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Tip of the Week: Why So Much Buzz About Food Fraud?
Tip of the Week: Why So Much Buzz About Food Fraud?

We’re hearing so much about food fraud due to increasing instances. While the intent of fraud is to make money, not cause illness, this has been an unfortunate byproduct. For this reason, it has gained attention in food safety regulations and food safety audit standards.

Although food fraud perpetrators do not intentionally cause harm, their lack of knowledge may result in consumer harm when product substitution, dilution, or misbranding occurs. Some of the most notorious food fraud instances gained global attention due to the extreme impact. When milk powder and baby formula were fraudulently laced with melamine 300,000 illnesses were recorded and 6 infants died.

The pet food melamine scandal also gained public attention when many pets died and had adverse health reactions. Deaths were also reported when a toxic industrial Sudan dye was discovered in spices.

Some other well known cases are horsemeat in burgers, corn syrup in honey, non-organic foods labeled as organic, and misrepresented fish species.

Part of the reason for the increase in food fraud is that it’s easier to hide in today’s complex global food supply chains. Another contributor is economic distress. When crops are impacted by weather or disease some people take drastic/illegal measures so that their business is not interrupted. Tariffs and other regulations are another economic impact contributing to the increase in fraud.

Food fraud mitigation is now a requirement of many regulations and industry standards. GFSI-approved certification schemes, like BRC, SQF, IFS, and FSSC 22000, require facilities to complete a food fraud vulnerability assessment and mitigation plan. In the United States, FDA requires that potential hazards from economically motivated adulteration are accounted for in the Preventive Controls Plan (HARPC). AIB International now requires that suppliers are assessed on food fraud risk.

Establish a Food Fraud Team

Teamwork is the best approach to handling food fraud mitigation. The team should be comprised of representatives from multiple departments. AIB International suggests considering the following functions on your team:

  • Team coordinator
  • Plant or facility manager
  • Procurement
  • Production manager
  • Qualified auditor or external consultant
  • Quality/technical/compliance manager
  • Logistics representative
  • Legal advisor or corporate counsel

Conduct a Vulnerability Assessment

A vulnerability assessment is needed for all ingredients. Some factors that increase ingredient vulnerability include buying below market price, value added claims (organic, free range, etc.), powdered forms, long supply chain, and fraud history (spices, olive oil, honey, fish). Supplier communication and supply chain mapping are essential to ensure that the assessment covers all known vulnerabilities. When you map suppliers, you’ll need to document the supply chain handoff for all ingredients and pathways.

You’ll want to make sure that your vulnerability assessment includes:

  1. Ingredients
  2. Country of origin
  3. Specific vulnerability
  4. Mitigation assigned to ensure integrity
  5. Risk level

Some of the most common fraudulent foods include:

Olive oil Milk Honey
Saffron Orange juice Apple juice
Grape wine Maple syrup Vanilla extract
Rice Cheese Turmeric
Vegetable oil Chili powder Sesame oil
Cocoa powder Strawberry puree Beeswax
Star anise Durum wheat pasta Guar gum
Palm Oil Paprika  

Establish Mitigation Measures for Vulnerable Ingredients

Once your vulnerability assessment is completed, the next step is to establish mitigation measures for vulnerable ingredients. Some commonly used measures include fraud-specific audits, ingredient testing, implementing an approved supplier program, and communicating with suppliers. Ongoing monitoring is crucial to ensure that the food fraud team is made well aware of any changes that occur so they can adjust the mitigation approach.

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