Low-cost detection of food adulteration

In view of recent problem of food adulteration, an easy methodology is developed to detect ppt level of chemical species present in milk

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras

Year founded


Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $50k - $100k

Organization type

  • For-profit

Secondary Focus Area

  • Water
  • Rural development
  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • India

Headquarters location: City


Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Food adulteration is a large problem in recent times. Among many, milk is one of such item which is adulterated frequently with various hazardous chemicals. Detection of these chemicals is difficult as it requires costly and complex sample preparation techniques and sophisticated instruments. Available techniques also have many limitations. For example, detection of melamine at extremely low levels in milk needs sophisticated instruments, large amounts of sample and very complex sampling procedure.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

A new kind of ambient ionization method named as surface enhanced paper spray ionization mass spectrometry (SEPS MS) with chemically modified paper is introduced here, where, the controlled surface energy of the surface and the paper spray mass spectrometry (PS MS) are coupled together. The technique requires only micro liter amounts of sample, allows easy sampling procedure, and offers high sensitivity towards a diverse array of analytes as well as can be used to detect food adulteration at extremely low concentration. The chemically engineered paper was used as the substrate for paper spray mass spectrometry. This novel technique was used to detect melamine in adulterated milk. SEPS MS detects melamine directly from milk at ppt level by simply putting a micro-droplet of adulterate milk sample. This paper-based technique can be a promising tool for direct sensing of many analytes at extremely low level, eg. drug analysis in body fluids, pesticides in water and soil, etc.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Being cheap, green and sustainable, the developed technology will help the farmers to fetch a better price for produce. It convinces the consumers to pay a premium for the right cost. It helps the community to promote the right product. Impact of the technology will be assessed in terms of the awareness of the food adulteration, sales (or the lack of it) of adulteration chemicals in the market and better health of the people.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Research project.
As the methodology is a simple paper based technique. Required resources are very simple and are available in market. With the availability of miniaturized mass spectrometers, the technique can be used for rapid and efficient detection. it does not need much investment once the setup is installed. We would like to work with government and NGOs in this context. However, we need research grant for the development of further development of the product.
We are also working on detection of many analytes at extremely low level, eg. drug analysis in body fluids, pesticides in water and soil, etc.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

In case of other available techniques, detection requires costly and complex sample preparation techniques as well as sophisticated instruments which limits the real time applicability. For example, detection of melamine at extremely low levels in milk needs sophisticated instruments, large amounts of sample and very complex sampling procedure including further purification and separation.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

I am working on surface engineering, having a background in chemistry. I have worked on water purification (arsenic, fluoride removal) and sensing (mercury) project. Later on, I started working in humidity harvesting as an alternative source of drinking water with the help of surface modification technologies.

Like water, food is also essential for all animals, and it is getting contaminated with different hazardous chemicals which can even cause a slow death. It requires an advanced simple technique that can detect and quantify the amount of contaminants present. In this context, mass spectrometry is one such tool that can detect any chemical species. However, it needs appropriate sample introduction tools. As a chemist and surface and interface expert, I think, the coupling of new kinds of smart surfaces can help in improving the sensitivity of detection.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Other


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