Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Fraud Detectives At A Reasonable Cost

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Walnut, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne.

Produce from specific countries of origin, such as olive oil or walnuts from a famous region, can achieve top prices in the marketplace. Fraudulent declarations of origin are causing millions of dollars of economic harm every year. Such fraud can be detected by investigating the oxygen isotope ratio, a costly endeavor until now. A newly developed oxygen isotope ratio simulation model eliminates the costly collection of reference data and allows a timely and cost-efficient region of origin determination of a wide array of plants.

Resource

  1. University of Basel. (October 11, 2021). “An efficient and low-cost approach to detecting food fraud”. Science Daily.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Natural Goes Methodical

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

The popularity of “natural” foods with consumers has increased exponentially over the past decade or two. While the term “natural” on a food label is not formally regulated by the FDA, “natural flavors” have been defined in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 as flavoring constituents derived from a naturally occurring source, such as spice, fruit, vegetable, herb, leaf and more. “Natural” flavors/aromas have specific spectroscopic fingerprints versus synthetically produced volatile organic compounds. This method combines gas chromatography and isotope ratio mass spectroscopy (GC-C-IRMS) to determine whether a fruit aroma is naturally or synthetically-derived, and can be used to build a database of natural flavors.

Resource

  1. Strojnik, L., et al. (July 5, 2021). “Construction of IsoVoc Database for the Authentication of Natural Flavours”. MDPI Open Access Journals.
Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
FST Soapbox

The Face of Food Safety: How Do You Look?

By Jill Stuber
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Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach

What does food safety look like? As we enter the New Era of Smarter Food Safety, the elements around food safety behaviors, beliefs and attitudes are a bit elusive, making them challenging for the industry to define. For years, companies have provided messaging around food safety to clarify what food safety should look like for their team members. In reality, most of the statements are around the outcomes organizations want to see.

For example:

  • Food Safety and Quality are our number one priority.
  • We strive to meet and exceed all food safety & quality standards.
  • We are committed to producing high-quality, safe food.
  • Food safety is everyone’s responsibility.

While these messages may provide clarity around the organization’s beliefs and/or intended outcomes around food safety, how do these messages translate into how food safety behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes show up on a day-to-day basis?

A quick internet search will provide a list of companies that have adopted best-in-class food safety culture practices with top leaders championing and modeling what that means through daily conversation, decision making, etc. Not all companies share that success story, and top leaders may find or refine their organization’s path around food safety culture. As top leaders are taking the time to create strategic plans for food safety culture, how can the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around food safety be modeled for all to see?

It reminds me of an experience with one of my teams and our journey around championing food safety and quality. Shortly after being promoted into leading our FSQ function for multiple facilities across our organization, I soon found, with no surprise, that each facility had its own FSQ microcosm. As with anything, parts of the microcosms were good, and some, not-so-good. The FSQ Managers had completely different personalities, training and experience blending with and creating resistance in the microcosm to add to the mix.

Join Jill Stuber and other food safety experts for a discussion about industry professional development, training and mentorship on November 4, during the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual SeriesOur team focused on creating consistency in our team’s practices and organizational systems for food safety and quality. After several months together, it was clear the goal would require more than developing one version of the truth with documents; it would also require consistency in how the FSQ Managers “showed up” each day. Thus, we keyed the term the “Face of Food Safety,” which embodied our expectations around how we would each exhibit behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs around our role to support our Food Safety & Quality systems. For us, this insider term solidified our shared passion and belief that food safety culture started with us.

What led us to the conclusion that we had to step into the Face of Food Safety role given food safety culture is supposed to start at the top? Several pieces of evidence led us to this conclusion.

  • The term “Food Safety Culture” wasn’t even mainstream for top leaders to start discussing food safety culture. We recognized we needed to continue the food safety campaign across the organization using our team and our voices.
  • Our FSQ Leaders were already the go-to for food safety. Like many companies, when the food safety auditor walked in, they were taken directly to the FSQ Manager. If anyone in the organization were asked about who to talk to regarding food safety, they would direct people to the FSQ Manager. It’s no different than if someone asks about a financial report, they were likely led to the accounting department.
  • Our FSQ Leaders had the most technical training, even if not formal, to understand the practices and behaviors around food safety and should be already collaborating and championing best practices throughout the organization.

As we started on our quest to define the Faces of Food Safety further, we had some factors to consider impacting our approach.

First, our FSQ Managers came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some had high levels of formal training, and others had very practical experience. Some worked in the industry for eons, and others had less experience. Some were more natural leaders, and others were not, and personality tests showed we had a wide range in our team!.

Next, our FSQ Managers had specialized training regarding scientific methods to more effectively identify risks, guide solutions, and ultimately create and implement programs that consistently delivered safe food. However, besides the annual human resources training on conflict resolution or getting along, the FSQ Managers had no formal training in human behavior to fully understand elements of the human psyche that shape what people do.

Finally, we faced a standard human limitation—our ego. With serving others, our egos would have to take a back seat to allow the space to recognize our behaviors, our judgments and actions that didn’t align with the Face of Food Safety.

As I look back at work we did together to step fully into being the Face of Food Safety; there are three main areas we focused effort that minimized any factors around skills, experience or personalities yet allowed us to move forward with our quest.

1. Being available and approachable

  • Instead of sitting in meetings, running reports, and being “busy,” we focused on spending time with team members on the floor with FSQ Team Members and others to see what worked well, what didn’t work well, and in-the-moment coaching. The team evaluated workload capacity and incorporated these routine interactions into standard work to create capacity for this. No longer was spending time on the floor to talk with team members something we just hoped we’d get around to doing or only do during an investigation. While we still had copious amount of other work, we shifted our priority.
  • We spent time developing trust across our team to open doors to conversations that were previously off-limits. For a team that had rarely been physically in the same place at one time, our every-other-month in-person events and daily huddles that, at first felt like micromanaging, became the standard of how our team worked toward alignment and team building. These types of routines provided a foundation for conversations that started with “How do you think you came across in that email?” or “I know you didn’t intend to sound demanding, but some people had ruffled feathers”, or “Your serious face may send the message you don’t want to be bothered.”

2. Helping others help themselves

  • In the olden days, issues could be dropped like hot potatoes into the FSQ office for them to spearhead investigations, paperwork, and the like. People would come to the FSQ Managers for answers when often, the answers were already available to them. It took effort from FSQ Managers to provide guidance, re-direct and coach so others could join in owning parts of food safety and quality related to their work.
  • We were changing our attitudes that we had to be involved in everything. When we began helping others help themselves, it also gave us the freedom to let go and work in our own lane.

3. Being known for championing food safety & quality both from a policy standpoint but also being practical

  • Policies and procedures are fantastic tools to align practices. Even with the best-written documents, there are gaps and unforeseen events that challenge systems. In those moments, our team worked diligently to align on when policies and procedures had to be upheld versus when we would adjust (and update documents) to capture the practical nature of hiccups that happen in manufacturing. We didn’t want a practice to be okay in one facility but not another unless there was a very defined reason, so it wasn’t chalked up to personal preference. It took personal commitment to Our commitment to holding the line for each other.
  • Our team was relentless in talking about food safety and quality at every chance we had and related to other areas.

As leaders, our focused, aligned manner that welcomed collaboration and conversation was a cornerstone for being the Face of Food Safety. Using the three areas discussed in this article, we provided clear messaging and support to champion the food safety culture we wanted to see. While not every day was a utopia, our attitude shift and teamwork offered many more days of fulfillment from meaningful work than we had previously experienced and it made an impact for others.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Crisp, But Not Clean

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Palm Oil, Food Fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

An especially perfidious type of edible oil fraud is the dissolution of inedible plastic material, such as polypropylene or polyethylene packaging material, in hot cooking oil during the frying process. This is supposed to prolong the shelf life and the crispness of deep-fried snack food, not surprisingly with serious health implications. Attenuated total reflectance fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (ATR-FTIR) in combination with principal component analysis (PCA) provides a straightforward method to analyze samples directly with minimal preparation, to detect polymers in palm cooking oil, as done in this study.

Resource

  1. Ismail, D. et al. (2021). “Classification Model for Detection and Discrimination of inedible Plastic adulterated Palm Cooking Oil using ATR-FTIR Spectroscopy combined with Principal Component Analysis”. Vol 25 No 3. Malaysian Journal of Analytical Sciences (MJAS).
Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
In the Food Lab

Will a New Method of Freezing Foods Improve Food Quality and Food Processing?

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

As the world veers on the edge of serious climate trouble, it makes sense for companies to collectively start looking into greener and more efficient alternatives. While research is ongoing, every so often, there’s a win that can make a huge difference if and when it is implemented. That’s precisely what’s happening with cutting-edge frozen food and processing technologies, thanks to scientists from the University of California-Berkeley who conducted a study on the concept with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

It came at just the right time, too, as both freezing foods and standard food processing technologies have a rather large energy footprint, with extensive carbon emissions. Globally, those levels have to come down or the results will be disastrous. This new method, proposed by researchers, could reduce the global energy consumption of the frozen foods industry by up to 6.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Just to put that into perspective, it is the equivalent of removing one million cars from the road, and keeping them out of regular operation.

Called isochoric freezing, the method essentially involves placing foods in a sealed and rigid container. The storage container, made of hard plastic or metal, is then filled with liquid—like water—and frozen. The catch is that not all of the liquid in the container is frozen, so the food does not turn to solid ice. Only about 10% of the volume freezes during the process, and as long as the food remains within the hardened ice, crystallization will not happen. In addition, pressure that builds up inside the container naturally prevents the ice from expanding.

Isochoric freezing also has implications for fresh foods that are significantly affected by standard freezing techniques, such as small fruits, vegetables (i.e., tomatoes and potatoes), and even some meats.

The best part is that this method can be deployed “without requiring any significant changes in current frozen food manufacturing equipment and infrastructure,” according to USDA food technologist Cristina Bilbao-Sainz.

Why Is Icochoric Freezing Better?

Freezing foods may be a quick and relatively accessible way to preserve them, but many chemical changes happen during the freezing process as well as when those items thaw. Some foods deteriorate when frozen, just at slower rates. What’s more, depending on when and how you freeze or store those items, the composition may change during the entire process.

Some frozen products may develop a rancid smell or taste, after being oxidized or exposed to air. Others may see texture or size changes, and moisture loss at any time (or poor packaging) can result in freezer burn.

A lot of these same problems do not occur with isochoric freezing because the items are not frozen solid. Even more promising is that the new method also improves the quality of frozen foods, boosts safety, and reduces energy use. And during processing it actually kills microbial contaminants.

“The entire food production chain could use isochoric freezing—everyone from growers to food processors, product producers to wholesalers, to retailers. The process will even work in a person’s freezer at home after they purchase a product—all without requiring any major investments in new equipment,” said said Tara McHugh, co-lead on the study and director of the Western Regional Research Center in a USDA press release. “With all of the many potential benefits, if this innovative concept catches on, it could be the next revolution in freezing foods.”

Making the Discovery

Boris Rubinsky, a UC-Berkeley biomedical engineer and co-leader of the project, developed the freezing method while trying to cryopreserve tissues and organs that were designated for use during transplants. The goal was to better preserve these items, under more optimized conditions, with a minimal quality loss after thawing.

While this certainly does have major implications for the frozen foods, cold storage, and food processing industries, it can also be used elsewhere. For example, areas like medicine, science, or space travel can all benefit.

It may be some time before the technology is ready, but the research team is now working on developing commercially viable options, to match modern industry needs.

Will It Lower Carbon Emissions?

If the technology, and method, are adopted on a wide scale, it could vastly lower carbon emissions across many fields, and it may even lower emissions of consumer applications, too. Imagine applying isochoric freezing on a smaller scale, at home, to better preserve leftovers, frozen meals, and much more.

Of course, it will be interesting to see major organizations adopt this method, if and when the resources are available. The food processing industry could see revolutionary reductions in carbon emissions and energy consumption in the years ahead.

Melody Ge, Corvium
Women in Food Safety

When We Work Harder Together, the Sky’s the Limit

By Melody Ge
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Melody Ge, Corvium

John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero, has been devoted to diversity for more than 20 years. This time, it’s our pleasure to speak with him to hear his perspective on female professionals in the industry and how his male peers can help encourage a diverse environment and break unconscious bias.

His background in engineering, along with an MBA, has given him a scientific mindset when making decisions. After his first job with Campden BRI in the UK, John had positions at Kraft/Mondelez, Metro, Danone, and is now at Ferrero; in that time, he has gained tremendous food safety and quality experience. As is the case with many food safety professionals, John is proud to be part of an industry where he can use his technical knowledge to protect public health. “Food safety is not competitive; it’s a global collaboration, and a rewarding field,” he said.

John Carter, Ferrero
John Carter, area Europe quality director at Ferrero

John advises young professionals to avoid limiting themselves to one function. Explore different functions within a business; if you have been working within food safety for more than 20 years, you might not focus on the full scope of the food industry or food operations. To move forward into an advanced position, especially toward a senior management position, John explained that one should have a helicopter view of the business and vision. For example, moving from food safety to the quality management system, to operations is one option, allowing you to see the big picture. “Don’t hesitate to explore other functions. At Kraft, we used to say that to be a senior executive, you need to do 2, 2, and 2, meaning you need to do two countries, two categories, and two functions. Afterward, you can say you know the company,” he said.

In the future, John hopes to see at least a 50-50 ratio of male-to-female professionals, or an even higher ratio of females.

Melody Ge: What is your most important piece of advice to aspiring—as well as current—food safety professionals?

John Carter: Walk the line and find the balance. To illustrate my point, I’ll tell a story about my experience at one company involving a recall of raw milk cheese due to positive E. coli 0157. It was quite a significant issue, but no one got sick, and we had the products withdrawn from the market. One of the questions we had at that time was why we were selling raw milk cheese. Why don’t we just use pasteurized milk and cheeses? However, the reality is that, in Europe, raw milk cheese is in the DNA of some countries. It would be hard to even think about their diet without raw milk cheese. So there must be another way to manage food safety apart from just pasteurizing the milk. How do you do it? What else can you do? Where are the risks? We, as food safety professionals, must answer these questions. So walking the line between the commercial impact and the risk is crucial. Hence, the skill of the job is to know how to make the decision properly. It’s very easy to say ‘no’ to everything, but it might not be business friendly.

What’s more important is to say ‘yes’ after a thorough risk assessment—for example, ‘yes but…’ or ‘yes with a condition of …’ Every day, we are confronting this issue. The skill in food safety and quality is to give these conditional yesses. It’s based on a logical, scientific and rational assessment of risks. The partnership with the business is that they see us as an enabling function rather than a blocking function.

Ge: Let’s focus on female professionals—any particular pieces of advice for them?

Carter: Be confident! Between men and women, there is this confidence vs. competency conundrum. Typically, men behave more confidently. ‘Can you do this? Yeah, sure!’; in contrast, for women, ‘Can you do this? Oh, well let me check, I am not sure.’ They may have the same level of competence, and maybe even the women are more competent (it’s the reality). I read a book recently called Why Men Win at Work by Gill Whitty-Collins. Gill also mentioned this in her book: We shouldn’t expect men to be less confident; we should encourage women to be more confident. (On the other hand, if I look at the women in my team, typically their competency is very high!)
The other thing is to be who you are, and keep up the competency. I will use emotional behavior as an example. A female quality manager who reported to me once was criticized by a senior colleague (a male) for being too emotional. I am more critical of the colleague, not the quality manager, because I think we as male managers need to understand emotional behavior instead of removing that behavior. She is emotional for a reason. A man’s way of dealing with that emotion might be to get angry, while a woman’s way might be to shed some tears. But the root cause is the same issue and has the same action plan. Thus, it’s important to get over the differences and manage her talent—and not label it, showing this kind of emotion as a weakness. For example, I would like to believe that crying is not the point; it’s a different way of dealing with stressful situations. You need to look for the root cause of the stress and address the stress, not judge the symptoms.

Ge: Do you believe in a glass ceiling for female professionals?

Carter: I was fortunate that I had an excellent female boss at Kraft. She believed that we needed 50/50 gender equality—that 50% of plant managers should be female, 50% of country managers should be female, etc. I had a good experience at Kraft in developing and seeing many female professionals thrive. In that specific environment, I wouldn’t agree that there was a glass ceiling for females; however, I see it elsewhere for sure. In other companies, I have been thinking about how we can get more females in director levels. It is not easy to just promote at the management level because it has to be a structural change. The system change must happen. Part of what I am trying to do right now throughout my career is address the structural problem. And senior men need to be part of the solution.

On the other hand, there are many aspects to a promotion. One needs to be good, really resilient and lucky. Luck is essential, and the right time and place are important. If you are good enough and you have been overlooked, then maybe you should go somewhere else (It is that simple). I think, in today’s world, the opportunities are there, and the recognition is there. It is the right timing now to break the ceiling. Every company I have ever worked in has started to change, so now is a good time to be in that situation.

Ge: Can you share a story that has impacted you and still inspires you today?

Carter: I remember meeting someone at Kraft, and she was doing something related to IT at that time. She was managing something related to complaints and was in a position where she got to know the quality function in the company. When we had an open role internally for a quality auditor, she applied for it. I was quite surprised when she came to me, because she was not qualified from a technical perspective. But when she told me she was interested, it inspired me. I assigned her to the factory in South Africa for training, and suddenly, she moved from a desk in Munich to a factory floor to deal with the operations and team in South Africa. Of course, the factory environment is challenging, and there is no easy factory. However, she was very talented and really loved it. (It could have gone the other way, but she nailed it). Then, she returned from this assignment and became a QA manager, eventually overseeing the whole SAP QA system. Of course, this is because of her background in the IT department before the QA training. Suddenly, she had this kind of unique knowledge of something, and no one understood the computer system or QA better than her. If she hadn’t come to me in need of a change, and if I hadn’t been inspired to provide a chance to an enthusiastic person, her path may have been different. So, go for it! Once the tough times pass, you will enjoy it, and then the sky is the limit.

Ge: What’s your opinion on unconscious bias?

Carter: I am pretty excited about this topic—I think it addresses the root cause of many issues. I have been working on diversity for the last 20 years; but only over the past couple of years have I started thinking about unconscious bias. The unconscious bias part is relatively new, but I think it may help us address the root cause of many of the behavior issues that we see in today’s world. Gill also mentioned this in her book. She was a senior vice president at P&G, and until she noticed unconscious bias, she was quite happy. So, this happens to females as well as to men. You suddenly see it, and then you see it everywhere.

I can give you another example of my own. Not so long ago, in one of the companies where I have worked, there was an internal announcement about senior leadership changes. When it was announced, I saw a list of 20 names on the screen and didn’t notice that they were all men until our diversity council had a meeting to discuss this issue. The council leader pointed out that we have zero female representatives among the twenty. Wow, I was shocked! I am a man and I genuinely care about diversity, yet my unconscious bias is that I didn’t even notice that there wasn’t a female name on the list. I had to reflect. With this unconscious bias, which we can all have, we need to work harder together.

I think there is a food safety parallel: perhaps the situation is a lot like when we first addressed food fraud at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Food fraud is a crime, and it’s possibly the oldest crime in the food industry—centuries old. Although legislation has been in place for years, it seemed that little concrete had been done about it; but after the melamine crisis in China, and various similar issues, we finally got a political imperative to address it in a systematic way. We now have GFSI guidance documents and CPOs, and we have the technology with DNA testing to guarantee authenticity. Finally, we have the tools and political will to ‘do something’ and really address the issue.

So, coming back to this topic of diversity and unconscious bias – in my opinion, this is the “food fraud” of society; it has been ongoing for a long time, and now is the time for us to make a change. We have to ‘do something’. Every company and culture has its own issues and characteristics and all cultures are different (diverse, right?) but when you have the willingness and tools to change an environment, you can take a series of steps to make that change. The time is right, but having awareness comes first.

Ge: Any last bits of advice for our WIFS group members?

Carter: I read a little book about 40 years ago, and the book’s thesis was that there are two things you need to do and have in life. One is that you need to have fun and enjoy life; the other is to learn as much as possible. In the course of mentoring many talented folks over the years, I have added two other things to this list; have patience and courage.

Patience, courage, learning, and fun! Try to live your life with those things in mind.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Juicy Fraud Case Revealed

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Orange slice, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

“Carbon Content of the C3 Cycle” is the method of choice used by the laboratories of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply in Brazil to identify exogenous sugar in juices. In a recent operation, 173,000 liters of juices and coconut water adulterated with 30% added sugars and water were discovered. The fraudulent products were seized and rendered unusable, and large fines are awaiting the offenders. The C3 photosynthetic cycle method has traditionally been used to detect added sugars in the winemaking process.

Resource

  1. Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento. (July 30, 2021). “Ação de fiscalização do Mapa apreende 173 mil litros de bebidas com indícios de fraude”.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Plant A Seed For Real Pomegranate

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Pomegranate
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

The Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program published a bulletin on the adulteration of pomegranate, with descriptions on methods on adulteration detection. Pomegranate fruit, juice, bark, extract and oil from seeds is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antioxidant and even anti-tumor properties, and more. Over the past two decades, increasing demand for pomegranate products has instigated a wave of fraudulent activities. Added polyphenols, anthocyanins, sugar, other juices, water and ellagic acid are used as adulterants.

Resource

  1. Cardellina, J.H. and Gafner, S. (August 24, 2021). “Adulteration of Pomegranate Ingredients and Products”. Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program.
Anthony Macherone, Agilent
FST Soapbox

The Link Between Exposure to Xenobiotic Pesticides and Declining Honeybee Colonies and Honey

By Anthony Macherone, Ph.D.
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Anthony Macherone, Agilent

According to data from the Bee Informed Partnership, a national collaboration of leading research labs and universities in agricultural science, managed honeybee populations declined by nearly 40% between Oct. 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019. This is a 7% greater decline compared to the same timeframe during the previous winter.1

Scientists are examining different environmental factors such as the increased use of pesticides and the use of chemicals in agriculture as causes for the rapid decline in global honeybee numbers.

Recent research conducted by my team and I revealed a potentially key reason for the decline in honeybee populations as a result of Nosema ceranae (N. ceranae), a prevalent infection in adult honeybee populations. My team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which in turn, may have a social impact on communication in honeybee colonies.

Moreover, the significant decline in the global honeybee population is likely to be driving an increase in fraudulent honey, meaning that both governments and regulators need to invest in the latest technology to test honey products for authenticity, nutritional values and safety.

The Significance of Honey in Our Global Diet and the Problem at Hand

Honey has been a part of our diet for the past 8,000 years, and with numerous health benefits in addition to having a favorable taste, it is one of the most popular foods across the globe.2

Honeybees produce honey from the nectar of flowering plants, and they are considered a “keystone species” since one-third of human food supply depends on pollination by honeybees.3The species is responsible for pollinating numerous fruit, nut, vegetable and field crops such as apples, almonds, onions and cotton.

The increase of pesticides and chemicals in the environment has been cited as a reason for the decline in bee populations, which has occurred in Western European countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as countries such as the United States, Russia and Brazil.4 In fact, the number of honeybee colonies in Europe fell by an average of 16 per cent over the winter of 2017–2018, according to findings published in the Journal of Apiculture Research.5

Global pesticide usage was predicted to increase to 3.5 million tons globally in 2020, which could mean that honeybee populations will continue to diminish at an exponential rate due to the increased use of pesticides.6

The Impact of Pesticides on Global Honeybee Populations

In 2019, a research project was initiated to explore the link between exposure to xenobiotic pesticides and increasing susceptibility to the N. ceranae infection in honeybee colonies, one of the most common infections in adult honeybee populations. The findings suggested that it is not the amount of pesticide exposure, nor a particular kind of pesticide exposure, but rather the number of exposure events from different xenobiotics that is associated with N. ceranae, which infected hives, thereby causing them to diminish.7

For discovery-based (non-targeted) exposome profiling of honeybee extracts, a gas chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (GC/Q-TOF) was used. Additionally, spectral library searches and compound annotation were performed using the NIST 14, RTL Pesticides and the Fiehn Metabolomics libraries to provide efficient and timely research outputs.8

Expanding on this research further in 2021, a scientist’s team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which showed a potential impact on social communication in honeybee colonies. While it was concluded that further analysis is required, as research points to the real possibility that N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies show increased alarm pheromones and may affect hive communication, which could ultimately, be a reason for the collapse of colonies.9

As N. ceranae is causing honeybee populations to dwindle worldwide, the decline in ‘real’ honey supplies is correspondent with an increase in ‘fake’ honey. Inauthentic honey products cause businesses and consumers to lose out, as ‘fake’ honey floods the market and makes producing ‘real’ honey more expensive.

Growth in Fake Honey

The global honey market has grown from 1.5 million tons produced annually in 2007 to more than 1.9 million tons in 2019 and the market is estimated to be worth $7 billion, however the decline in bee populations has led to an increase in honey adulteration to fill the global demand for honey.10

Declining supplies of authentic honey combined with the strong consumer demand for honey has driven significant adulteration of this product. Honey is considered to be one of the most adulterated foods after milk and olive oil, with every seventh jar of honey opened daily around the globe thought to be fake.11, 12 Consequently, legitimate honeybee keepers and business owners are forced to slash costs, which is problematic for those who depend on selling authentic honey.

To put into perspective the scale of the issue, the European agricultural organization, Copa-Cogeca noted that most honey imported from China into Europe is mixed with syrup.13 In 2018, the Honey Authenticity Project in Mexico commissioned tests for British supermarket honey products, and 10 out of 11 products failed the tests due to suspected sugar adulteration.14

While in the United States, it was recently reported that thousands of commercial beekeepers have taken legal action against the country’s largest honey importers and packers for allegedly flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of tons of “fake” honey.15 Furthermore, a recent workshop led by the South Africa Bee Industry Organization (SABIO) also conducted research on the impact of fraudulent honey, and the organization found that honey imports into South Africa have tripled to 6,000 tons a year, 60% of which come from China.16 As the demand for honey products stays robust but authentic honey supplies dwindle, the issue of counterfeit honey will continue to worsen.

Testing Methods to Identify Authentication

The issue of fraudulent food products like honey has driven governments to set up laws and departments dedicated to food integrity. Examples include FSMA, the UK National Food Crime Unit, Chinese Food Safety Law, and European Commission Food Integrity Project.

Food retailers often have contractual agreements with suppliers that require them to carry out authenticity testing of their ingredients, which can be carried out by third-party laboratories.17 Food adulteration can be identified via targeted and non-targeted testing and common testing methods include molecular spectroscopy solutions for ‘in the field’ screening and more in-depth laboratory analysis to determine quantities of ingredients.

Analytical instrument manufacturers have been working closely with governments to provide the latest methods to test the authenticity of honey products, as well as working with the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC) on the development of both targeted and non-targeted standards for authenticity testing in milk, honey and olive oil.
Measuring contaminants is a key solution to identifying counterfeit honey and gas chromatographs are able to analyze and quantify the absence or presence of hundreds of pesticides in organic-labeled honey.18

Testing and analysis can be done using a range of analytical instrumentation such as solid phase microextraction followed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (SPME-GC/MS), inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), and gas/liquid chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight (GC/Q-TOF and LC/Q-TOF). These instruments can be coupled with innovative software solutions for advanced data analysis.19

Future Research Must Continue

The spread of diseases such as N. ceranae, which have been shown to be aggravated by human-induced environmental factors, are decimating global honeybee populations, which in turn is negatively impacting ecosystems and humans, and the availability of authentic honey. This demise in authentic honey supplies is additionally fueling a rise in fake honey products, where consumers are misled into buying counterfeit honey.

Future research must continue to seek associations with environmental exposures effects on biological pathways and adverse health outcomes in honeybee populations, and in fact, novel environmental exposures have been found to be associated with seven of the top diseases known to affect honeybees. These putative associations must be validated with targeted follow-up studies to determine if they are causative factors in the decline of honeybee populations. If proven to be causative, scientists and policy makers can work together to mitigate these factors and hopefully reverse the global trend of honeybee colony decline.

References

  1. Loss & Management Survey, Bee Informed. Last accessed: June 2021
  2. Agilent.‘The Buzz around Fake Honey’. 2018. Last accessed: June 2021
  3. University of California – Berkeley. ‘Pollinators Help One-third Of The World’s Food Crop Production’. 2006. Last accessed: June 2021
  4. European Parliament. ‘What’s behind the decline in bees and other pollinators?’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  5. Journal of Apiculture Research. ‘Loss rates of honeybee colonies during winter 2017/18 in 36 countries participating in the COLOSS survey, including effects of forage sources’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  6. SN Applied Sciences. ‘Worldwide pesticide usage and its impacts on ecosystem’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  7. PLOS ONE. ‘Honey bee (Apis mellifera) exposomes and dysregulated metabolic pathways associated with Nosema ceranae infection’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  8. PLOS ONE. ‘Honey bee (Apis mellifera) exposomes and dysregulated metabolic pathways associated with Nosema ceranae infection’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021.
  9. Royal Society Open Science. ‘Increased alarm pheromone component is associated with Nosema ceranae infected honeybee colonies’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  10. Statista. ‘Global market value of honey 2019-2027’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  11. Insider.com. ‘Honey is one of the most faked foods in the world, and the US government isn’t doing much to fix it.’ 2020. Last accessed: June 2021
  12. Dow Jones. ‘Hi honey. I’m not from home.’ Last accessed: June 2021
  13. Apiservices.biz. ‘Copa-Cogeca Position Paper on the European Honey Market.’ February 2020. Available at: Copa-Cogeca position paper on the European honey market (apiservices.biz)
  14.  WIRED. ‘The honey detectives are closing in on China’s shady syrup swindlers’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  15.  The Guardian. ‘US beekeepers sue over imports of Asian fake honey’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  16.  Times Live. ‘Falsely labelled, mixed with syrup or ‘laundered’: Honey fraud is rife in SA’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021.
  17.  UK Parliament Post. Postnote, number 624. ‘Food Fraud’. Last accessed: June 2021
  18. Agilent. ‘The Health Benefits of Honey’. 2017. Last accessed: June 2021
  19. Agilent. ‘Protecting our honey against food adulteration’. Last accessed: June 2021.

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Today’s Pig Is Tomorrow’s…Beef?

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Pig, cow, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Balkan countries are enduring their share of adulterated foods. In Kosovo, commercial samples of meat labelled as beef or chicken were investigated with ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay test) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in order to detect pork mitochondrial DNA. The test series looked into the efficiency and cost of different methods and showed a preference for commercial ELISA combined with real-time PCR. Almost a third of beef was adulterated with pork, as were 8% of the chicken samples.

Resource

  1. Gecaj, R.M., et al. (August 2021). “Investigation of pork meat in chicken and beef based commercial products by ELISA and real-time PCR sold at retail in Kosovo”. Czech Academy of Agricultural Science, Open Access CAAS Agricultural Journals.