Alabama A & M University
The project aims to detect contamination and economically motivated adulteration in food by standoff Raman spectroscopy. Unlike the traditional Raman approach, this technique remains largely unexplored for food sciences applications and has the potential to detect from a safe, non-contact distance of several meters food contaminants/adulterants which could be toxic or laced with biological pathogens. The technique is thus important for field and forensic applications needing minimum sample preparation protocol. The objective of this project is to demonstrate the viability of the standoff Raman technique for detecting common adulterants in food items like melamine in milk, cheap/unhealthy edible oils in olive oil, calcium carbonate in flour, etc. The technique will be characterized for standoff distances in the range of 1-10 meters and for the typical concentrations of 1-10% used in economically motivated adulteration. The portable Raman system involves a 785 nm laser and a mini-spectrometer with a CCD detector. We have coupled the Raman system to a 2-inch/10-inch telescope such that the complete system is portable and can be operated from the back of a truck either with batteries or with a gaspowered generator. The project will be characterized with several metrics including (i) standoff distance at which measurements can be made (ii) sensitivity or minimum concentration of contaminants that can be detected versus the standoff distance (iii) ability to make quantitative measurements of contaminants. The project is a "novel and cross-cutting" technique and involves interdisciplinary collaboration between the departments of Applied Physics and Food Sciences at the Alabama A&M University. The research team involves an end user from the Department of Defense (DoD) and a graduate student working for a M.S. /Ph.D. degree. If successful, the project can solve issues related to monitoring food-supply chain by improving methodologies to identify and characterize the nature of vulnerability. For the end user, it also has the potential for detecting toxic chemicals on military sites, which can end up polluting water and food resources. The project is valuable for training graduate students and creating a pipeline of STEM majors who could be a part of the current or future workforce of DHS.
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