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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota
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Hot Topics in Intentional Adulteration, Food Fraud and Food Crime

By Jennifer van de Ligt, Ph.D.
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Jennifer van de Ligt, Food Protection and Defense Institute, University of Minnesota

The Food Protection and Defense Institute held its annual Food Defense Conference on May 3 and 4. This unique conference focused on food fraud detection, food crime, intentional adulteration FSMA updates, advocacy for food protection and defense, and big data and how to use it. The event garnered active discussion and collaboration among speakers and attendees representing six international government agencies, 11 domestic federal, state and local government agencies, 33 private food sector partners, and many academic partners.

The keynote address by Andy Morling, head of the UK National Food Crime Unit, led off the conference with discussion on food fraud and food crime. He profiled the tremendous work being taken to bridge the food regulatory and criminal systems to curb food crime in the UK. The UK response to food crime is guided by the 4P approach: Prevent, Protect, Prepare and Pursue. The Protect (reducing vulnerabilities) and Prepare (investing in capacity and capability building) components of the 4P approach embody key concepts of successful food defense plans.

Economically Motivated Adulteration and Food Fraud will be discussed at the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference | June 5–6, 2017 | Learn moreThe food crime discussion was followed by insight on food fraud detection in the European Union from Franz Ulberth, Ph.D., head of the Fraud Detection and Prevention Unit at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. This included results from Operation Opson in which Europol and INTERPOL coordinated with 61 countries. The goal of Operation Opson is to protect public health and safety through international cooperation to combat counterfeit and substandard food and drink. In Operation Opson VI, more than 9,800 tons, 26.4 million liters, and 13 million units/items of potentially hazardous food worth an estimated €230 million were seized between December 2016 and March 2017. The scope of products seized spans the range of all foods and beverages such as mineral water, alcohol, olive oil, seasonings, seafood and caviar, and includes both every day and luxury items. In addition, Dr. Ulberth outlined key characteristics of food fraud, the most common foods susceptible to fraud, and types of vulnerability and mitigation in the food fraud area.

Defense against food fraud through the use of genomics and ingredient supply chain understanding were presented by Robert Hanner of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph and Cheryl Deem, executive director of the American Spice Trade Association, respectively. Genomics have been particularly helpful in identifying and quantifying the prevalence of seafood fraud. The most common seafood fraud is when one species of seafood is marketed and sold as a different species. The primary driver for this deception is to promote lower quality or illegal seafood species as a species of higher quality, premium location, or simply allowed in commerce. The genomics technique has been used successfully in the food fraud arena. It identified puffer fish, which produces a toxin, being deceptively marketed as monkfish. The accurate identification allowed public health officials to confirm that consumer illnesses accompanying this deception were caused by puffer fish toxin consumption. Similar to analytical techniques, supply chain understanding can help protect food manufacturers and consumers from food fraud. For example, major spice providers worked together to develop a guide to identification and prevention of adulteration because spices are often a target for adulteration. One aspect of the guide is a decision tree used to protect against supply chain vulnerabilities.

The conference also featured the authors of the FSMA Mitigation Strategies to Protect Against Intentional Adulteration Rule. They are part of the Food Defense and Emergency Coordination Staff at CFSAN. The author of the Intentional Adulteration rule discussed updated information on FDA efforts to develop both guidance for industry and training materials to support implementation of the regulation. In addition, they provided insight on the use of key activity types as an appropriate method for vulnerability assessments. For inspection and compliance, the authors indicated a two-step approach will be taken. The two-step approach will include a quick check at all registered facilities that is followed by a food defense inspection at a limited number of prioritized facilities. Inspection will occur in a tiered and staged approach after compliance dates pass. The FDA presentation at the Food Defense Conference was the launch of the new information campaign with additional detail and insight on guidance, training, inspection and vulnerability assessment approaches.

The knowledge and passion of the professionals gathered at the conference allowed appreciation of and connection between the incredible global efforts dedicated to improving defense and protection of the food system. The future of food defense to protect and create a resilient food system will be assured by continued efforts and expertise shared like those at this conference.