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Flavor, Fragrance and Spice Analysis



Detection of Synthetic Substances by
Radiocarbon (14C) Analysis

Carbon 14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon which is naturally occurring in all agricultural products. It is produced by cosmic ray interaction with nitrogen in the atmosphere and is subsequently incorporated in predictable quantities into plants by photosynthesis.

Radiocarbon has a half-life of about 7000 years. Fossil fuels, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas were produced from ancient plant material millions of years ago, and as such, no longer contain any Carbon 14, it having long since decayed away. Consequently, synthetic materials manufactured from these feedstocks also contain no detectable Carbon 14.

Precise measurement of the Radiocarbon content of food materials will thus allow natural agricultural materials to be differentiated from petrochemical based synthetics.

 

Table 1 lists a variety of materials for which Carbon 14 analysis has proved useful.

Conventional 14C analysis involves counting the sample in a sensitive radiation counter, such as a liquid scintillation or gas proportional counter. This approach is the most economical, but is limited by its requirement for sample sizes of 5 to 10 grams or more of sample material. The analysis can also be performed by accelerator mass spectrometry, a more expensive procedure, but one which can use as little as a few milligrams of sample.

The Radiocarbon method is applicable to the evaluation of a wide variety of other natural flavor and food additive compounds. Inquire about specific cases.


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