Researchers create fake booze detector

Researchers at the University of Manchester have developed the world’s first handheld device that can detect fake spirits inside bottles.

SORS, Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, devices give accurate chemical analysis of objects and contents beneath concealing surfaces, such as glass bottles.

“Food and beverage counterfeiting comes with the very real potential for serious health, economic and social consequences, especially when it comes to alcohol products,” said Professor Roy Goodacre.

“An essential part of ensuring consumer confidence is to provide assurance that these products are authentic and have not been either contaminated or counterfeited.”

The device works by using lasers directed through the glass, enabling the isolation of chemically-rich information that is held within the spirits.

Such devices are already commercially available but are usually used for security and hazmat detection, screening and pharmaceutical analysis.

This latest version, developed at the University’s School of Chemistry in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB), is the first handheld tool being used for alcohol.

Goodacre added: “Fake booze can also have massive implications for the health of its drinkers. Counterfeit goods do not follow the same stringent health and safety procedures major brands are forced to comply with by EU law.

“Therefore, counterfeit spirits often contain dangerous levels of methanol, a chemical used in antifreeze, which can cause sore throats, dizziness, sickness and even blindness.”

Spirit drinks are the EU’s biggest agri-food export, with EU governments’ revenues of at least €23bn in excise duties and VAT, and approximately one million jobs linked to the production, distribution and sale of spirits.

The team also tested the device on several bottles of spirit drinks bought ‘off the shelf’ from local shops. These were first measured unopened, then opened and contaminated with different levels of methanol and the tops replaced.

The Handheld SORS still detected the contamination with methanol through multiple colours of glass bottles in several types of spirit drinks including scotch whisky, gin, and vodka.