Tag Archives: food fraud

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Precious Organic Raspberries

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, raspberries
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Even fresh, unprocessed produce is not excluded from food fraud. Chilean customs discovered a $12 million fraud of raspberries. The falsified customs declarations claimed wrong country of origin and fake organic declarations of fruit for export to Canada. An export company was convicted of declaring Chinese raspberries to be falsely labeled as organic raspberries from Chile; the responsible person was sentenced to probation and to pay a penalty.

Resource

  1. Cooperativa.cl (August 24, 2019). “Empresario fue condenado por exportar frambuesas chinas como producto nacional“. Retrieved from Cooperativa.cl
Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Lead in Spices

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

Food fraud usually does not make people sick, but we know that it can. Fraud in spices, and particularly lead adulteration of spices, appears to be getting more attention lately. Herbs/spices is one of the top five commodity groups prone to fraud, according to the data in our Food Fraud Database. Looking at the past 10 years of data for herbs/spices, chili powder, turmeric, and saffron have the highest number of fraud records and chili powder, turmeric, and paprika have the highest number of distinct adulterants associated with them (see Figure 1).*

Adulterants, herbs and spices
Comparison of herb/spice ingredients by the number of distinct adulterants and number of records (2010-2019). Source: Decernis Food Fraud Database

Fraud in spices usually involves “bulking up” the spice with plant materials or other substances or the addition of unapproved coloring agents. A wide range of pigments have been detected in spices, from food-grade colors to industrial pigments, including lead-based pigments. Lead oxide was added to paprika in Hungary in the mid-1990s to improve the color, causing lead poisoning in many consumers. Lead chromate is another lead-based pigment that has been used to add color to spices. In 2017, ground cumin was recalled in the United States due to “lead contamination,” which was determined by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to be lead chromate.

However, there is also an issue with lead contamination of agricultural products due to environmental contamination and uptake from the soil. Therefore, when recalls are posted for spices due to “elevated lead levels,” it may not immediately be apparent if the lead was due to environmental factors or intentionally added for color.

Laboratory methods for detecting the form of lead present in food are challenging. Typical tests look to detect lead, but do not necessarily identify the form in which it occurs. Testing for lead chromate, specifically, may be inferred through a test for both lead and chromium, and recent studies have looked at the development of more specific methods. There is not currently an FDA-established guideline for lead levels in spices although, the maximum allowable level for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm (0.00001%). New York State recalls spices with lead over 1 ppm and a Class 1 recall is conducted with lead over 25 ppm.

Two recent public health studies have evaluated lead poisoning cases and have linked some of those cases to consumption of contaminated spices. One study, published earlier this year, analyzed spice samples taken during lead poisoning investigations in New York over a 10-year period. The investigators tested nearly 1,500 samples of spices (purchased both domestically and abroad) and found that 31% of them had lead levels higher than 2 ppm. This study found maximum lead levels in curry of 21,000 ppm, in turmeric of 2,700 ppm, and in cumin of 1,200 ppm.

Another study conducted in North Carolina looked at environmental investigations in homes and testing of various products related to 61 cases of elevated lead levels in children over an eight-year period. The investigators found lead above 1 ppm in a wide variety of spices and condiments, with some levels as high as 170 ppm (in cinnamon) and 740 ppm (in turmeric).

A separate study, conducted in Boston, involved the purchase and analysis of 32 turmeric samples. The researchers detected lead in all of the samples (with a range of 0.03-99.50 ppm), with 16 of the samples exceeding 0.1 ppm (the FDA limit for lead in candy). The paper concluded that turmeric was being “intentionally adulterated with lead” and recommended additional measures on the part of FDA to reduce the risk of lead-contaminated spices entering the U.S. market and the establishment of a maximum allowable level of lead in spices.

Although the above studies did not report the form of lead detected, the high level of lead in many of the samples is not consistent with environmental contamination. A newspaper report in Bangladesh indicated that turmeric traders used lead chromate to improve the appearance of raw turmeric and quoted one spice company as saying that some of their suppliers admitted to using lead chromate. Lead consumption can be extremely toxic, especially to children. There is evidence that lead contamination of spices in the United States is an ongoing problem and that some of it is due to the intentional addition of lead-based pigments for color. This should be one area of focus for industry and regulatory agencies to ensure we reduce this risk to consumers.

*Given the nature of food fraud, it is fair to say that the data we collect is only the tip of the food fraud “iceberg”. Therefore, while this data indicates that these ingredients are prone to fraud in a number of ways, we cannot say that these numbers represent the true scope of fraud worldwide.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Palm Oil to Dye For

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

Sudan IV, a diazo dye widely used to stain fuel and industrial grease, is a carcinogen and therefore unsuitable for human consumption. In a recent case in Ghana, it was added to palm oil to achieve the typical reddish-brown color. Adulteration of palm oil is a recurring issue that has been taking place across Asian and African brands, including products sold in Europe, and authorities keep warning of the consumption of the tarnished palm oil.

Resource

  1. Times of Malta (June 28, 2019). “Palm oil contains dangerous dye, authorities warn”.

Additional Resources

  1. FDA food alert, April 2018, Palm oil recall due to the presence of Sudan IV
  2. Swiss government warns of cancerous palm oil, January 2018. Palm Oil adulteration with Sudan IV. Origin of the oil is unknown but most likely an African producer
  3. CFA Alert, August 2017, Food recall: Palm oil adulterated with Sudan IV
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food (or Beverage) Fraud That Kills

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, methanol, alcohol, Costa Rica
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Methanol is highly toxic for humans, and increased amounts can show up in fraudulent or illegal alcoholic beverages. Dozens of methanol poisoning cases still happen every year around the world, some of them being deadly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The FBI is assisting the Costa Rican Police in the investigation of 20 recent deaths that are possibly methanol-related. Costa Rican authorities have searched a production facility, seized liquor and issued a nationwide alert.

Resource

Knowles, H. (July 24, 2019). “Tainted alcohol has led to 20 deaths in Costa Rica, authorities say”. The Washington Post.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Need to Focus on Crocus

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, crocus, saffron
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Many food adulteration cases revolve around spices, since the profits can be significant. Genuine saffron is the world’s most costly spice by weight. Often, fraudsters blend real saffron threads, which are derived from saffron crocus flowers, with cheaper fibers from other plants. Saffron costs up to $9 per gram and is therefore a spice that is very tempting for fraudsters to adulterate. Product sold in the UK led to the seizure of 90 kg of fake saffron in Spain and subsequent arrest of two fraudsters.

Resource

  1. Spirit FM News Team (August 6, 2019). “Fake saffron found in West Sussex sparks international investigation”. Spirit FM News.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Oodles of Not-so-Sweet Potato Noodles

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, noodles
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

One of China’s and other Asian countries food staples are sweet potato noodles. However, almost 60% of investigated samples tested positive for cassava, a common adulterant in sweet potato noodles (and also the basis for tapioca). The DNA of 52 samples was extracted and analyzed by the real-time loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Real-time LAMP) method, which showed accurate detection down to a 1% limit.

Resource

  1. Wang, D., et al. (May 29, 2019). “Detection of Cassava Component in Sweet Potato Noodles by Real-Time Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (Real-time LAMP) Method”. Molecules 2019, 24(11), 2043. Retrieved from: doi:10.3390/molecules24112043

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

In France, Appellation Matters, Not Just for Wine

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, Decernis, Strawberries
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

The 2013 horse meat and lasagna scandal, and the 2018 kiwi fraud issue are just some of the product traceability cases that are under public scrutiny in France. For the second time in France’s Lot-et-Garonne region, strawberries labeled French turned out to originate in Spain. Part of the harvesting labor was outsourced and was therefore more difficult to track. This makes it easier for mislabeling and food fraud to enter smaller-scale agricultural and agricultural cooperative businesses.

Resource

  1. Annick Berger (June 22, 2019). “Apres les faux kiwis, voici les fausses fraises francaises”. Capital.fr Retrieved from https://www.capital.fr/entreprises-marches/apres-les-faux-kiwis-voici-les-fausses-fraises-francaises-1342718
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Is Justice Being Served for Food Fraud?

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Decernis, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Organized crime in Europe has found a new money making machine by engaging in food fraud, which often goes undetected and is relatively low risk compared to other criminal activities. Opson, an Europol-Interpol joint operation, confiscated 16,000 tons of fake food items and 33 million liters of fraudulent beverages in 2018, a new record, but also probably just the tip of the iceberg. Government agencies do not have the resources to detect all fraudulent activities, and suspected food fraud cases moving through the federal and local government hierarchies is a long and cumbersome process.

Resource

Simon Bock (July 8, 2019). “Die erschreckende Machtlosigkeit der Lebensmittel-Waechter”. Wirtschaftswoche. Retrieved from https://www.wiwo.de/unternehmen/handel/lebensmittelkriminalitaet-die-erschreckende-machtlosigkeit-der-lebensmittel-waechter/24529998.html

 

How Do Canadian Food Industries Perceive Food Fraud, and How Do They Manage the Threat?

By Virginie Barrere, Ph.D.
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Food fraud has been at the center of attention recently and has highlighted inconsistencies in the food industry and supply chain management. Both consumers and regulators are demanding or imposing new standards for assuring the authenticity of food products. In such a context, food industries have to use their knowledge, perceptions and experience to answer and comply with regulators, consumers, and (for some) GFSI requirements regarding food fraud management. However, one can ask how ready and aware food industry players are to understand, mitigate and tackle food fraud. With those questions in mind, the research team of the CIRANO at Montreal, Canada led by Professor Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and the research team of the PARERA platform at Laval University, Quebec, Canada led by Professor Samuel Godefroy had developed a survey of 52 closed questions to assess the awareness and the perceptions of Canadian food industries toward food fraud and what actions they had already implemented to mitigate their risks. The survey included six main sections:

  1. Food fraud definition
  2. Perceptions of food fraud burden globally and locally
  3. Food fraud regulations
  4. Food industry responsibility towards food fraud
  5. Their capacities to prevent and manage this aspect of food quality and safety
  6. Food fraud prevention practices, detection methods and their implementation.

A total of 398 Canadian food industries took the survey; they were food processors, producers (crop, livestock, and fisheries), and distributors (agricultural wholesalers, wholesaler-merchants, and retailers). They will be referred to as Food Business Operators (FBOs) or processors, producers, and distributors when a difference was highlighted between sectors.

What Is the Level of Knowledge of Food Fraud?

Firstly, there is no current data on knowledge of food industry operators on food fraud, hence, the research team proposed definitions and the respondents had to identify which ones could refer to food fraud (1) An intentional and deliberate act (2) False or misleading statements for economic gain and (3) An act aimed at misleading the consumer. More than nine FBOs assigned the definitions to food fraud, hence showing a good understanding of what food fraud is. In an additional question some examples of food fraud were proposed:

  1. Hidden mix of a liquid with another liquid of lower quality
  2. Hidden information about a product or one of its ingredients
  3. Hidden replacement of a product or one of its ingredients by a product of lower quality
  4. Labeling containing false claims
  5. Addition of a non-approved or illegal ingredient.

Again, more than 90% of the FBOs were able to identify those cases as food fraud. The answers to the first questions suggested that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is.

Was Your Company a Victim of Fraud?

The authors asked the respondents if they think or know that their company has already been the victim of food fraud in the past or recently. Besides, the respondents were asked to assess how safe their company is towards food fraud. More than a third of the respondents reported to have been a victim of fraud in the past, but sectors answered differently. In fact, while 40% of processors and 48% of the distributors answered it was likely or very likely that their company had been a victim, only 24% of the producers gave this answer. In parallel, one third of the respondents agreed that their business is safe from food fraud, however, the results per sector were statistically different: 42% of the producers agreed while only a quarter of the processors and the distributors felt safe from food fraud. Those results indicated a shift between producers and the two other sectors; the producers seem to feel less impacted and concerned by food fraud.

Who Is Responsible for Managing Food Fraud?

Depending on where the FBO is in the supply chain, one can make the hypothesis that this company might not feel responsible for the authenticity of the products it buys or sells. The survey authors asked respondents if they considered themselves as responsible for the products’ authenticity they would buy or sell to consumers or an intermediate. Among the three sectors, 82% of the respondents considered themselves as responsible for the products they received from the suppliers, and 80% for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. However, only half consider they are responsible for the product authenticity once it is processed or sold by a client. It was reassuring to see that FBOs understand fraud and consider themselves as responsible for ensuring food authenticity. One can argue that this perception will positively impact the robustness of their mitigation measures and the controls of food fraud.

Which Measures Have Canadian FBOs Implemented to Prevent Food Fraud?

FBOs mainly implemented a supply chain traceability system to mitigate food fraud. This result was not surprising, as traceability has to be in place to comply with current requirements for food safety and food quality. The vulnerability assessment is a recommended (or required) procedure to implement in food industries to comply with regulations and certifications such as GFSI, and 36% of the FBOs have implemented this measure (half of the processors). Finally, detection methods were implemented by only 27% of respondents. Interestingly, through another question, those three measures were seen as the more efficient way to fight food fraud according to the respondents. Also, FBOs would rely on a stable and long-term relationship based on trust with their supplier to mitigate food fraud and rated this measure as an efficient way to fight food fraud. Audits of suppliers and ingredient authenticity checking were also perceived as efficient but were not implemented as frequently. The lack of human resources, financial means, training, and time were the reasons why processors and distributors did not implement more measures to counter food fraud. Interestingly, the primary reason producers selected was “the system in place was enough” followed by lack of financial means, human resources and time and “food fraud is not an essential stake for our company.” One can relate this difference between the sectors with the observation made earlier on how safe the producers feel compared to the two other groups. Regarding detection methods, 88% of the FBOs rated their knowledge of those technologies as moderate or low, and 77% of the respondents rated the frequency of food fraud detection technologies as “never to rarely”. The reason why detection methods are not applied more was the lack of financial means, and the system in place is adequate to control food fraud.

Also, If They Identify Fraud, What’s Next?

Lastly, the authors asked what the respondent would do if their company identified an incident of fraud. Most of the respondents (69%) said they would speak to their supplier; this affirmation can be associated with the strong and long-term relationship the company would have with the supplier. The second option chosen was to change the supplier and then inform the authorities. The respondents could answer several questions, and one can hypothesize that their actions following the identification of fraud would depend on the severity of the fraud and its impacts on both the consumers and the company.

Conclusion

In summary, this survey is the first to assess the knowledge, perception and readiness of FBOs to fight food fraud. Results have indicated that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is but data is missing to support their perception that fraud is more present abroad than in Canada. Two third of the respondents feel unsafe towards food fraud which should be seen as positive point; in fact, FBOs would be keener to implement measures to protect themselves if they feel unsafe. Besides, a majority feels responsible for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. Respondents tend to implement preventive measures but perceive other measures as more efficient to counter fraud. Apparently, those measures seem to be too expensive, time-consuming and resource-consuming. Besides, lack of training on food fraud management was also reported as an impediment to fight fraud. Finally, differences have been highlighted along the survey between producers and the two others sectors: Processors and distributors. One can hypothesize that producers might feel less concerned by food fraud being at the very beginning of the food chain supply and that most food fraud cases involve their clients and not the producers directly.

Footnotes

  1. More details and more results are presented in a manuscript submitted by the research team: Food industry perceptions and actions towards food fraud: Insights from a pan Canadian study.
  2. Researchers involved in the project from the CIRANO: Yoann Guntzburger, Ingrid Peignier and Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and from the PARERA platform Jeremie Theolier, Virginie Barrere and Samuel Godefroy. Partners: r-Biopharm, EnvironeX, the Quebec consortium for industrial bioprocess research and innovation (CRIBIQ), NSF, Transbiotech, and Olymel.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

More Sugar, Not So Much Honey, Honey

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud, Decernis, Bee, Honey
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Food safety and food labeling are strictly regulated in Canada and therefore, honey adulterated with sugars labeled as genuine is considered fraudulent. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) investigated Canadian honey samples from various sources within the supply chain, such as importers, blenders, retailers and more. Almost 22% of imported samples were adulterated with added sugars, the domestic (Canadian) samples showed no adulterations. The CFIA will continue monitoring honey imports and take measures to avoid fraudulent products entering the Canadian market.

Resource

  1. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (July 9, 2019). “Report: Enhanced honey authenticity surveillance (2018 to 2019)”. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Retrieved from http://inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/science/our-research-and-publications/report/eng/1557531883418/1557531883647