Food fraud is an emerging threat to the food industry, born of globalization and an increasingly complex food supply chain. This economically-motivated deception perpetrated against consumers includes substitution, unapproved enhancements, counterfeiting, and misbranding.1 Recent examples of food fraud highlight risks to public health as well as considerable loss of consumer trust, which is imperative to the food industry.
One such incident came to light in 2013 when Irish food inspectors revealed the discovery of frozen beef burgers adulterated with horse meat in supermarkets in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, ultimately impacting consumers and industry professionals across Europe.2 While horse meat poses no specific health threat, it is considered a taboo food in many countries and represents a major breach of the food supply chain. A particular concern in the case of horse meat is the possibility that animals derived from sporting facilities may be dosed with veterinary drugs prohibited in animals intended for human consumption. Other issues include potential adulteration of kosher or halal food products by non-kosher or haram animals.
Perhaps the most egregious food safety event in recent history, a 2008 food fraud scandal involved contamination of Chinese infant formula with melamine. This industrial compound can cause kidney stones and even kidney failure, and resulted in over 300,000 ill children and six deaths.3 Public outcry resulted in the imprisonment and execution of the industry professionals responsible for this incident.
In a current position paper, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) indicates that food fraud can be even more deadly than conventional food safety risks since the contaminants are often non-traditional.1 GFSI convened a Food Fraud Think Tank to address issues specific to food fraud since risk assessments for food safety generally don’t include socioeconomic considerations or non-traditional contamination vectors.
GFSI recommends a two-pronged approach to managing the risk of food fraud:
Conduct a ‘food fraud vulnerability assessment’ to collect data along the food supply chain and identify potential areas of vulnerability, including raw materials, ingredients, products, and packaging.
Implement control measures to reduce risk, including the creation of a control plan document clearly addressing when, where, and how to address fraudulent activities. Measures include a monitoring strategy, testing supplies like meat identification kits and GMO assays, origin verification, specification management, supplier audits, and anti-counterfeit technologies.
When it comes to food industry professionals, this approach is key to protecting the brands that consumers trust. Harnessing innovative industry tools like vulnerability assessments and control plans empowers manufacturers to confirm the authenticity of outsourced raw materials and ingredients, minimizing the risk of both litigation and damage to consumer trust.
1 The Consumer Goods Forum & Global Food Safety Initiative (2014) ‘GFSI Position on Mitigating the Public Health Risk of Food Fraud.’
2 BBC News (10 April 2013) ‘Q&A: Horsemeat Scandal.’ http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-21335872, accessed 26 June 2015.
3 BBC News (24 November 2009) ‘China Executes Two Over Tainted Milk Powder Scandal.’’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8375638.stm, accessed 26 June 2015.