Tag Archives: food fraud

Karen Everstine, Decernis
FST Soapbox

Food Fraud Quick Bites: “Natural Flavor” Claims

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

The company that produces the very popular flavored sparkling water brand LaCroix is facing a class action lawsuit that alleges false claims of the product being “all natural.” The suit alleges that certain flavor chemicals used in the beverage are, in fact, artificial ingredients. These flavor chemicals include limonene, linalyl propionate (linalool propionate), linalool and ethyl butyrate (ethyl butanoate). While these flavor chemicals can be synthesized, they are naturally occurring chemical constituents and can therefore be derived from natural sources.

The safety of the beverages is not at issue; this is a labeling question. The suit states that linalool is “used in cockroach insecticide,” which is inflammatory and misleading. Chemical compounds, including those used as food ingredients, naturally have multiple applications and this does not have any bearing on the question of whether they are safe to use in foods.

Presumably, the labeling issue of whether these flavor chemicals were naturally or synthetically derived will be addressed as the suit progresses. This suit does, however, highlight some of the challenges we have in tracking food fraud information related to flavors.

Flavors are big business. Appealing flavors enabled LaCroix to make unsweetened sparkling water explode in popularity. If you have been on the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting expo floor, you have seen the prominent displays and creative food samples offered up by the big flavor houses. It is a competitive business and very proprietary. The FDA labeling requirements for flavors allow them to be listed generally as “spice,” “natural flavor,” or “artificial flavor” (or a combination of those). This makes tracking and standardizing public records of food fraud related to flavors challenging.

Our data includes more than 60 of food fraud related to flavors represented as “natural.” Most of these records are linked to vanilla extract or various essential oils. However, we have also captured a handful of records that address misrepresentation of synthetic flavor chemicals as naturally-derived. This includes records for linalool and ethyl butyrate, among others such as vanillin and linalyl acetate. However, none of these records describe publicly reported incidents of fraud for naturally-derived flavor chemicals. The records are based on peer-reviewed publications aimed at method development for authentication of natural flavors.

Added value claims such as “natural” tend to increase food fraud risk because the costs of production can be so much higher. While an ingredient like vanilla extract is certainly one example of this, we do not tend to see the same level of evidence of food fraud potential for naturally-derived flavor chemicals in public records. When our users need to conduct a food fraud vulnerability assessment for a natural flavor that is a proprietary blend of flavor chemicals, we suggest that they incorporate information from the entire natural flavors group into their assessment. Given the proprietary nature of flavor blends and FDA labeling requirements, it is not feasible for us to track every individual flavor blend in our database.

Fortunately, given the importance of flavors to the food industry, flavor companies have a vested interest in preserving their client relationships and public reputation by ensuring flavors labeled as “natural” qualify for that label claim.

Resources

  1. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media publications, judicial records, and trade associations from around the world and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification.
Karen Everstine, Decernis
FST Soapbox

Food Fraud Quick Bites: A Look at Fraudulent Labeling Practices

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

Food fraud happens in many ways, and it can be challenging to categorize the various methods of fraud. Dilution and/or substitution involves the intentional addition of an alternate product with the intent to replace weight or volume (olive oil, juices and fish are prone to this type of fraud). Artificial enhancement is the addition of a substance that is not intended to replace weight or volume, but to have a functional effect (such as the use of industrial dyes in spices). Certain forms of food fraud, such as theft/resale, counterfeit packaging, or overruns may not involve the addition of alternate ingredients. However, as customers and consumers, we would be taking a risk to trust the safety of any foods that are intentionally misrepresented.

Food Fraud
Categories of methods by which food fraud happens (as defined in the Food Fraud Database1). Graphic courtesy of Decernis

While all forms of fraud can be considered “mislabeling” in one way or another, we consider fraudulent labeling claims to be defined as misrepresentation of a label attribute that implies a particular production technique. Examples include representing non-organic products as organically produced, the sale of foods as halal that do not meet the appropriate standards, changing poultry expiration dates, and labeling products such as eggs and Iberian ham as “free range.” In 2017, a company in Canada was fined for selling falsely labeled kosher cheese. More recently, in Malaysia, millions of products were seized based on the use of fraudulent halal labels.

We have compiled more than 300 records of food fraud involving the use of fraudulent labeling claims. The most common fraudulent claims identified in our records are shown in the chart below.

Fraudulent labeling claims
Fraudulent labeling claims based on records reported in the Food Fraud Database.1

Consumer interest in organic foods is increasing and NSF cites “added value claims” such as organic and free range as one of the important factors driving food fraud risk.2 There continues to be a need for robust analytical tools for the authentication of organic foods. However, recent research has indicated it may be unlikely that authentication of these food products can be can be achieved by a single analytical method or the measurement of a single marker.3,4 Given the technical complexity and cost of ensuring the authenticity of organic label claims through analytical testing, preventing this type of food fraud also requires strong supply chain management and trustworthy supplier relationships along with effective auditing programs.

References

  1. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media publications, judicial records, and trade associations from around the world and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification.
  2. NSF, “Risk Modelling Of Food Fraud Motivation – ‘NSF Fraud Protection Model’ Intelligent Risk Model Scoping Project FS 246004.” (2014). Retrieved from https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/NSF%20Final%20report.pdf.
  3. Inacio, CT and Chalk, PM. (January 2017) Principles and limitations of stable isotopes in differentiating organic and conventional foodstuffs: 2. Animal products. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr.. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25849871
  4. Capuano, E., et al. (September 11, 2012). Analytical authentication of organic products: an overview of markers. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. (Vol. 93) No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.5914
Food Fraud

Food Fraud: How Chemical Fingerprinting Adds Science to the Supply Chain

By Sam Lind, Ph.D.
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Food Fraud

You would be forgiven for thinking that food fraud is a sporadic issue but, with an estimated annual industry cost of $50 billion dollars, it is one currently plaguing the food and drink sector. In the UK alone, the food and drink industry could be losing up to £12 billion annually to fraud.

As the scale of food fraud becomes more and more apparent, a heightened sensitivity and awareness of the problem is leading to an increasing number of cases being uncovered.

Recently: Nine people contracted dangerous Vibrio infections in Maryland due to mislabeled crabmeat from Venezuela; food fraud raids have been conducted in Spain over fears of expired jamon re-entering the market; and authorities seize 1 ton of adulterated tea dust in India.

Spurred by the complexity of today’s global supply chains, food fraud continues to flourish; attractive commercial incentives, ineffective regulation and comparatively small penal repercussions all positively skew the risk-reward ratio in favor of those looking to make an extra dollar or two.

The 2013 horsemeat scandal in Europe was one such example, garnering significant media attention and public scrutiny. And, with consumers growing more astute, there is now more onus on brands to verify the origin of their products and ensure the integrity of their supply chains.

Forensic science is a key tool in this quest for certainty, with tests on the product itself proving the only truly reliable way of confirming its origin and rooting out malpractice.

Current traceability measures—additives, packaging, certification, user input—can fall short of this: Trace elements and isotopes are naturally occurring within the product and offer a reliable alternative.

Chemical Fingerprinting for Food Provenance

Like measuring the attributes of ridgelines on the skin of our fingertips as a unique personal identifier, chemical fingerprinting relies on differences in the geochemistry of the environment to determine the geographic origin of a product—most commonly measured in light-stable isotopes (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, oxygen, hydrogen) and trace elements.

Which parameters to use (either isotopes, TEs or both) depends very much on the product and the resolution of provenance required (i.e. country, farm, factory): Isotope values vary more so across larger geographies (i.e., between continents), compared to smaller scales with TEs, and are less susceptible to change from processing further down the supply chain (i.e., minced beef).

The degree of uptake of both TEs and light isotopes in a particular produce depends on the environment, but to differing extents:

TEs are related to the underlying geochemistry of the local soil and water sources. The exact biological update of particular elements differs between agricultural commodities; some are present with a lot of elements that are quantifiable (“data rich” products) while others do not. We measure the presence and ratio of these elements with Inductively Coupled Plasma—Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) instrumentation.

Light Isotopes are measured as an abundance ratio between two different isotopes of the same element—again, impacted by environmental conditions.

Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) elements are generally related to the inputs to a given product. For example, grass-fed versus grain-fed beef will have a differing C ratio based on the sugar input from either grass or grain, whereas conventionally farmed horticulture products will have an N ratio related to the synthetic fertilisers used compared to organically grown produce.

Oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) are strongly tied to climatic conditions and follow patterns relating to prevailing weather systems and latitude. For ocean evaporation to form clouds, the O/H isotopes in water are partitioned so that droplets are “lighter” than the parent water source (the ocean). As this partitioning occurs, some droplets are invariably “lighter” than others. Then, when rainfall occurs, the “heavier” water will condense and fall to the ground first and so, as a weather front moves across a landmass, the rainfall coming from it will be progressively “lighter”. The O/H ratio is then reflected in rainfall-grown horticultural products and tap water, etc. Irrigated crops (particularly those fed from irrigation storage ponds) display different results due to the evaporation, which may occur over a water storage period.

Sulphur (S) has several sources (including anthropogenic) but is often related to distance from the sea (“the sea spray effect”).

Analysis of light isotopes is undertaken with specialist equipment (Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry, IRMS), with a variety of methods, depending on product and fraction of complex mixtures.

Regardless of the chemical parameter used, a fingerprinting test-and-audit approach requires a suitable reference database and a set of decision limits in order to determine the provenance of a product. The generation of sample libraries large enough to reference against is generally considered too cost prohibitive and so climatic models have been developed to establish a correlation between observed weather and predicted O/H values. However, this approach has two major limitations:

  1. The chemical parameters related to climate are restricted (to O and H) limiting resolving power
  2. Any model correlation brings error into further testing, as there is almost never 100% correlation between measured and observed values.
    As such, there is often still a heavy reliance on building suitable physical libraries to create a database that is statistically robust and comprehensive in available data.

To be able to read this data and establish decision limits that relate to origin (i.e., is this sample a pass or fail?), the parameters that are most heavily linked to origin need to be interpreted, using the statistics that provide the highest level of certainty.

One set of QC/diagnostic algorithms that use a number of statistical models have been developed to check and evaluate data. A tested sample will have its chemical fingerprint checked against the specific origin it is claimed to be (e.g, a country, region or farm), with a result provided as either “consistent” or “inconsistent” with this claim.

Auditing with Chemical Fingerprints

Chemical fingerprinting methods do not replace traditional traceability systems, which track a product’s journey throughout the supply chain: They are used alongside them to confirm the authenticity of products and ensure the product has not been adulterated, substituted or blended during that journey.

A product can be taken at any point in the supply chain or in-market and compared, using chemical fingerprinting, to the reference database. This enables brands to check the integrity of their supply chain, reducing the risk of counterfeit and fraud, and, in turn, reducing the chance of brand damage and forced product recalls.

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Karen Everstine, Decernis
FST Soapbox

Food Fraud Quick Bites: A Look at the Latest Targets

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

Recent food fraud news includes the seizure of a million bags of fraudulently labeled and expired rice in Kenya, fraudulent spices found in a warehouse in India, and a U.S. grocery store chain sued for selling manuka honey that wasn’t 100% manuka. In Spain, tuna intended for canning was dyed and diverted to be sold as fresh and in China, 8,000 bottles of counterfeit wine were seized by the local food and drug administration. In Greece, 17 teenagers became ill after drinking alcoholic beverages containing methanol. Recently published journal articles on detection methods have looked at adulteration of honey with sugar syrups, meat adulteration with other species, authentication of products containing truffles, and Arabica coffee authenticity. One group of researchers evaluated a method to authenticate the botanical and geographic origin of hops.

Vanilla prices have been high, increasing the incentive to substitute natural vanilla extracts with similar flavors. A search of the Food Fraud Database shows a range of fraudulent adulterants associated with vanilla extract: Coumarin, ethyl maltol, ethyl vanillin, maltol, vanillic alcohol, and vanillin (natural or synthetic). Recently published authentication methods include GC-VUV and analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and hydrogen (with GC-IRMS).

In 2004 (another period of high vanilla prices), a company that sourced vanilla beans from Indonesia for use in manufacturing vanilla extract identified mercury contamination in two lots of beans they had received. Mercury was presumably added to increase the weight of the beans. The company quarantined all beans and products that had been manufactured from them. They also had to shut down flavor production to clean and decontaminate the processing equipment.

Due to their high value and physical form (they are often sold in ground or liquid extract form), herbs and spices have a long history of fraudulent adulteration. Many countries have publicly reported being affected by food fraud in herbs and spices over the past 10 years.

Food Fraud incidents, spices
Incidents of food fraud reported in the Food Fraud Database for the past ten years in the category “Herbs, Spices, and Seasonings” (68 total).1

Mitigation measures for products at high risk for fraud include putting in place raw material specifications that include authenticity criteria, implementing analytical surveillance, establishing strong supplier relationships and audit programs, and increasing supply chain transparency.

Resource

  1. The Decernis Food Fraud Database is a continuously updated collection of food fraud records curated specifically to support vulnerability assessments. Information is gathered from the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media publications, judicial records, and trade associations from around the world and is searchable by ingredient, adulterant, country, and hazard classification.
Karen Everstine, Decernis

Food Fraud: FSMA Rules, GFSI Compliance

Karen Everstine, Decernis

Question 1: Is food fraud addressed in the FDA’s Intentional Adulteration rule (“Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration”)?

Karen Everstine: Food fraud, or what the FDA calls “economically motivated adulteration” (EMA), is certainly an intentional act. However, recent U.S. regulations for food fraud/EMA are outlined in the Preventive Controls (PC) rules (“Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food” and “Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals”) and not in the Intentional Adulteration (IA) Rule. FDA indicated that the IA rule was intended to “prevent acts intended to cause wide-scale harm.” Therefore, new requirements related to food fraud/EMA are included in the hazard analysis requirements in the PC rules. FDA indicated they anticipate EMA preventive controls to be needed only in rare circumstances and “usually in cases where there has been a pattern of EMA in the past.” It is important to note that these requirements are specific to hazards that may be introduced for the purposes of economic gain. EMA that only affects product quality is outside the scope of the PC rules. However, there are misbranding and adulteration provisions of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act that apply to EMA more broadly (whether or not the substance used may be a hazard).

Question 2: If my facility includes food fraud/EMA in our hazard analysis, will we be compliant with global food fraud requirements?

Everstine: Addressing food fraud/EMA only in your hazard analysis is not sufficient for GFSI compliance. Therefore, if your facility needs to be GFSI compliant, you will need to implement a food fraud vulnerability assessment and mitigation plan that covers all types of fraud. This includes fraud that only affects quality and it includes counterfeiting, theft, diversion, and gray market production. While FDA has indicated they are primarily focused on food fraud/EMA that has a known pattern of occurrence and could be a hazard, GFSI requires that industry evaluate vulnerability more broadly. This includes identifying fraud opportunities (such as complex supply chains), individual capability, and “weak signals” of fraud that could include indicators such as price changes for commodities.

Decernis

Decernis Acquires USP’s Food Fraud Database

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Decernis

Today Decernis announced that it has acquired USP’s Food Fraud Database. The database was launched in 2012 to assist food manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders make informed decisions of ingredient vulnerability, food fraud and economically motivated adulteration. It contains information about thousands of ingredients from scientific literature, media publications, regulatory reports, judicial records and trade associations worldwide. Users can use the database to search for information and generate reports.

Decernis and USP will collaborate during the transition process to ensure a seamless integration. Like USP, Decernis is committed to the mission of product safety and we believe the Food Fraud Database has significant runway for expansion through Decernis’ existing platforms, allowing us to scale this important capability and help combat intentional food adulteration,” said Pat Waldo, Decernis CEO.

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain

Beyond Supply Chain Trends: Blockchain, FSMA, Food Fraud, Audits and More

By Maria Fontanazza
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2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
Rick Biros, Priya Rathnam, and Andrew Seaborn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Priya Rathnam (middle) pictured with Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing (left) and Andrew Seaborn Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, Division of Import Operations, ORA, FDA

How well do you know your suppliers? Can you trust your supplier’s suppliers? What kind of technology are you using to assess and ensure your suppliers are in compliance with regulatory requirements? These are common questions food companies must ask themselves on a regular basis. These and more were addressed at the 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, held last week at USP in Rockville, MD. Stay tuned for coverage of the event in upcoming articles. In the meantime, here are some top insights shared by FDA and others in industry.

“We’ve issued a limited number of warning letters (two), and they were due to really egregious issues. Where there were previously warning letters issued, we’re seeing a lot more ‘regulatory meetings’.” – Priya Rathnam, Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, CFSAN, on FDA’s enforcement this fiscal year.

Criteria for FSMA auditors also includes the “soft skills”, aka ISO 19011, auditor personal attributes. –Josh Grauso, Senior Manager, Food Safety & Quality System Audits, UL

Fabien Robert, Nestle 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Food fraud costs the industry up to $15 billion annually. – Fabien Robert, Ph.D., Director, Nestle Zone America

It’s concerning that so many QA managers (and other pros) today don’t know extent of risk assessment they need to carry out. – Chris Domenico, Safefood360, Territory Manager for North America

“Blockchain is more than a buzzword at the moment.”- Simon Batters, Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register

2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference, Blockchain
A dynamic panel about blockchain, led by Darin Detwiler, Director: Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry, Northeastern University featured (left to right) Kathy Wybourn, Director, Food Safety Solutions, DNV Business Assurance; Simon Batters,Vice President of Technology Solutions, Lloyd’s Register and Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development & Innovation, GS1 US.

Sometimes food safety doesn’t win; sometimes you need the business acumen to show that implementing supply chain efficiencies will create the win. – Gina Kramer, Executive Director, Savour Food Safety International

Bryan Cohn, 2018 Food Safety Supply Chain Conference
Building a robust & smart supply chain = reduce food miles, shrink carbon footprint, and save food waste to increase revenue/acre. – Bryan Cohn, Vice President of Operations, Seal the Seasons

The FSMA Sanitary transportation rule is not as straightforward as you think. We need more training. – Cathy Crawford, President, HACCP Consulting Group

Food Fraud

Food Fraud Requires Companies to Think Like a Criminal

By Juliani Kitakawa, Veronica Ramos
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Food Fraud

In a two-question format, the authors discuss pressing issues in food fraud.

1. Where are the current hot spots for food fraud?

Food fraud activities have been known for centuries. For example, in ancient Rome and Athens, there were rules regarding the adulteration of wines with flavors and colors. In mid-13th century England, there were guidelines prescribing a certain size and weight for each type of bread, as well as required ingredients and how much it should cost. In the United States, back in 1906, Congress passed both the Meat Inspection Act and the original Food and Drugs Act, prohibiting the manufacture and interstate shipment of adulterated and misbranded foods and drugs. However, evidence and records of actions taken over those events were not officially collected.

It was not until 1985, when the presence of diethylene glycol (DEG) was identified in white wines from Austria, that authorities, retailers and consumers started to have serious concerns about the adulteration of food and the severity of its impact on consumers. In addition, there was increased interest to regulate, investigate and apply efforts to enforce requirements.

Other examples include the following:

  • 2005: Chili powder adulterated with Sudan (India)
  • 2008: Dairy products adulterated with melamine (China)
  • 2013: Beef substituted with horsemeat (UK)
  • 2013: Manuka honey where it was known that bees were not feeding from pollen of the Manuka bush (New Zealand)
  • 2016: Dried oregano adulterated with other dried plants (Australia)

This list can go on and on.

Lately there have been more cases of food fraud. Fortunately, even limited international databases are helping to identify the raw material origins of products in the supply chain that could be more exposed to adulteration. Also, food manufacturers, brokers and agents are conducting assessments to ensure that they are buying ingredients and products from sources, where food fraud could be prevented. The following products are identified as having more adulteration notifications:

  • Olive oil
  • Fish
  • Vegetable products with claims of “Organic”
  • Milk
  • Grains
  • Honey and maple syrup
  • Coffee and tea
  • Spices
  • Wine
  • Fruit Juices

2. What can companies do to mitigate the risk?

Control measures to prevent food fraud activities include the adequate evaluation and selection of suppliers, as well as the ‘suppliers of the suppliers’. Typical risk matrices of likelihood of occurrence versus consequence can be used to measure risk—and determine priorities for assessing and putting control measures in place. Assessments can be focused on points of vulnerabilities such as food substitution, mislabeling, adulterations and/or counterfeiting, usually due to economic advantages for one or more tiers in food chain production.

Other food fraud activities include effective traceability systems, monitoring current worldwide news and notifications on food fraud using international databases (EU-RASFF, USA- EMA NCFPD and USP, etc.), and product testing.

Product testing is becoming an important tool for the food industry to become confident in sourcing raw materials, ensuring the management of food fraud control measures, fulfilling applicable legal requirements, and ensuring the safety of consumers.

Product testing laboratories offer different kinds of testing methods depending on the required output; for example, if it is possible and requested, a targeted or non-targeted result.

Targeted analysis involves screening for pre-defined components in a sample:

  • Liquid chromatography
  • Gas chromatography
  • Mass spectrometry (LC-MS and GC-MS)
  • Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR).
  • PCR technique

Non-targeted analysis aims to see any chemical present in the sample:

  • Isotopic measurement-determination of whether ethanol and vinegar and flavorings are natural or synthetic
  • Metabolomics: Maturation and shelf life
  • Proteomics: Testing for pork and beef additives in chicken, confectionery and desserts

Due to the importance of food fraud for a food safety management system, GFSI published Version 7.1 of Benchmarking Requirements, including subjects on food fraud, as vulnerability assessment. In 2018 all certification schemes have incorporated such requirements and started enforcing them.

Fraud cases threat consumer trust in products and services. Companies are learning to “think like a criminal” and put in place measures to prevent fraud and protect their products, their brands and their consumers.

Thomas Tarantelli
In the Food Lab

Lead Found in Recalled Ground Cumin

By Thomas Tarantelli
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Thomas Tarantelli

Laboratory reports recently acquired by the Freedom of Information Law from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets show the Sol Andino brand ground cumin to contain 1090 ppm lead as well as 259 ppm chromium. The spice was also analyzed by IS:2446, 1980 method, “Detection of Lead Chromate in Chillies, Curry Powder and Turmeric by diphenyl carbizide.” A positive result was given, indicating the presence of hexavalent chromium, which is a component of lead chromate. Lead chromate is a yellow pigment, not allowed in food anywhere in the world as it is toxic, containing both lead and hexavalent chromium. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets posted a Class I recall of the Sol Andino ground cumin on July 10, 2017, without mention of the extremely high concentration of lead in the product.

Sol Andino, ground cumin
Sol Andino ground cumin recalled

The author could find no record of an FDA recall for the Sol Andino brand cumin powder containing excessive lead.

Some of us remember the four FDA Class I recalls of Pran brand turmeric for excessive lead in October 2013. These recalls were initiated by the New York State Health Department due to an illness complaint—most likely a child with high blood lead levels. The recalled Pran brand turmeric contained 28–53 ppm lead.

Also worthy of mention is the FDA/Illinois Class I recall of Nabelsi brand Thyme (actually a spice mix containing Thyme) on March 17, 2017.

“There have been two cases of high blood levels of lead associated with this product to date. Both cases have been reported through the Illinois Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Protection.”

According to the recall, the “Thyme” was found to contain 422 ppm lead.

Wondering if the 422 ppm lead was caused by adulteration of the “Thyme” with lead chromate or another lead pigment, a food chemist at the New York State Food Laboratory (a Division of NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets) requested from Illinois a sub-sample of the “Thyme” for analysis. Lab analysis of the spice found 323 ppm lead, 109 ppm chromium and a positive result for the chromate test. Thus, this recalled “Thyme” contains lead chromate.

In both cases, Pran turmeric and Nabelsi Thyme, illness complaints led to the recall of lead adulterated spices.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has a proactive program. Random samples of spices are sampled from retail markets and subsequently analyzed for unallowed colorants, undeclared allergens and heavy metals. In 2016 this resulted in the Oriental Packing Class I recall of 377,000 lb. of turmeric containing spices for excessive lead. (A typo in the FDA recall attributes the recall to the New York State Health Department, instead of the New York State Dept. of Agriculture and Markets.)

Still, it’s even better to analyze spices being imported into the country at receiving warehouses before the product reaches retail markets. Lead concentrations above 10 ppm can be determined instantaneously with a handheld XRF analyzer.

Adulteration with Sudan Dye Has Triggered Several Spice Recalls

World Factbook of Food

As Food Fraud Grows, More Comprehensive Tools Emerge

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
World Factbook of Food
World Factbook of Food
The World Factbook of Food is a central reference location for data related for food. (Click to enlarge image of homepage)

Many foods, from honey to olive oil to spices, fall victim to fraudsters each year. Often a time-consuming process, conducting research about each product or ingredient can involve combing through many websites and databases for information. To save companies from doing all that heavy lifting, newer tools are aggregating the data into single platforms. One most recent example is the World Factbook of Food, developed by the Food Protection and Defense Institute (FPDI) and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The tool was released earlier this year, and Erin Mann, project manager at FPDI, explains how it is helping food companies mitigate the risk of food fraud in their supply chain.

Food Safety Tech: What are the fundamental advantages of using the World Factbook of Food and how is it different from other tools that companies can use to assess their risk?

Erin Mann: The World Factbook of Food is a central reference location for data related for food. It pulls together a lot of high quality data points from a lot of different sources into a single tool.

Companies can look for information on a lot of different food products and a lot of different sourcing regions and countries. We have more than 125 food profiles (and growing) and more than 75 country profiles (also growing). [There are 10 food profiles and 10 country profiles that are available for free] Each of the profiles covers a large number of topics. On the food profile side, there are data points on how the product is used, codes, information about standards and grades; and a lot of data about trends and consumption, production and trade patterns; there’s information about processing and supply chain characteristics; and another section about food defense and food safety.

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

It’s a resource that can be used anytime a company needs to get up to speed quickly on a product, because it covers a lot of different types of risks. If a company wanted access to information related to risk about past economically motivated adulteration (EMA) or intentional adulteration (IA) incidents, the Factbook has that. There’s also data on past recalls, information about major producing countries around the world—a wealth of information in one place that companies can use broadly for risk assessment—basically any use case where they want access to a lot of information from lots of sources, the Factbook can be a great place for that.

FST: Can you expand on the food defense component of the Factbook?

Mann: One of the primary sources that we pull for the food defense section comes from a complementary tool that we use here at FPDI—our food adulteration incidence registry, called the FAIR tool, which is a database of past EMA and IA incidents. On the technology side, the Factbook is directly linked with the FAIR tool. If you’re looking at a profile for a particular product, it will access the FAIR tool and display relevant incidents for that product. It won’t give you access to the entire FAIR database, but it will give you a high-level summary of what food defense incidents have happened in the past with the product, where they happened, the year and a summary.

What we’ve seen with the FAIR tool is high incidents of food adulteration in products like oils, spices, seafood—those are the major products impacted by food adulteration, particularly EMA.

Food Adulteration Incidents Registry
Food Adulteration Incidents Registry (FAIR) tool

FST: From what sources are the data curated?

Mann: There’s a source list at the bottom of each profile and all the data points are referenced throughout. In terms of a high-level description of where we pull data from, it includes the USDA, FDA, Codex, the U.S. International Trade commission, United Nations data, and other industry and trade groups. It also pulls data from the World Bank and the FAIR tool.

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FST: How can companies use the Factbook as part of their overall risk mitigation process?

Mann: One of primary strengths of the Factbook is that companies can use it in many different ways. Our institute has done a lot of work with big data and using multiple data sources, and one of the biggest takeaways we learned through several years in this field is that whenever you use big data or you use lots of data sources, they must produce intelligence and information that is actionable. All of the data and information doesn’t do much good if there’s not a clear summary of what to do with that information.

The Factbook aims to do that. It’s a collection and synthesis of data and clean information that’s in an easy to use and easy to navigate user interface. From there, companies can take a look and see how to use the Factbook where they see a gap in their processes. It’s a great place to access lots of information about a food product in a single place. If we can see several points in an overall risk mitigation process where the Factbook can be used, it could be used to inform decisions related to procurement. [For example], if a company suddenly needed to procure a product from a new source region or if they were developing a new product and had to procure an ingredient that they hadn’t worked with before, the Factbook would be a great place to get smart quickly on that ingredient.

The Factbook could be used for understanding supplier review and specific risks related to that ingredient, or simply horizon scanning—if companies want to take a look at some of the products they’ve determined to be high risk and learn more about the product from a holistic perspective.

As stated in the Q&A, 10 food profiles and 10 country profiles are available for free. Subscribers to the World Factbook of Food pay $600 annually for full access to the tool, and bundled pricing is available for users who are interested in access to both the Factbook and the FAIR tool.