Whiskey price

Edible QR code detects fake whiskey and drugs

A team of biomedical engineers from Purdue University and South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Sciences have developed an edible QR code on a specialized silk label that could help consumers detect fake whisky. This new anti-counterfeit technology could be a step not only towards finding a solution for the alcohol industry, but also towards the fight against fake medicines.

“Counterfeit items, such as drugs and alcohol, are big problems around the world. There are many examples of large quantities of fake drugs being sold around the world, which in some cases are killing people,” said Young Kim, associate director of research and associate professor at Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

Kim and her team created the tags by processing fluorescent silk cocoons from specialized silkworms to create a biopolymer, which can be formed into a variety of patterns to encode information. They then placed tags in various brands and prices of whiskey over a 10-month period and were able to continuously activate the tags and codes with a smartphone app to determine the authenticity of the product.

The code on the fluorescent silk tag is the equivalent of a barcode or QR code and is not visible to the naked eye. Luckily, these labels are also completely edible and digestible, causing no problem if a person swallows them while drinking a glass of whisky. They do not affect the taste of the whiskey in any way.

“Spirits are vulnerable to counterfeiting. There are a lot of fake whiskeys being sold,” Research team member Jungwoo Leem said, referring to other studies mentioned in the newspaper article on the economic cost and loss of purchasing fake alcoholic spirits, including how 18 % of adults in the UK have purchased counterfeit alcoholic spirits.

“Counterfeit items, such as drugs and alcohol, are big problems around the world. There are many examples of large quantities of fake drugs being sold around the world, which in some cases are killing people,” said Kim.

Kim said the tags are an additional authentication mechanism for tamper-evident seals marked on bottles or pills and could help by being placed in high-priced liquor bottles or on individually priced drugs.