A multi-analyte screening method for the rapid detection of illicit adulterants in dietary supplements using a portable SERS analyzer

Heliyon. 2023 Jul 20;9(8):e18509. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2023.e18509. eCollection 2023 Aug.


The popularity and number of dietary supplements on the health market have experienced an unprecedented boost in recent years. Simultaneously, their increased use has been accompanied by an increase in acute intoxication cases linked to the adulteration of these products with illicit and undeclared substances. In this study, a SERS-based screening methodology was developed to rapidly detect illegally added pharmaceutically active substances to dietary supplements. A portable analyzer and silver printed-SERS substrates were used to enhance the signal, requiring less than 20 min of sample preparation prior to the analysis. The method was successful in the qualitative identification of eleven out of twenty-three illicit adulterants in the dietary supplements; it could detect the target compounds at realistic adulteration levels (0.1-5.0% w/w), demonstrating the potential of SERS-based methodologies for forensic rapid screening applications. The developed method is quick, easy to use, requires no skilled technicians and little sample preparation, and allows in-situ analyses. For these reasons, it is suitable for quick screening to be performed by inspectors at customs. Moreover, the low specificity of spectroscopic methods, to which SERS belongs, would benefit the detection of newly synthesized analogues of the target adulterants, which would otherwise be more difficult using common mass spectrometry methods in absence of reference standards.

Keywords: Adulteration; Food fraud; Food safety; Health supplements; Portable device; Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy.