbes. 2019 February. [cited 2019 Feb 20]. 
2 Nielsen. Premium Potential: Grocery Categories Pacific Consumers are Willing to Spend More on [Internet]. Australia: Nielsen. 2017 June. [cited 2019 March 14].
3 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Text Version of Randall Lutter, Ph.D. Presentation: Addressing
Challenges of Economically-Motivated Adulteration. [Internet]. Maryland: U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. 2009 June. [cited 2019 Feb 20].
4 International Organization for Standardization. ISO 16620-2:2015, Plastics -- Biobased content -- Part 2: Determination of biobased carbon content. [Internet]. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Standardization. 2015. [cited 2019 Feb 20].
5 ASTM International. ASTM D6866 - 18, Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis. [Internet]. Pennsylvania: ASTM International. 2018. [cited 2019 Feb 20].
6 Beta Analytic. Beta Analytic’s High-Quality Natural Products Testing. [Internet]. Miami: Beta Analytic. [date unknown]. [cited 2019 Feb 20].