Tag Archives: criminal investigation

Selvarani Elahi, Food Authenticity Network
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Fraud Information Sharing

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D., Selvarani Elahi
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Selvarani Elahi, Food Authenticity Network

Coordination among the various agencies and laboratories responsible for food safety is an ongoing challenge. Coordination and standardization of laboratories and methods related to food authenticity testing can be even more challenging. As noted in the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks (conducted following the 2013 horsemeat incident):

“Official controls of food authenticity require a wide range of analytical and molecular biological techniques, many with exacting instrumentation requirements and in-depth scientific interpretation of the datasets generated. No single institution…could field the complete range of such techniques with the required expertise.”

One of the recommendations in Elliott Review was the establishment of an “Authenticity Assurance Network” to facilitate standardized approaches to food authenticity testing. This network would also enable better coordination among government departments related to policies, surveillance and criminal investigation around food fraud. The Food Authenticity Network (FAN) was subsequently established in 2015 by the U.K. government and serves as a repository for news and information on best practices for food authenticity testing methods and food fraud mitigation. At the heart of FAN, there is a network of laboratories that provide authenticity testing, which are designated as Food Authenticity Centers of Expertise (CoE). A contact person is named for every CoE so that stakeholders can communicate with them regarding food authenticity testing. There is a call currently open for UK Food Authenticity Centres of Expertise, so take a look and see if your laboratory fits the requirements.

Over the past four years, FAN has grown to more than 1,500 members from 68 countries/territories and in 2019, more than 12,000 unique users accessed information on the network’s website.

Food Authenticity Network
Heatmap of Food Authenticity Network membership. (Graphic courtesy of FAN)

The site currently hosts 101 government reports, 77 standard operating procedures (SOPs), 16 survey reports, and 22 reports on nitrogen factors (which are used for meat and fish content calculations). Importantly, the site also includes a section on food fraud mitigation, which signposts some of the world’s leading services, guidance and reports aimed at preventing fraud from occurring.

FAN posts periodic newsletters with updates on funded projects, research reports, government activity, upcoming conferences, and other news of interest related to assuring the integrity of food. The latest newsletter has just been issued.

In its efforts to create a truly global network, as well as reaching out to the international food community, FAN is collaborating with other governments. In 2019, Selvarani Elahi gave presentations on FAN in Ghana and Vietnam, and discussions are currently taking place with the Ghana Food and Drugs Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency about creating bespoke country-specific pages. In 2018, FAN was recognized at a Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting as being a “leading example of an integrity network.” Discussions are also in progress with multiple Codex Member countries.

FAN is an open access platform and membership is free (you can sign up here). The benefits of membership include access to closed discussion fora on the site, customizable email alerts, and options to communicate with other network members, as well as a monthly highlights email that rounds up the month’s activities in one convenient location.

The Network was set-up with funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, and is currently supported with public-private partnership funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, McCormick and Company, LGC Standards and the Institute of Food Science & Technology.

Department of Justice seal

Seeking Deterrent Effect, DOJ Targets Cases that Have Big Influence

By Maria Fontanazza
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Department of Justice seal

As the Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to prioritize prosecution against food companies that have been involved in recalls and foodborne illnesses, many often wonder how exactly the department decides which companies it will pursue and why. The most notorious recent example is the case against the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in which the sentencing of the company’s executives was said to have set a precedent for the industry. One of the reasons the DOJ went after PCA was due to its widespread distribution of food and the fact that the illnesses and deaths were all over the country, according to Michael Blume, director of the consumer protection branch of the DOJ.

“Did any of you hear about [PCA] before the outbreak?” Blume asked the audience at the GMA Science Forum last week. “Consumers have very little ability to protect themselves from foodborne illness. PCA was in all kinds of brands—crackers, Kelloggs, [etc]. For those reasons, we were much more concerned about preventing these kinds of outbreaks and what could the DOJ do about it.”

When assessing contenders for criminal prosecution, there are several common factors that encourages the DOJ to dig deeper:

  • The amount of harm. Has the sale of contaminated food has led to a great deal of illnesses or deaths?
  • Has the company had problems in the past? If it is a first time occurrence, the DOJ is less likely to pursue a case, but if there is a history, “we’re going to look harder,” said Blume. For example, if a government agency or another party has identified a problem, and then the FDA also sees the problem and issues a 483. Then five years later, the company still has not fixed the problem.
  • Similarly, if the DOJ sees that the company has identified internal problems and has chosen not to fix them, and as a consequence, these actions lead to the sale of contaminated food.
  • Where does the company sit in the market? “We can’t [pursue] every case, we have to think about what case will be most impactful,” said Blume. “What case will signal to the rest of industry that there are things they need to think about? If it is a company that people think have a good reputation, etc—to give a signal to industry—there are things that even the very best in industry can run afoul.”
  • If there’s evidence that the company has misled any party. This doesn’t apply to a government body only—it could also be the company’s vendors.
  • The general culture. Although this concept is intangible, the DOJ considers a company’s reputation in the industry and the relationship it has with regulators. Are they trying to fix issues and maintain compliance? That will make a difference and will be weighed in the company’s favor versus companies that choose to ignore problems.

“The DOJ thinks very hard about charging individuals. If there’s a criminal investigation targeting a company, you have to be concerned about who acted within the company and what their role was.” ­– Michael Blume, DOJ

Of course, food companies would like to avoid the heavy hand of the DOJ and for that, Doug Fellman, partner at Hogan Lovells US, LLP, offered several points of advice:

  • Be on guard for red flags that suggest a compliance-related environment in which the company is at risk for having problems. If employees are raising concerns at the facility or about the manufacturing process, don’t let people write those individuals off.
  • Be careful about how any decisions will look in hindsight. Stop on a real-time basis and look at how it will appear in retrospect.
  • If in a recall situation, decisions must be made quickly. Be careful that any decision making won’t to come back and bite the company when someone looks at it with the benefit of time.
  • Always be truthful and candid with the regulators.
  • Ask yourself whether you really know the conditions at the facility. Do people have visibility to what’s happening there?
  • Beware of emails. “Emails form the basis of almost every case I have,” cautioned Fellman.

Should the DOJ show up at your facility, it’s important to be polite and act professional towards agents. Although this may seem obvious, whether or not the agents immediately encounter pushback makes a difference, advised Blume. That said, it’s important to have protocols in place in the event that the DOJ shows up either at a company facility or even at an employee’s doorstep. “We get great evidence from a knock at someone’s door who doesn’t know what to say or when we do an inspection and people don’t know what to do,” said Blume. It’s prudent to discuss in advance when to seek the advice of a lawyer, because the more prepared a company is in handling such an issue, the less likely it is to make incriminating statements.

DOJ Launches Criminal Investigation into Dole

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Learn innovative ways to mitigate the threat of Listeria at the Listeria Detection & Control Workshop | May 31–June 1, 2016 | St. Paul, MN | LEARN MOREOn Friday the news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating Dole Food Co. over the Listeria outbreak involving packaged salad. The deadly outbreak was linked to salad produced at Dole’s Springfield, Ohio facility. Although the DOJ has not yet commented on the criminal investigation, The Wall Street Journal reports that Dole reported positive Listeria samples at its facility as early as July 2014.

In January 2016, Dole voluntarily recalled all salad mixes produced at the Springfield plant, by which point 33 people in the United States and Canada had fallen ill with Listeria and four had died. The CDC reported on March 31 that the outbreak appeared to be over and Dole restarted production at the Springfield facility in April.

In a press release on the company’s website, Dole stated that the issues FDA reported at its Springfield facility have been corrected. “We have been working in collaboration with the FDA and other authorities to implement ongoing improved testing, sanitation and procedure enhancements, which have resulted in the recent reopening of our Springfield salad plant.” It also acknowledged that it had been contacted by the DOJ related to an investigation and will be cooperating with the department.