Food investigations

The aim of a Food Forensic investigation is to determine the what, how and when of food safety and quality issues.

ESR's food forensic investigations determine where and when food contamination has occurred, identify the type of contaminant and its source, and identify foreign taints and odours and their source. We can also verify exactly what ingredients are in food.

Food Forensics investigations are undertaken for a number of different reasons including consumer safety, industry liability and reputation, regulatory requirements, public relations and product perception. Examples of our investigations range from ensuring that 'low calorie' labels on beer were legitimate, to discovering real orange juice was being substituted for an inferior fruit pulp, and investigating the use of pork in processed meat products in the halal market.

ESR has over 20 years’ experience in working with the food industry to identify and trace foreign material found in food. Our reputation as a meticulous, professional and independent investigative organisation is second to none. The kind of foreign objects and contaminants we can and regularly do discover include:

  • biological such as parts of or whole insects and animals, blood, plant material, hair, faecal material and natural fibres
  • non-biological such as glass, plastic, metal, minerals, medicines and colourings

ESR Food Chemistry Scientist Seamus Watson describes ESR's food investigations work.

How to submit samples for Food Forensic analysis

  • For new clients, please email us first so we can arrange a contract for services - this is needed before we can receive samples and undertake analysis.

  • Package up sample/s (see notes below).

  • Label samples and then download and complete the sample submission form [PDF, 930 KB], giving as much detail as possible.

  • Send to ESR (drop off/courier address is listed on the form - please address C/o- Food Chemistry Laboratory)

Please provide as much detail as possible on the sample submission form so we understand exactly what you want to find out.

Packing samples

Generally packaging of samples is a matter of common sense. However there are some important considerations regarding packaging to ensure sample integrity:

  • Avoid the use of tape. Adhesive tapes can be used to close a package, but it should not come into contact with the sample, as the adhesive material can contaminate some types of tests, and some fragile samples may be physically damaged. If possible place the sample in a zip-lock bag or pottle.
  • For the analysis of taints, smells and contamination by suspected volatile compounds, use a glass container. For these jobs, we take a sample of the headspace (the air above the sample) to analyse, so it is very important the sample is contained in an airtight glass container. The lid should have a good seal. Plasticizers from the container may also contaminate the sample.
  • Live insects, eggs etc should be chilled. Development of these animals is temperature dependent, so cooling can help identify the stage of life cycle at discovery of the animal and opportunities for contamination of food.
  • Please make sure any liquids are in a container designed for the purpose and will not leak.
  • Anything frozen should be delivered in a chilly bin with cool-packs - not ice (ice can melt and leak from the chilly bin).
Please Email us for any Food Forensics enquiries.

Find out more, download our Food Forensics brochure. [PDF, 575 KB]