An Edible Silk Label Can Prove Your Liquor or Medicine Is Authentic | Article

In the future, when ordering a glass of whiskey, the customer could ask the bartender to remove an edible fluorescent silk tag that might float inside, although it is safe to drink. This little silk tag, with a QR code, is a security measure that could reveal whether the whiskey is fake or not.

Simply using a smartphone to scan the label, which was developed by biomedical engineers from Purdue University and South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, could confirm the drink’s authenticity.

Jungwoo Leem, a postdoctoral research associate, and Young Kim, both from Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, are part of a global research team that has developed an edible QR code on the specialty silk tag that could help consumers to detect fake whisky.

There are, of course, no labels currently placed on whiskey bottles. But this new anti-counterfeit technology, published in the journal ACS Central Science, could be a step towards not only finding a solution for the alcohol industry, but also against counterfeit drugs.

“Some liquid medications contain alcohol. We wanted to test this for the first time in whiskey because of the higher alcohol content in whiskey,” said Kim, associate director of research and associate professor at Purdue. “Researchers apply alcohol to silk proteins to make them more durable. Because they tolerate alcohol, the shape of the tag can be maintained for a long time.

Kim has worked on anti-counterfeiting measures such as cyber-physical watermarks or tags made from fluorescent silk proteins. Tags have a code activated with a smartphone to confirm the authenticity of a product.

The code on the fluorescent silk tag is the equivalent of a 2D barcode or QR code and is not visible to the naked eye. The labels are also edible, causing no problem if a person swallowed them while drinking a glass of whiskey. The labels did not affect the taste of the whiskey.

Kim and Leem said making the tags involves processing fluorescent silk cocoons from specialized silkworms to create a biopolymer, which can be formed into a variety of patterns to encode information. They placed tags in various brands and price points of whiskey over a 10-month period and were able to continuously activate the tags and codes with a smartphone app.

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

“Online pharmacies sell controlled substances to teenagers. People can easily buy counterfeit opioids. This work is extremely important for patients and purchasers to address this issue,” Kim said. “If you have this technology on or in your medication, you can use your smartphone to authenticate. We want to empower patients to be aware of this issue. We want to work with pharmaceutical companies and alcohol producers to help them solve this problem.

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 individually on expensive drugs.

This article was created in collaboration with AIPIA (Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association). Packaging Europe and AIPIA join forces to bring news and commentary on the active and smart packaging landscape to a wider audience. To learn more about this partnership, Click here.

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