Tag Archives: economically motivated adulteration

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
FST Soapbox

Targeting Agent Detection with Horizon Scanning of Food System Disruptions

By Erin Mann, MPH
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Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute

Agent detection to identify contamination of food products is required in food safety and defense programs. Detection typically involves laboratory methods or technologies, such as biosensors, that are used in close physical contact with food products. While the field of food protection has benefited from the development of novel agent detection methods in recent years, the challenge of determining which food products to test remains. The sheer volume of food produced within and traded across U.S. borders makes agent detection a daunting, time-consuming and expensive task. The decision of when to utilize detection methods depends on the risk of a particular product being contaminated. Contamination may be unintentional or intentional, including economically motivated adulteration (EMA).

The risk of contamination fluctuates over time and is a function of several factors. Risk depends on the biochemical makeup of the product, supply chain characteristics such as complexity and transport distance, and a wide range of natural or manmade events that may disrupt supply and potentially incentivize intentional adulteration. This is particularly true in the case of EMA. Events include but are not limited to natural disasters that destroy or reduce the usual supply of an ingredient, political instability that disrupts usual trade patterns, interruptions of routine food safety inspections, and market fluctuations that impact global prices. While data exists to monitor these risk factors of contamination, optimal use of this information by government and private industry is hindered by several challenges. For example, valuable data often exists across multiple data systems with data across systems appearing in inconsistent formats. In addition, the amount of data that must be reviewed to find a signal within the noise is frequently overwhelming.

Erin Mann, Food Protection and Defense Institute
Read our recent Q&A with Erin Mann, “As Food Fraud Grows, More Comprehensive Tools Emerge”

To address finding signals within vast quantities of data sources and systems, the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) developed technology to curate and help make sense of this data. With support from both the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security, FPDI developed FIDES or Focused Integration of Data for Early Signals to perform “horizon scanning” of food system disruptions in support of food protection efforts, including agent detection. FIDES was designed to help users forecast, monitor and identify food system risk factors and adverse food events. The FIDES web application fuses multiple streams of data from disparate sources and displays information in the form of an online dashboard where users browse, search and layer both dynamic and reference data sets related to food system disruption events. Examples of data currently included in FIDES are import refusals, global disasters, animal health alerts, food defense incidents, historical food safety incidents, import data, price alerts and reference data on food production worldwide.

Events in recent years illustrate the value of gathering intelligence and utilizing data related to food system risks to inform decisions regarding product targeting. Tsunamis, crop failures and disease outbreaks in humans and animals around the globe have threatened supply of products such as shrimp, spices, cocoa and eggs. When supply is disrupted, companies are often forced to quickly identify new and sometimes previously unvetted suppliers, including spot market purchasing. Likewise, supply disruptions often lead to price increases. As prices increase in the absence of adequate supply, concerns about EMA also increase. In both of these instances, the risk of product contamination—both unintentional and intentional—may rise and an increase in product screening or a change in agent detection methods may be appropriate.

For example, the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak had a significant impact on West Africa, the primary production region for the world’s cocoa supply. Disruptions from the outbreak, including border closures and other trade interference, led to uncertainty about supply availability and prices. This raised concern for EMA, particularly given that many cocoa products are sold as powders, butters and liquors— forms that are more vulnerable to EMA than raw ingredients. As a test case, FPDI reviewed FIDES data streams during the peak of the outbreak. Real-time data on the outbreak was layered with data on global cocoa production and import patterns. Import refusal data from multiple global systems was assessed to identify any concerning patterns. Historical food defense and food safety incidents were also reviewed to determine which cocoa products had been previously contaminated. A similar approach could be used by the food and agriculture sector to guide decisions about targeted inspections—which product(s) and region(s) to monitor, which method(s) to use and which contaminant(s) to test. FIDES could support targeted screening and enhanced awareness of product risk profile that would allow the food industry to assure continued supply of authentic and quality products.

Food Fraud

Mitigating Food Fraud Is Complex, But Not Impossible

By Maria Fontanazza
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Food Fraud

Nearly 10% of the food supply is affected by food fraud, yet many food companies are not well equipped to deal with the problem, according to a survey cited by SSAFE at USP’s recent Food Fraud Mitigation Hands-on Workshop. Nearly 40% of companies said it is easy for fraudsters to fake their food products and about one-third named gaps in supply chain transparency as a fraud vulnerability problem. In addition, about one third of respondents were unaware of whether their suppliers have been part of a criminal offense.

How secure is your supply chain? Learn how to mitigate these risks at the Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5-6, 2017

Food fraud is defined as the intentional misrepresentation of the true identity or contents of a food ingredient or product for economic gain, said Janet Balson, senior food safety consultant at USP. In many cases, adulteration cannot be detected by visual inspection alone. Companies must look at the susceptibility of certain ingredients and products (common targets include olive oil, honey, milk, chicken, tea, spices and fish), potential economic gain, and vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Since only a small amount of fraud cases are detected, it is important to conduct a thorough vulnerability assessment that examines the supply chain, QA methods, testing frequency, audits, supplier history, and historical, geo-political and economic factors, and from there, a multi-disciplinary team can develop an appropriate control plan based on the level of risk.

Food companies can leverage several tools (they also work in a complementary fashion) to identify and assess potential hazards in ingredients and products, including EMAlert, USP’s Food Fraud Database 2.0 and SSAFE’s Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment tool. Arcchana Patil, senior manager of food safety & defense, QRC at The Hershey Company and Samantha Cooper, manager of food safety & quality assurance at GMA compared several of these platforms, offering a few tips on their capabilities and how companies can make the best use of the tools.

  • USP Food Fraud Database 2.0: Contains almost 7,000 food fraud records and allows searching of records by ingredient. Helps in the process of evaluating food fraud vulnerability. Its customizable dashboard and search function update users on new records. The platform also provides automated analytics tools. The tool is best used by subject matter experts, a group or by food fraud and food defense teams.
  • EMAlert: A real-time predictive model for economically motivated adulteration that quantitatively analyzes vulnerability for a group of ingredients based on weights given by users. Commodity data for each attribute is continuously updated. It provides a good platform for commodity scanning for sourcing and procurement teams. The tool is best used by subject matter experts, a group or by food fraud and food defense teams.
  • SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment: Available in 10 languages, it provides a good starting point for companies to assess their vulnerability at an ingredient, product, brand, facility, country or company-wide level. It identifies vulnerabilities to enable mitigation, but it does not offer mitigation techniques. The tool can be applied throughout the supply chain, from feed and primary production to manufacturing and catering. It can be used by different segments of the supply chain, along with corporate, but it is best used by cross-functional teams in quality, lab, procurement, legal and manufacturing.
  • World Factbook of Food: With more than 130 foods and 75 country profiles, the Factbook data is curated from a variety of sources to assist in risk assessment. The repository of food and country profile contains product uses, consumption, production and trade information, along with population, economy, climate and governance.
  • Food Adulteration Incidents Registry: Containing more than 550 unique incidents of food fraud and intentional adulteration, the registry provides verified event information to support vulnerability assessments. The platform uses a repository of open data records.

The shortage of food due to climate, environmental and political changes will put further pressure on the availability of certain ingredients and is likely to cause an uptick in food fraud. However, there are more tools than ever before to help companies deal with this problem, but the key is to try to stay one step ahead. As the speakers and attendees at the USP workshop reflected on the issue, they shared their predictions on where they see food fraud headed in the near term:

  • Companies will need to use technology to push further into their supply chains (i.e., tier two or three) where there is a higher risk.
  • The implementation of blockchain technology will make it more difficult for fraudsters to fake data, especially with processed foods.
  • The food industry will be able to learn from other industries that have counterfeiting issues, such as the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Use of smarter complementary tools that fight food fraud will help companies better mitigate risks and intervene more swiftly.
EMAlert, Economically motivated adulteration

Food Fraud: Perps Two Steps Ahead, Innovation Needed to Keep Up

By Maria Fontanazza
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EMAlert, Economically motivated adulteration

Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) has considerable economic ramifications, impacting businesses from a financial and liability perspective, posing dangers to consumers, and eroding product confidence. One of the biggest issues with monitoring the volume and type of adulterated products is the fact that the landscape of food fraud is ever changing. “The perpetrators are always two steps ahead, so innovation is needed to keep up,” said Jeff Moore, Ph.D., director of science, food program at U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), at the GMA Science Forum last week.

GMA and Battelle have teamed up to launch EMAlert, a tool that companies can use to quantitatively assess the vulnerability of their supply chains to EMA. The secure, cloud-based platform comes with 50 commodities off the shelf (including spices, grains, dairy, seafood, meat, oils, fruits, veggies, and food ingredients). It was developed fairly rapidly (Battelle, which serves as the technology provider, started development at the beginning of this year) and still needs to be validated; full validation will be presented at the IAFP meeting this summer. And if EMAlert lives up to its potential, it could help companies be more nimble in monitoring and acting on threats in their supply chain.

The purpose of the tool is to generate quantitative vulnerability results that allow people to make actionable decisions based on numeric values. As such, it has been designed to be dynamic and customizable, since every company has its own risk tolerance. In addition, it looks at real-time environmental changes, because you can’t have a static tool to monitor vulnerability when it’s always changing, said Joseph A. Scimeca, Ph.D., vice president, global regulatory & scientific affairs at Cargill, Inc.

EMAlert, Economically motivated adulteration
A screenshot of EMAlert

“The EMA threat is changing,” said Ashley Kubatko, principal research scientist at the Battelle Memorial Institute. “A static assessment is only a snapshot in time.” EMAlert pulls live, automated data that takes into account economic drivers (value, volume, and scarcity of product), historical drivers (how often has product adulteration occurred in the past, geopolitical stability), and ease drivers (how frequently the commodity is tested; whether there are government regulations around the commodity group; how often the product changes hands or is repackaged). Data is pulled from several databases, including FDA, UN Comtrade, USP, Quandi, and Transparency International.

When creating the tool Battelle borrowed from its approach in working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop models that predict terrorist decision making and used the same mathematical methodology, providing a predictive model of fraudster behavior. Keeping in mind that perpetrators are also constantly monitoring how law enforcement and industry is keeping track of their strategies, EMAlert not only requires a subscription, but Kubatko says that Battelle will also be monitoring its users to ensure there is no suspicious activity within EMAlert.

John Ryan, Ryan Systems, Inc.
FST Soapbox

Substituted Ingredients Are Only the Tip of the Iceberg

By John M. Ryan, Ph.D.
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John Ryan, Ryan Systems, Inc.

While the United States has no legal definition of food fraud, current thinking tends to be focused primarily on companies and products involved in the illegal substitution of one ingredient for another in a product. Such substitution generally involves substituting a cheap filler in the place of the labeled ingredient. In recent news, Parmesan and Romano cheeses have captured news headlines because of illegal “misbranding” of foods meaning that the label on shredded cheeses from companies like the Castle Cheese, Inc. company in Slippery Rock, PA include ingredients found through FDA testing that are included in percentages beyond allowable levels. In the case of shredded cheeses, so called “imitation” cheese better is known as wood pulp. The labels stated that the ingredients were 100% cheese.

Perhaps Slippery Rock is an apt name for the Castle Cheese operation where the inclusion of wood pulp was cheaper than the inclusion of real parmesan cheese. Such activities are becoming increasingly known as “economically motivated” and the practice is one of economically motivated adulteration. The FSMA final rule, Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration, will make these practices illegal.

Such intentional cheating has a long record in the history of food. No one really knows the extent of such food fraud activities, when they started (perhaps at the beginning of time?), or who could claim to be the first person to win an international award for creativity.

There are so many ways to commit food fraud that it boggles the mind and creates an almost complete inability on the part of governments, testing laboratories, food processors, retailers and the public to identify, let alone fully prevent and capture the guilty every single time.

Think about a few things. Is it fraudulent to leave the identification of GMO ingredients off of labels? If a packer knowingly packs a product in dirty packaging, is that practice fraudulent? If the food safety part of the government knows how high the levels of fecal coliform are on most of the produce we eat but does not acknowledge the problems or inform the public, is this practice fraudulent? How about the idea that a retail outlet replaces an “expired” label on hamburger with a new unexpired label? Or how about the time Sysco was shipping perishable foods in refrigerated trucks and storing eggs, milk, meat, chicken and other products in the same storage sheds where you might keep leftover junk from your garage? Do “Good Things Come From Sysco”?

But none of those examples have anything to do with intentionally substituting a cheaper ingredient for an ingredient on the label. Honey, olive oil, coffee, juices, fish, alcohol, milk and dairy products, fish, vitamins, meat, spices, organic foods, maple syrup, peanut product, flavorings, preserves, cereals, colorings, wines, vinegar, purees, sweeteners ,and other ingredients are involved. And food fraud occurs in manufacturing, processing, packing and food holding operations. Such large opportunities for all foods in all operations means the entire food chain is—at one time or another, in one place or another—suspect.

Ryan_foodfraud_packaging

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) estimates that food fraud may cost the global food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion annually with lost sales between 2% and 15%. They estimate that approximately 10% of all commercial food products are impacted.

Considering the fact that the food industry claims their profit margins are only a few percent, it would seem that if they wanted to reduce food costs, food fraud would surely be a prime business improvement target. And GMA, unfortunately, is also focused on economically motivated adulteration such as unapproved additives, mislabeling, counterfeit ingredients, transshipment (shipping from one country to another to repackage and relabel in order to avoid taxes), and dilution.

When a consumer enters a supermarket in search of fresh meat, poultry or fish to cook for dinner, he or she knows little about how those products were packaged. Adding water to the pad that is often inserted under the meat to soak up blood, adds weight to the scale and money to the price. Packing the meat using carbon monoxide is common in order to “preserve” the product color. Red meat should look red, right? While the FDA considers this practice generally recognized as safe (GRAS), studies regarding how carbon monoxide interacts with the foam packaging and the clear plastic wrap covering the package are nonexistent. What makes the practice deceptive is the lack of information on the label that tells consumers carbon monoxide is used to preserve color. Of equal importance are recent studies that clearly show that many of the plastics used in today’s food packaging operations contain toxic chemicals shown to be dangerous to humans.

Interestingly enough, the European Union has a definition of food fraud:

‘Food fraud is a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain’.

After the monster European horsemeat scandal (remember that one?) in which horse meat was substituted for beef to the embarrassment of many companies, such as Burger King and Ikea, the United Kingdom promised proactive solutions from food laboratories and improving supply chain audits in an effort to slow and diminish the number of incidents reported annually.

In the United States, we frequently point to the melamine (milk substitution) in baby formula or the pet food problems that came out of China as evidence that foreign companies are primarily to blame for food fraud. Coupled with governmental trade agreements and the attitude that other countries are dumping substandard product on American consumers, it seems easy to blame others for food fraud –except for the fact that we in America are dealing with so many incidents.

The problem with our inability to tackle food fraud in part comes from the gap between our ability to identify and develop appropriate and targeted food ingredient testing capabilities. So many types of food, so many types of tests, so many types of ingredients, and so many types of ways to intentionally or accidentally cheat the system all combine to confuse and confound our efforts to quickly and economically establish detection systems.

In most food distribution arenas, food traceability systems are slowly being agreed upon and implemented. However, the FDA does not seem to be able to help with establishing data and other standards that would help establish traceability requirements designed to quickly and accurately get to the source suppliers in food fraud events. Other industries under FDA medical device and drug laws have worked to establish solid chain of custody systems. Chain of custody implies that the suppliers and handlers are legally responsible and clearly identified. Leadership in this area is clearly needed.

While there are many good resources evolving both within and outside of the United States, those resources are scarce and relatively immature. It seems that without some basics, such as legal definitions, standardized testing practices, and an agreement that food fraud is much more than substitution of one ingredient for another, we have a very long way to go if we expect to get the food fraud system under control.

David Hammond, Eurofins, food fraud

Proactive Approach to Preventing Food Fraud

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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David Hammond, Eurofins, food fraud

Several different approaches can be used to verify authenticity of food, from a heteroduplex assay to microsatellite analysis. In part II of a presentation by fruit juice and authenticity expert David Hammond, Ph.D. of Eurofins Scientific at the 2015 Food Labs Conference, learn about the DNA methodologies as well as the proactive steps that companies should be taking to prevent food fraud or economically motivated adulteration of product.

Jeff Moore, USP
FST Soapbox

Fighting the Reality of Food Fraud

By Jeff Moore, Ph.D.
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Jeff Moore, USP

Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) of food, or food fraud, has been estimated to cost the food industry $30–40 billion per year. The 2008 incident of melamine adulteration of milk powder has cost billions of dollars to companies and invaluable loss of consumer confidence. Even more significant than the economic cost or loss of confidence, the impact on public health was enormous. An estimated 290,000 consumers were affected with more than 50,000 hospitalizations including at least six deaths. There is also collateral damage caused by incidences of EMA, including the loss of confidence in government regulatory systems around food safety. Although major incidents like the melamine scandal happen infrequently, food fraud commonly occurs under the radar. According to a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service, it is estimated that up to 10% of the food supply could be affected by food fraud Thus, the costs of fraud food are borne by industry, regulators and, ultimately, consumers.

Attend the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, June 5–6, 2017 in Rockville, MD | LEARN MOREFood fraud is not a new phenomenon. During the time of the Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder wrote in Natural History about the adulteration of wine, bread and pepper, and tracked the fluctuation of their prices with the appearance of adulteration. In Medieval Germany, the adulteration of saffron was such a problem that the Safranschou Code was enacted, which described standards for saffron and allowed convicted adulterators to be executed.1 When there is an opportunity for economic gain, adulterators tend to come out of the woodwork.

As recently as the 1980s, food fraud was mostly an event confined to local markets. In 1981 the adulteration of olive oil with an industrial lubricant injured thousands and killed hundreds, but because the oil was not widely distributed, the primary effects were limited to Spain. Similarly, when apple juice adulteration occurred in the United States in the 1980s, the consequences were basically confined to the United States.

However, with the increasing globalization of the food supply chain and freer movement of foods and ingredients among countries, the opportunities for food fraud not only increased, but the consequences also now more easily have a global impact. By the late 1990s, the global consequences of food fraud became more evident with the contamination of fats intended for animal feed with industrial oils containing PCBs and dioxins. This scandal, which started with an oil recycler in Belgium, led to massive recalls of products throughout Europe and concerns about contaminated products reaching the United States. The impact of this episode arguably changed the food safety environment in Europe and led to the formation of the European Food Safety Authority. Likewise, the fallout from the adulteration of wheat gluten with melamine in 2008 likely contributed to the passage of new food safety legislation in the United States, including FSMA.

FDA has always acted against food fraud whenever there was an indication of public health hazards. With the passage of FSMA and the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule (published in September 2015), the agency has come full circle to its roots with Harvey W. Wiley, M.D. and his famous Poison Squad. Dr. Wiley formed his famous group to go after adulterators of foods. The Poison Squad was famously known for their willingness to consume suspect foods to test for adulteration. FDA’s history of Dr. Wiley states that “In the 1880s, when Wiley began his 50-year crusade for pure foods, America’s marketplace was flooded with poor, often harmful products. With almost no government controls, unscrupulous manufacturers tampered with products, substituting cheap ingredients for those represented on labels: Honey was diluted with glucose syrup; olive oil was made with cottonseed; and “soothing syrups” given to babies were laced with morphine. The country was ready for reform…” While the opportunities for fraud have not changed, luckily we no longer have to rely on human volunteers to detect adulterated food.

The new Preventive Controls rule published in September addresses EMA when there is a reasonable possibility that adulteration could result in a public health hazard. Companies are required to conduct a written hazard analysis, which should include hazards identification and evaluation. Companies are expected to identify “…known or reasonably foreseeable hazards that may be present in the food…The hazard may be intentionally introduced for the purposes of economic gain.”[i]  While companies were previously expected to be knowledgeable about microbiological hazards in their products, it appears that they now also have the responsibility to be knowledgeable about known or reasonably foreseeable hazards from EMA.

How can organizations identify potential EMA threats as part of hazards analysis? One way is via the Food Fraud Database, which is designed to help answer this question by taking a look into the past. Launched in 2012, the database provides the information necessary to identify ingredients with a past pattern or history of adulteration and the adulterants used—a perfect fit for the EMA requirement in FSMA. The database has more than 140,000 users from 194 countries documented.

After identifying an ingredient with a pattern/history of EMA, companies need to determine whether the ingredient may introduce potential food safety hazards and how to develop a control plan in response. To address those issues, USP undertook a project in 2013 to take a more holistic approach to identifying EMA vulnerable ingredients by looking at factors beyond history. It assembled a group of leading food adulteration experts to develop a first-of-its-kind guidance document that offers a framework for the food industry to help develop and implement preventive management systems to deal specifically with EMA.

The Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance became official in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) in September 2015, just as FSMA’s Preventive Rule for Human Food was published. The aim of the guidance is to assist manufacturers and regulators with identifying the ingredients most vulnerable to fraud in their supply chains and how to choose effective mitigation tools to combat EMA. This is a significant leap forward in the battle against food fraud—and a way to get ahead of criminals engaging in EMA. The guidance provides not only a solution to deal with FSMA’s EMA provision, but goes beyond FSMA to help organizations fulfill GFSI requirements to conduct a food fraud vulnerability assessment and control plan.

Thenadier (The innkeeper), in Les Miserables said in the lyrics of Master of the House:

“…

watering the wine and making up the weight

Food beyond compare. Food beyond belief

Mix it in a mincer and pretend it’s beef

Kidney of a horse, liver of a cat

Filling up the sausages with this and that”

While deceiving the unwary can seem humorous in fiction, in real-life food fraud can have extremely serious consequences to consumers and everyone involved with the production of safe food. There are multiple large-scale efforts in many regions and countries to address food fraud. The attention that is now focused on food fraud and the development of new tools such as Food Fraud Database cast a bright light that will hopefully make it more difficult for food fraudsters to operate.

Reference

  1. Willard, P. (2002), Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice, Beacon Press, ISBN 978-0-8070-5009-5

Don’t Let Fraud Turn Fruit Juice Sour

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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In 2009, FDA officially recognized food fraud as an issue. Driving forces behind the problem include seeking an opportunity to make an illicit profit, a lack of premium raw materials, and a lack of supplier awareness. At the 2015 Food Labs Conference, fruit juice and authenticity expert David Hammond, Ph.D. of Eurofins Scientific offered the basics of protecting against the adulteration of fruit juices.