Spotting fake wine and spirits with a scan of the bottle

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage

As customs officers in the UK raid an illegal vodka plant and the FSA sends out a warning about fake bottles of Jacob’s Creek wine, scientists in Leicester claim to have developed a counterfeit wine and spirit detector that works on unopened bottles.

Researchers from the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester are working with scientists at nearby De Montfort University to create a handheld device for detecting fakes just with a scan of the packaging.

Adapting the technology

Originally developed to detect counterfeit medicines, the technology is now being adapted to meet the needs of alcoholic drink makers.

With the help of a grant from the Food and Drink iNet, the scientists are building a handheld device that identifies fake bottles using a technique that detects differences between the characteristics of light reflected from printed packaging.

Food and Drink iNet, which supports food industry innovation, believes that the device could be of real benefit to the alcohol industry. “Being able to test a liquid such as whisky or wine for authenticity without opening the bottle would bring major benefits to the drinks industry,” ​said Food and Drink iNet director Richard Worrall.

Accurate data on counterfeiting in the alcohol industry is hard to come by, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), but news of fakes regularly hit the headlines.

Recent cases

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) alerted consumers this week to watch out for fake bottles of Jacob’s Creek wine in the London area. The food safety regulator said the wine is not harmful but is of very low quality and substandard taste.

And HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in the UK announced yesterday that it had seized 11,400 litres of fake vodka at a raid on an illegal production and bottling plant in Worcestershire.

Putting an approximate figure to the size of the counterfeiting problem, Keith Morgan from HMRC’s inland detection team, said: “Each year the revenue lost to alcohol fraud on spirits is around £300m.” ​HMRC spokesperson Maddy Ratnett added that the total UK counterfeit alcohol market is estimated to cost the country £1bn in tax loss.

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