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Food Fraud: Uncovering Risks Lurking In the Global Supply Chain

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Food fraud is often difficult to detect, but a single incident could profoundly impact consumer confidence in the food industry and damage a company’s reputation. From raw materials to finished products, manufacturers must understand the fraud risks and actively monitor the food supply chain for emerging patterns of fraud incidents.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered disruption of the global food supply chain, resulting in new fraud opportunities due to diminished supply and increased demand. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 4,000 incidents of food fraud have been reported worldwide.

Due to the rising tide of food fraud incidents, several global food safety organizations are revisiting standards and regulatory strategies for mitigating fraud.

Learn the Basics

The common definition of food fraud refers to a range of deceptive activities, including the intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of a food, food ingredient, or food packaging for economic gain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers food fraud a common type of economically motivated adulteration (EMA).

High-value food commodities and products are most vulnerable to fraud, particularly food or ingredients in high demand and/or a limited supply. Examples of common types of food fraud include: 

  • Substitution of a lower-value fish species for a higher-value fish.
  • Addition of corn syrup or added sugar to honey or maple syrup.
  • Substitution of olive oil with less expensive oil.
  • Dilution of fruit juices or mixing lower-value juice with premium juice.
  • Bulking up spices with non-spice plant materials.
  • Labeling non-organic food and beverage products as organic.

While financial profit is the primary motive for fraud, some incidents of fraud could impact consumer health due to unidentified allergens or other food safety hazards. For example, a global incident in 2015 involved the extension of cumin with peanut shells, which prompted hundreds of food product recalls in the United States.  The undeclared presence of an allergen in foods containing adulterated cumin presented a potentially serious health risk for susceptible individuals.

Global Activities

The recent spike in global food fraud incidents has caught the attention of several prominent food safety organizations.  Earlier this year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations published a report addressing regulatory strategies to counter food fraud, and the Codex Alimentarius Commission formed a working group to update current guidance on food fraud. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), an industry coalition for harmonizing food safety standards, will participate in developing the new Codex guidance.

Food fraud has been top of mind for GFSI for over a decade.  The coalition published a position paper, “Mitigating the Public Health Risk of Food Fraud” (2014), and a technical document, “Tackling Food Fraud Through Food Safety Management Systems” (2018).  GFSI introduced new food fraud requirements to version 7 of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements.

The GFSI Benchmarking Requirements state an organization must have a “documented food fraud vulnerability assessment procedure in place to identify potential vulnerability and prioritize food fraud mitigation measures.”

Improving Your Risk Awareness

An effective fraud vulnerability assessment should collect information concerning all potential threats along the supply chain, from raw materials to food product packaging. Proactively monitoring global food fraud incidents is an essential activity for any company striving to ensure the integrity and safety of its product.

Mérieux NutriSciences offers a comprehensive approach to managing food fraud risks, including supplier auditing, analytical solutions, training, consulting, and an online tool for monitoring food fraud incidents worldwide. Safety HUD is a Mérieux NutriSciences tool for efficiently monitoring food fraud incidents reported by government agencies and media worldwide.

Request A Demo.


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