Tag Archives: food fraud

Matthew Taylor

Mitigating the Risks of Food Fraud in an Inflationary Environment

By Matthew Taylor
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Matthew Taylor

Inflation can create a challenging environment for the food industry, making it more difficult to maintain product quality, safety, and transparency. In August 2022, U.S. food inflation hit a 40-year high of 11.4% and has since remained persistently high, at 10.1% in January 2023. Manufacturers and suppliers must stay vigilant and take proactive steps to mitigate the risks posed by stubbornly high food inflation and increasingly complex supply chains.

Inflation can be a catalyst for risk in food supply chains for several reasons. Rising prices could encourage bad actors or tempt manufacturers and suppliers to cut corners or compromise quality to maintain profit margins. This can lead to an increased risk of food fraud, where lower-quality or counterfeit ingredients are substituted for genuine ones or where mislabeled products are sold to unsuspecting consumers. Supply chain disruptions could increasingly affect manufacturers as suppliers struggle to manage the increased costs of raw materials, transportation, and labor, as seen this winter in Europe, with the UK experiencing shortages of tomatoes and eggs. This can result in delays, shortages, and other logistical challenges that can make it difficult to maintain product quality and safety.

Inflation can also increase food allergy and sensitivity incidents. Mislabeling or allergen contamination due to substituted alternative ingredients could put allergen or intolerance sufferers at greater risk, as well as your brand. With the threat of food fraud lurking in increasingly complex and volatile supply chains, what steps can food manufacturers take to protect themselves and their customers?

Tackling Food Fraud and Allergen Incidents

Despite legislative and industry process improvements, food fraud continues to be a significant risk in the food industry, costing businesses an estimated $30 to $40 billion annually. Food fraud refers to any act of deception, intentional or otherwise, that is intended to result in the sale of a food product that is not what it purports to be. This can take many forms, from adulterating ingredients to misbranding and counterfeiting.

The consequences of food fraud can be severe and include economic losses, harm to human health, damage to the reputation of food companies and loss of consumer confidence in the food supply. Food fraud can also cause environmental consequences, including the illegal use of pesticides, or overfishing, which can have long-term effects on the environment, wildlife, and ecosystems.

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In recent years, several high-profile cases of food fraud have occurred, including the widespread contamination of infant formula with melamine in China and the horse meat scandal in Europe. These incidents have highlighted the need for better measures to prevent food fraud and to ensure the safety of the food supply.

To protect the integrity and bolster consumer and producer confidence in organic food, which has long been a target of food fraud, the USDA published one of the largest-ever reforms to their organic program in January 2023. However, many risks remain as legislation tries to catch and close loopholes.

One of the challenges of preventing food fraud is that the supply chain is often complex and global, making it difficult to track the origin of ingredients and monitor their quality. In addition, many food frauds are not detected until they reach the end-consumer, making it difficult to recall contaminated products. In order to mitigate the risk of food fraud, it is essential to plan ahead and implement strong supply chain management practices, including the use of technology such as traceability systems and predictive analytics.

A good starting point to mitigate your risk of food fraud is to conduct a deep dive into your highest-risk raw materials and suppliers instead of trying to tackle everything at once, particularly if you have a large number of raw materials to assess. For instance, you may want to prioritize raw materials that have been linked to recent fraud incidents, such as infant formula, honey, and olive oil.

Four Steps to Protecting Your Business

Know your supply chain. Controlling and understanding your supply chain is essential for minimizing risk. It is important to audit your supply chain back to the field, if possible, or at least to the production and processing facility. For smaller businesses, forensic auditing may not be feasible. However, there are still steps they can take to protect themselves, such as seeking third-party certification programs that verify the sustainability, quality, and ethical sourcing of ingredients. Going back by more than one step in your supply chain is crucial, and conducting a vulnerability assessment of your raw materials and suppliers is an excellent starting point.

Shop around safely. Review the market for potential alternate suppliers or less ‘at risk’ ingredients, subject to the required quality checks and labeling requirements. It is crucial to thoroughly assess current and potential new suppliers and ensure they meet the minimum Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certification standards, wherever possible. Scrutinize all raw material specifications, including the country of origin, as countries with less established food safety regulations may pose a higher risk. Establishing solid relationships with your suppliers and engaging in regular communication with them is also essential to maintain a high standard of quality, safety, and sustainability.

Be vigilant about ingredients. Markets are constantly evolving, and economic, social, and environmental changes can impact the substitution risk profile of any ingredient that you purchase. To manage this risk, it is essential to have an up-to-date awareness of the various market forces that affect ingredients and their availability.

It is important to note that product adulteration may not always be motivated by economic factors. As ingredients become in short supply, manufacturers may make local substitution decisions to keep the supply available. Remember, there is no substitute for a thorough risk-assessed approach to managing this challenge with a complete and detailed understanding of your supply chains.

Utilize training to build awareness and readiness. Training employees on how to identify, prevent and respond to incidents of potential food fraud or allergens is essential but often challenging for food manufacturers. Regular training should include the types of fraud, how to recognize suspicious behavior, and the importance of accurate record-keeping. Ensuring your teams are trained on what to do is there is a food fraud issue is also key, as is testing the teams through mock exercises to see how they would manage a food fraud event in the business.

Persistently high food inflation rates have created a challenging environment for the food industry, making it harder for manufacturers and suppliers to maintain product quality, safety, and transparency. Food businesses must exercise extra vigilance to face an increased risk of food fraud, supply chain disruptions, and an increase in food allergy and sensitivity incidents. Now is the time to proactively mitigate these risks by prioritizing transparency, gaining control and understanding of supply chains, and acting to prevent food fraud.

It is important to note that no system is foolproof. Food manufacturers should regularly assess and improve their supply chain management practices to ensure they are up to date with industry best practices and changing threats. Increasing your transparency in the ingredient supply chain requires a commitment to responsible sourcing and a willingness to invest in traceability, certification, and supplier relationships. While the risks to food quality and safety are well known, businesses need to ask themselves the right questions and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their customers. By doing so, they can protect their brand reputation and consumer confidence in the food supply and the environment.


Karen Constable
Food Fraud Quick Bites

No Horsing Around

Karen Constable

You may remember the horse meat scandal of 2013, which involved the recall of at least 10 million products[i] and prompted a new era of awareness of food fraud risks among the international food safety community. In that scandal, horse meat was being used to replace beef.

Despite the widespread publicity received by the horse meat scandal, similar frauds have happened since 2013. For example, in 2021, six people were arrested in Brazil and accused of stealing horses, then selling their meat “disguised” as beef.[ii] Authorities said that up to 60% of restaurants in the area had unknowingly purchased the fraudulent “beef.”

Horse meat is not only used by criminals to replace beef. In regions where horse meat is regularly consumed, such as in many parts of Europe, the ingredient itself is vulnerable to food fraud. Fraud occurs when horses that are not safe to eat are used for human food.

Veterinary drugs, including pain killers and horse worming treatments, can render horsemeat unsafe and make the horse unsuitable for food. Horse passports are used to keep records of veterinary drug treatments and show whether a horse has been ‘signed out’ of the human food chain.[iii]

In September 2022, authorities in the Netherlands discovered incorrect passports for slaughtered horses in the human food supply chain.[iv] The food originated in the Netherlands and was distributed to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy.

Horse meat fraud is attractive to criminals because it offers good profits. There is an abundant supply of horses from the equine racing and recreational horse industries. Unwanted horses are expensive to keep, so they are sold at very low prices or even given away for free. Operations that process cheap or free horses for food can be very profitable.

Food fraud perpetrators who wish to use unsuitable horses for human food must therefore falsify horse passports and other documents to make the horse meat appear legitimate, or use clandestine slaughterhouses and sell the meat through illegitimate supply chains.

There have been 11 notifications of problems with horse passports in Europe since January 2020 reported in the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). These include “Incorrect passports of slaughtered horses”; “Poor traceability records (forged passports) for horse from the Netherlands”; “Horse without medicine pages in the passport”; “Horsemeat from an animal excluded from the food chain” and “Incorrect registration information on horse carcasses.” In 2017, a veterinary drug banned in Europe was found in horse meat imported from Brazil.[v]

Authorities in Spain and Belgium recently smashed a criminal network that was profiting from horse meat fraud and that involved illegal slaughter and falsification of documents. Forty-one people were arrested over their links to the operation. The alleged perpetrators are accused of obtaining horses that were not fit for human consumption, slaughtering them in clandestine operations and falsifying documents to make the resulting meat appear to be legal and safe. The network is believed to have been operating since 2019 and may have netted the criminals more than EUR 1.5 million.[vi] One commentator estimated that a horse obtained for less than EUR 100 was worth EUR 1500 after illegal processing and falsification of its legal status.[vii]



[i] Writer, S. (2013). Living to tell the tail: how and why Australia survived the horse meat scandal. [online] Food & Beverage Industry News. Available at: https://www.foodmag.com.au/living-to-tell-the-tail-how-and-why-australia-survived-the-horse-meat-scandal/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[ii] Hallam, A.R., Jonny (2021). Gang sold tons of horse disguised as beef and put rotting meat in hamburgers, Brazilian officials say. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/11/19/americas/brazil-horse-meat-gang-intl-hnk-scli/index.html [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[iii] www.businesscompanion.info. (n.d.). Horse passports | Business Companion. [online] Available at: https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/animals-and-agriculture/horse-passports [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[iv] webgate.ec.europa.eu. (n.d.). RASFF WINDOW. [online] Available at: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/rasff-window/screen/notification/569545 [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[v] foodnavigator.com (n.d.). Belgium horsemeat call after drug found in Brazilian imports. [online] foodnavigator.com. Available at: https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2017/01/19/Belgium-horsemeat-call-after-drug-found-in-Brazilian-imports [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[vi] Europol. (n.d.). 41 arrests for selling potentially dangerous horse meat. [online] Available at: https://www.europol.europa.eu/media-press/newsroom/news/41-arrests-for-selling-potentially-dangerous-horse-meat [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].

[vii] Desk, N. (2022). Europol and Spain lead horse meat fraud investigation. [online] Food Safety News. Available at: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2022/12/europol-and-spain-lead-horse-meat-fraud-investigation/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2022].



Karen Constable
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Where’s the Coconut?

By Karen Constable
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Karen Constable

Coconut water and coconut milk are vulnerable to food fraud because they can easily be diluted with other liquids and adulterated with undeclared ingredients, such as added sweeteners and dairy products, that are difficult for consumers to detect. The FoodChainID Food Fraud Database[i] (formerly the Decernis and United States Pharmacopeia [USP] database) contains 20 records related to coconut water, coconut milk and coconut milk powder. These include one story of a “coconut water” manufacturer that was found to be using water, sugar and flavoring to make the beverage, which contained no coconut at all.[ii]

Because the potential diluents and adulterants are cheap and easily available, the fraud is both profitable and easy to perpetrate. Organic coconut products are also at risk of having their organic status faked. Six of the Food Chain ID records are for products that were falsely labelled “organic.”

The addition of undeclared sweeteners is a commonly perpetrated fraud in coconut water. In the U.S., it has been estimated that 15% of all imported coconut waters are adulterated with added sugars that are not declared on the label.[iii] In 2021, Brazilian authorities confiscated 173,000 litres of coconut water with added sugars.[iv] Authorities in the United Kingdom reported that the presence of undeclared sugars in coconut water was “widespread” in 2017.[v]

Coconut milk and coconut milk powder have been adulterated with undeclared cow’s milk powder[vi] and with cornflour.[vii] Adulteration with dairy products poses a serious food safety risk to allergic consumers. To protect such consumers, food fraud risk mitigation activities for coconut milks, creams and yogurts should include regular monitoring for the presence of dairy allergens.


[i] https://www.foodchainid.com/food-fraud-database/

[ii] Trinidad Express Newspapers (2016) “Health Ministry Removes Local Coconut Water Off the Market.” Available at: https://trinidadexpress.com/news/local/health-ministry-removes-local-coconut-water-off-the-market/article_0f37536d-0968-5a73-a6f2-cba56a4e6beb.html [Accessed 6 Oct. 2022]

[iii] Foodnavigator-usa.com (2014). “Fifteen percent of coconut waters mislabeled; let’s level the playing field.” Available at: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Suppliers2/iTi-15-of-coconut-water-mislabeled  [Accessed 6 Oct. 2022].

[iv] Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento (2021) “Ação de fiscalização do Mapa apreende 173 mil litros de bebidas com indícios de fraude.” Available at: https://www.gov.br/agricultura/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/mapa-apreende-173-mil-litros-de-bebidas-com-indicios-de-fraude [Accessed 6 Oct. 2022]

[v] The Grocer (2017) “FSA probe finds widespread addition of undeclared sugar in coconut water.” Available at: https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/soft-drinks/fsa-probe-finds-widespread-addition-of-undeclared-sugar-in-coconut-water/558787.article

[vi] Centre for Food Safety The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Food Alerts / Allergy Alerts – “Undeclared allergen (milk) found in prepackaged coconut milk powder.” Available at: https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fa/2017_177.html  [Accessed 6 Oct. 2022]

[vii] Azlin-Hasim, S., Siang, Q., Yusof, F., Khairi Zainol, M. and Mohd, H. (2019). “Chemical Composition and Potential Adulterants In Coconut Milk Sold In Kuala Lumpur.” Malays. Appl. Biol, [online] 48(3), pp.27–34. Available at: http://journalarticle.ukm.my/14685/1/48_03_04.pdf  [Accessed 6 Oct. 2022]




Thermo Fisher

Using Isotope Fingerprints To Determine Fish Oil Authenticity

By Dr. David Psomiadis, Mario Tuthorn
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Thermo Fisher

The demand for fish oil is increasing. It is packed full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, including the functionally important docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Today, consumers are ever more aware of the health benefits of incorporating fish oil into their diets, such as lowering blood pressure and helping prevent heart disease. It is therefore no surprise that many companies are increasing their investments in providing high-quality fish oil supplements, such as those with value claims including single species, designated geographical origin, sustainability practices and traceability. And it’s a lucrative business: the industry was worth USD 11.95 Billion in 2021 and is expected to reach a value of USD 17.64 Billion by 2028—a CAGR of around 6.7%.

As the industry continues to grow, so does the risk of economic fraud. Fish oil itself varies depending on its source: fish from different regions—even within the same species—have different oil compositions, and, understandably, different price points depending on the quality. Individuals and illicit organizations are exploiting the growing demand by circulating adulterated, mislabeled products with sub-standard fish oil and/or misrepresented product origin for financial gain. More than ever, robust legislation is required, and there is a need for increasingly accurate and sensitive analytical techniques to verify the origin, authenticity and label claims of supplements, foods and beverages containing fish oils.

Traditional food integrity techniques can’t accurately distinguish the origin of fish oils from the same species. New approaches are needed to provide greater analytical depth and accuracy, and to ensure that consumers can trust brands, manufacturers are protected and governments can control the use of fish oil. Here we explore how gas chromatography isotope ratio mass spectrometry coupled with a mass spectrometer (GC-MS-IRMS) can overcome these challenges and allow analysts to confidently determine fish oil origin from a given species.

Fish Oils: A Tricky Catch for Authenticity Testing Laboratories

The existing approaches to determine fish oil authenticity, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) fatty acid profiling and untargeted fingerprint determination by spectroscopic techniques such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and near-infrared (NIR), are based on the compositional characteristics of the oils. While these compositions are important to understand, they do not reflect significant regional and geographic parameters. Yet gaining clarity on the geographical origin of fish oils from the same species is vital because the source of the fish oil can have significant financial implications. In particular, label claims that fish oils are derived from a certain geographical region can add value to the product. Confirming the fish oil origin also verifies traceability of the product and contributes to other important label claims including sustainability, health and safety. Therefore, knowing the origin of the fish oil and its authenticity helps to identify fraudulent practices that are used to boost product value.

Isotope Fingerprints Identify Regions and Processes

So, how can we better characterize fish oil? Compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) is an ideal solution. Fatty acids consist almost entirely of carbon and hydrogen. In fish, the natural variation of the isotopic ratios of these elements is influenced by the feed, the environment and the local habitat of a given population. CSIA can enhance fish oil testing by determining the stable isotopic values of individual fatty acids. Since isotopes vary with differing dietary sources, geographical regions of origin can be determined, even within the same species.

Recent advances in GC-IRMS allow the technique to provide the separation accuracy and detection resolution required to distinguish between different carbon and hydrogen isotopes in compositionally equivalent fatty acids, by CSIA. GC-IRMS works by separating compounds using gas chromatography, then analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotope fingerprints by combustion, and oxygen and hydrogen isotope fingerprints through pyrolysis. This approach enables the acquisition of isotopic information for each individual compound in the sample.

To further improve the capability of GC-IRMS, the set-up can be coupled to a single quadrupole mass spectrometer—GC-MS-IRMS—to allow structural determination and identification of compounds. With the hybrid system, the flow from the GC column is separated into two parts: the majority continuing for IRMS isotope analysis, with a minor portion for MS compound identification. The innovative design does not impact IRMS sensitivity, thereby gaining structural information without compromise. These system attributes mean that GC-MS-IRMS can determine the structure and isotope ratio of each fish oil compound. Using this method, analysts can generate accurate (close to the absolute value), repeatable and reproducible results.

The power of GC-IRMS is well-established in the industry. It has been embraced as a method to be standardized in food authenticity testing by several international bodies, including the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the German Chemical Society (GDCh), and is only made more powerful when coupled to MS. However, standardization requires successful method validation, demanding its specific investigation for fish oil characterization.

Separating Salmon and Comparing Cod

Fish oil labeling is centered around differentiating species and their geographical origins to support label claims. In a recent experiment, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Imprint Analytics worked together with Orivo to compare 30 salmon oils and 43 cod liver oils from the same species in different areas. These experiments were performed to demonstrate that isotopes can be used to identify the geographic origin of the samples, and to validate the method.

Samples were prepared by a derivatization procedure using CH3COCl in MeOH to obtain Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAMEs). Both carbon and hydrogen isotopes were measured for the samples (Table 1), and statistical analysis of the isotope data allowed the selection of certain parameters for the statistical model (Table 2). These then contributed to the discrimination of the given clusters for each model.

A number of principal functions (Fx) are generated in the analysis, integrating information from analytical parameters. Using different Fxs allows bivariate or multivariate illustrations, where F1 and F2 represent the largest amount of information available for the samples.

Table 1: List of the fatty acids (as FAMEs) screened and analyzed by GC-MS-IRMS.

Table 2: List of the fatty acids (as FAMEs) used in the statistical model.


Most salmon products come from either Norway or Chile, and the two have significant price differences and values. It is therefore crucial that the label claims of any fish oil supplement can be verified. In the study, FAMEs were analyzed, and carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios determined using GC-MS-IRMS.

Discriminant analysis gave a correct prediction of 94.29% (Figure 1), showing that the two regional products could be clearly determined.

Figure 1: Discriminant analysis: Atlantic salmon (Norway) vs. Atlantic Salmon (Chile). Correct prediction: 94.29%


Similar to the salmon situation, Iceland and Norway have price discrepancies between products derived from each region’s cod. However, the two countries are physically very close, meaning there may be less extreme differences between the two diets and habitats, and therefore more similarity between isotopic fingerprints.

Despite the close proximity of the cod species, the multi-isotope method was able to discriminate the fish oil origin with a correct prediction of 97.22% (Figure 2). Based on this score, we can see the technique is highly accurate and reliable, making it a strong choice for fish oil determination.

Figure 2: Discriminant analysis: Arctic cod (Iceland) vs. Arctic cod (Norway). Correct prediction: 97.22%

GC-MS-IRMS Paves the Way for More Reliable Analyses of Fish Oil Authenticity

GC-MS-IRMS is a powerful technique that can determine the origin of fish oil by elucidating structure and isotope ratio. The study here shows the potential of GC-MS-IRMS in verifying the geographical origin of matrices with emerging commercial value and high adulteration risks—and validates the method, demonstrating that the resulting data provides conclusive answers about fish oil origins. Crucially, the technique is suitable even for products deriving from geographic regions close to one another.

We anticipate that isotope fingerprint analysis will continue to grow in the industry. With plans to use the technique to discriminate between different fish species underway, adopting GC-MS-IRMS methods into food analysis supports the need to uphold product authenticity and maintain consumer trust.

The authors kindly thank Orivo for collaboration on this study and providing the samples for analysis.

Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Slippery and Lucrative Business of Eel Fraud

By Karen Constable
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Eel fraud is big business. The illegal international trade in glass eels is estimated to be worth up to EUR3 billion[i].

Like most seafood, eel meat is vulnerable to food fraud. But, their poorly understood breeding patterns and endangered species status make eels particularly vulnerable to illegal trading and international smuggling.

A glass eel is a baby eel, and it is a heavily protected fish stock. It also makes a lucrative food fraud target: just one kilogram of smuggled glass eels can be turned into food products worth €25,000[ii].

Glass eels are attractive to food fraud criminals because they are an obligatory input to eel meat supply chains. Aquaculture fisheries produce around 95% of eel meat globally[iii], with most aquaculture production in China[iv]. Unlike other aquaculture animals, eels cannot successfully breed in captivity. This means that every eel raised for food was once a wild-caught glass eel.

Glass eels are in short supply. They are not allowed to be exported from Europe and there are strict restrictions on catch quotas and trade in other countries. One kilogram of live European glass eels in is worth €300/kg when first caught[v]. If those live eels are successfully smuggled out of Europe, they are worth €6,000/kg by the time they reach Asia[vi].

In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted[vii] a major seafood distributor and eight of its employees for allegedly smuggling large quantities of glass eels from Europe to their eel-rearing facility in China, where the eels were raised, processed, then shipped to the U.S. as eel meat products. When intercepted by customs, the eel meat was found to be fraudulently described as American eel (Anguilla rostrata), which is a lawful import, rather than European eel (Anguilla anguilla).


[i] Securing Industry (2021) Major Glass Eel Trafficking Ring Taken down by EU Op. Accessed from https://www.securingindustry.com/food-and-beverage/major-glass-eel-trafficking-ring-taken-down-by-eu-op/s104/a13544/

[ii] European Commission Department of Food Safety (2019) EU Coordinated Case on Illegal Trade of European Eel. Accessed from https://food.ec.europa.eu/safety/agri-food-fraud/eu-coordinated-actions_en#eu_coordinated_case_on_il

[iii] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2014), FAO Globefish Research Programme Vol 114. Accessed from https://www.fao.org/3/bb217e/bb217e.pdf

[iv] FAO, Fishery and aquaculture statistics. Global Aquaculture Production 1950-2018 (FishstatJ), FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Rome, 2020. Accessed from https://www.fao.org/fishery/en/statistics/software/fishstatj/en

[v] Sustainable Eel Group, accessed from https://www.sustainableeelgroup.org/eu-food-fraud-network-example-of-an-eu-coordinated-case-on-illegal-trade-in-european-eels/

[vi] Sustainable Eel Group, accessed from https://www.sustainableeelgroup.org/eu-food-fraud-network-example-of-an-eu-coordinated-case-on-illegal-trade-in-european-eels/

[vii] Department of Justice (2022) Major Seafood Dealer and Eight Individuals Indicted for International Wildlife Trafficking. Accessed from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/major-seafood-dealer-and-eight-individuals-indicted-international-wildlife-trafficking

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
Food Genomics

How Data Analysis Supports Food Safety

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Data analytics can reduce the risks of foodborne illness, improve collaboration among food processing and service teams and help identify food fraud. As technology has advanced, researchers, policy-makers and food safety professionals are finding new ways to collect, use and analyze data. Following are some of the latest advances in the field of data analytics and food safety.

Improving Risk Assessment Strategies

Data and tracking have long been integral components of food safety risk assessment. Today, researchers are combining big data, machine learning and microbial genomics to create next-generation quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA).

Researchers at the University of Maryland received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to support work that combines machine learning and computational analysis with genomic sequencing and data about foodborne pathogen characteristics. They intend to take advantage of big data available in the agriculture and food sectors and integrate data from food production, processing, food safety risk factors and genomic data to inform—and potentially transform—public health strategies to prevent foodborne diseases and speed response to outbreaks.

QMRA can be used to: predict the behavior and transmission of pathogens across food production, processing and supply chain; identify areas in the chain that could lead to contamination; and estimate the probability and consequences of adverse public health effects in the event that tainted products are consumed.

Abani Pradhan, associate professor in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland and lead investigator on this project, explains that this data analysis project should lead to better accuracy due to the inclusion of AI and genomics. “The sheer abundance of information by including molecular and genomic data available should increase the robustness of disease risk estimates by reducing the sources of uncertainty and variability in the QMRA model,” said Pradhan. “This is important because there are so many different species of each foodborne pathogen, and even within the same species, there are different variations or types called serovars.”

Pradhan’s team are starting with Salmonella, because it has more than 2,500 serovars, all of which have highly variable characteristics. How resistant a pathogen is to heat stress or antimicrobials, how infectious it is and how quickly it grows and spreads are all characteristics of the pathogen that can be partially explained by genomic data.

“The idea is to connect that genetic information with the characteristics of the pathogen to bridge the gap between the genes and the food safety aspects for consumers,” said Pradhan. “If we can use machine learning tools to understand the linkages between genotypes and phenotypes, based upon that we can determine which serovars are the most concerning so that we can focus our experimental work on those types and further strengthen our models to create a risk assessment that provides a more robust and complete picture of the risk for risk mitigation.”

Using Online Data To Detect Safety Issues

The U.S. has a robust regulatory and oversight system to identify foodborne threats. In 2019, researchers led by Adyasha Maharana of the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education, University of Washington, wanted to see if online consumer reviews might contain safety clues that could identify unsafe food products before official inspections or recalls occurred. They created a database linking Amazon food and grocery product reviews to product recall data from the FDA, and analyzed more than 1 million Amazon reviews featuring words like “sick,” “ill” and “foul.” The results showed that only 0.4% of the Amazon reviews containing those words were for recalled products.

The researchers also found synonyms for terms linked to FDA recalls in 20,000 reviews, although those products were still on the market. The researchers concluded that this “might suggest that many more products should have been recalled or investigated” and note their work could be used to aid regulators in determining which items to investigate.

A similar project, Google’s machine-learning algorithm FINDER (Food-borne Illness Detector in Real Time), uses search and location logs to identify restaurants that could be making people sick in real time. FINDER pulls data from people’s Google search queries for terms or symptoms that suggest they may have food poisoning. It then matches that information to Google location data logs to figure out which restaurants those individuals may have visited.

They tested this approach in Las Vegas and Chicago for four months in each city. The data analysis application helped food inspectors find 25% more unsafe restaurants compared to the previously used inspection method.

Neither of these case studies suggests regulators should do away with their more established procedures. However, combining this type of data analysis with existing strategies could further enhance safety.

Reducing Food Fraud

Many of today’s consumers want to know that the food they are eating comes from organic farms or was otherwise produced to certain standards. That’s why many restaurants now list which supply chain partners they use for specific menu items. This type of data reporting and sharing also offers improved food traceability. Having accurate information about where a food or beverage originated makes it easier to address and track problems when they do occur.

End-to-end traceability and real-time monitoring technologies continue to evolve, bringing new, more powerful tools that help providers at every link of the farm to table chain identify loss, theft and potential safety issues.

At the University of Adelaide, researchers improved upon current methods of detecting wine fraud by combining fluorescence spectroscopy and machine learning to determine a beverage’s molecular fingerprint. The team looked at Cabernet Sauvignon from three different wine regions. They found that their method could correctly authenticate the geographic origins of wine with 100% accuracy.

It is impossible to remove all food and beverage safety risks from the supply chain. However, successful applications of data analysis that help keep people safer are undoubtedly steps in the right direction. As more companies in the food and beverage industry adopt new data analysis tools, other interesting possibilities will become apparent. Even as things stand, the applications are full of promise.

Food Fraud Quick Bites

GFSI to Share Comments on New Codex Guidance on Food Fraud

By Food Safety Tech Staff
No Comments

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is participating with the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) to support the development of its new guidance on food fraud.
GFSI has been a longstanding partner of Codex and appears in the first draft guidelines of the Codex Guidance on Food Fraud as a key reference for its work on food fraud via its food fraud position.

GFSI notes that while there is some existing guidance that addresses fraudulent activities, there is a significant need for CCFICS, which deals with ‘horizontal’ issues, to develop definitions and update its guidance to better reflect current food fraud initiatives.

To support this work, Codex has created a dedicated working group, Chaired by the United States with co-chairs from China, the European Union, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United Kingdom. GFSI acts as an official observer to Codex, providing input and recommendations on this work through its GFSI Codex Working Group. The group, which currently consists of representatives from Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Danone, plays a key role in underpinning GFSI’s Benchmarking Requirements and reinforcing Codex’s mandate of valuing collaboration, inclusiveness, consensus building and transparency.

The group is also observing to help ensure this work does not reinvent the wheel, but identifies, collects and utilizes existing work from experts within the scientific and academic industries and regulatory community that have been working on this topic for the past decade.

In regard to the feedback provided on the Codex Guidance on Food Fraud, the GFSI Codex Working Group stressed:

  • The importance of including industry as a key partner in managing food fraud
  • The need for clarity around the roles of respective Codex committees in the prevention and detection of food fraud, specifically around analytical and testing guidance to prioritize the detection of food fraud (i.e. the role of CCMAS – Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling vs. the role of CCFICS in food fraud)
  • The importance of collaboration between all relevant stakeholders to manage food safety risks in the event of genuine food fraud incidents
  • The absolute need to include ‘feed for food producing animals’ in the scope of this work
  • The view that existing food safety processes and networks provide a good basis for managing communication of food fraud incidents and share good practices
  • To define numerous terms that are also being proposed, defined and considered with the development of agreed terms and conditions.

Codex is hoping to finish this work in 2024/2025. Between now and the last final draft, which is planned to be submitted for final approval to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, there will be multiple draft versions developed.

Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center

Complexity of Food Allergen Management Requires Global Collaboration

By Maria Fontanazza
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Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center

Undeclared allergens continue to be a big cause of food recalls. For allergen management practices to be effective within food companies, there must be a shared responsibility between food manufacturers, government agencies, regulators and consumers, says Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center. In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Zhang discussed key concerns related to undeclared allergens in food as well as the research that Mars is conducting to improve allergen management.

Food Safety Tech: The presence of undeclared allergens continues to be a hazard in the food safety space. Specific to peanut detection, what challenges is the industry facing?

Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center
Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D., director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center. All images courtesy of Mars.

Guangtao Zhang, Ph.D.: As food materials become more varied and complicated, food allergen management becomes increasingly complex. Robust, accurate and sensitive detection methods are essential to ensure consumer safety as well as compliance with regulatory standards for allergens in the food supply chain.

When you look at the regulatory aspects, detection methods go hand in hand. Firstly, there is a need to ensure that current standard detection methods used in regulatory control of consumer goods are validated for a range of complex food matrices to ensure neither over- nor under-estimation of allergen content occurs within a food supply chain. This is important because underestimation of allergen poses a significant food safety hazard to consumers, while overestimation of allergen can result in unnecessary product recalls, driving up product costs and food waste.

Secondly, validation and monitoring of the effectiveness of cleaning and handling practices in areas of potential cross contamination with allergen containing materials depend on reliable and robust quantitative food allergen test methods for their success. The more robust the testing protocols, the more we can improve our understanding of the risks associated with cross contamination of food allergens, potentially reducing the frequency of accidental contamination events.
It is also important to note that whilst the most common cause of undeclared allergen in the global food supply chain is through accidental contamination in raw materials or finished products, this is not the only method by which undeclared allergen may be found in a product.

For example, peanut flour may be used in economically motivated adulteration (EMA) food fraud cases. In 2018 the European Commission estimated that the cost of food fraud for the global food industry is approximately €30 billion every year. Due to its high protein content, peanut flour has been used as a bulking agent to raise the overall protein content of e.g., wheat flour, thus raising the ‘quality’, and therefore price, of lower value goods. The ability to effectively quantify peanut traces within complex products therefore has the potential to enable consumers of food products to further trust the safety of the food they eat.

ELISA (Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) is the method used most frequently for peanut allergen detection in the food manufacturing industry because of its sensitivity and ease of use. However, it has disadvantages in certain settings. It is not currently validated for complex food matrices, as it is believed that the effects of both food matrices and food processing could result in an underestimation of peanut concentrations in thermally processed foods, leading to false negatives, as well as overestimation in complex food matrices, leading to false positives which are a potential food safety hazard to consumers.

Food Safety Tech: Tell us about the research that the Mars Global Food Safety Center is doing to help the industry with effective methods for peanut quantification.

Zhang: At the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) we believe that everyone has the right to safe food and that we have a responsibility to generate and share insights to help solve for global food safety challenges. We also know we can’t tackle these alone, which is why we collaborate with external partners. One of our focus areas is advancing understanding and knowledge sharing in peanut allergen detection. As part of that work, we are exploring methods of improving food safety via the development of advanced analytical methods to detect peanut allergen content, in the hopes that it will enable the food industry to expand on current preventative management protocols, including early detection methodologies, for faster response to future food allergen contamination events.

As part of our latest published research, we investigated the accuracy and sensitivity of ELISA-based test methods on raw and cooked wheat flour, wheat flour-salt and wheat flour-salt-oil matrices, which are common ingredients in the food industry. 10 ppm peanut was doped into each matrix during sample preparation. Recovery testing demonstrated that in all matrices the current industry standard ELISA method overestimated results with recoveries ranging from 49.6 to 68.6 ppm.
These findings prompted the development of a new confirmatory method based on liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS/MS) for peanut quantification. When subjected to the same validation testing programme the HPLC-MS/MS technique was demonstrably more accurate and sensitive, with a limit of quantification of 0.3 ppm and the detected peanut concentration ranging from 6.8 to 12.8 ppm for samples doped with 10 ppm peanut.

This work is a first step in the development of a new standard method for peanut detection in complex food matrices and could ultimately inform safer manufacturing Quality & Food Safety (Q&FS) processes across global supply chains to help ensure safe food for all.

Mars GFSC Lab Food Integrity Team
The Lab Food Integrity Team at the Mars Global Food Safety Center.

Food Safety Tech: What projects are researchers at the Center working on to enhance allergen management as a whole?

Zhang: A successful allergen management program depends on rigorous control of allergenic foods and ingredients from all other products and ingredients at every step of the food production process, from raw material development to the delivery of final products. This means that for allergen management practices to be effective, they must be a shared responsibility between food manufacturers, government agencies, regulators and consumers.

At the Mars GFSC, we take a precompetitive approach to research, knowledge sharing and collaborations—this means we openly share insights and expertise to help ensure safe food for all. This is important in driving forward innovations, helping unlock solutions that may not have previously been possible.

We have shared our latest work both through an open access publication in Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A but also directly with regulatory bodies such as the FDA in the hopes of advancing knowledge in both food safety risk management and allergen management in complex flour-based media within global supply chains. In addition to this, this research contributes to a wider Food Safety Best Practice whitepaper focused on food allergen risk management currently under draft by the Mars GFSC, which will be published in collaboration with Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center and the Chinese Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST) later this year.

We believe that global collaborations such as this are essential to improving food allergen management and mitigating food safety risks. Communication, training and knowledge sharing are core principles of the Mars GFSC and as such form a large part of our ongoing activities in this space. For example, we have hosted Food Allergen Management workshops in collaboration with Danone and Romer Labs focused on helping to raise awareness of current and future food allergen trends. At one such event in 2019, 100 participants from 16 food companies came together to promote food allergen management in the industry and ensure that the next generation of food integrity testing capability is relevant, practical, and directly applicable to the real-world problems experienced by manufacturers and processors throughout the supply chain.

Representatives of the Mars GFSC have also shared our insights externally at a number of international conferences as well as during a Food Enterprise Food Allergen Management Seminar on topics including effective allergen management procedures, our guiding principles for allergen managements at Mars, and shared our approach to encourage and share knowledge with other manufactures in this area.

We continue to support requests for technical insights, for example providing insights during a global consultation session on General Principles for Labeling of Prepackaged Food. This resulted in the addition of characterization requirements for possible allergenic substances, promoting the use of a recognizable naming system in ingredient lists that contain allergen warnings.

Food Safety Tech: Can you comment on additional work your team is doing in the area of food fraud?

Zhang: Food allergen risk management forms only one part of our wider food integrity focus at the Mars GFSC. We are committed to helping ensure food authenticity in an increasingly complex, global food supply chain through collaboration with global partners to develop new and improved tools and analytical methods that help protect the integrity of raw materials and finished products.

We have collaborated with researchers at Michigan State University to develop a Food Fraud Prevention Cycle roadmap (Introducing the Food Fraud Prevention Cycle (FFPC): A dynamic information management and strategic roadmap) which answered questions such as how to detect food fraud, how to start a food fraud prevention program, what to do in terms of testing, how much testing is enough, and how to measure success. Our intention in publishing this research was that the adoption of a holistic and all-encompassing information management cycle will enable a globally harmonized approach and the continued sharing of best practices across industry partners.

More recently, we completed an international collaboration tackling rice adulteration together with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Agilent Technologies, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), and Zhejiang Yangtze Delta Institute of Tsinghua University (Yangtze Delta). This work successfully developed a two-tier testing program, capable of rapidly screening the geographical origins of rice within the global supply chain (Food Fingerprinting: Using a two-tiered approach to monitor and mitigate food fraud in rice). By developing a tiered system, we could ensure that manufacturers use the right techniques for the right occasion, to maximize the information available in investigating food fraud at the best value. As part of this work, we have helped develop hands-on training in Ghana and inform best practice guidance to help build the foundations of a strong food safety culture in rice authenticity across the global supply chain.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Special Aura To Track Authenticity

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Cognac, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Cognac manufacturer Hennessy joined AuraBlockchain, a non-profit private blockchain for luxury brands that can be used to track the entire supply chain of a product. From raw materials to manufacturing to the consumer, digital timestamps are used to trace and record every step of the production process. Every product has a unique ID, with decentralized and unchangeable blockchain records. The consumer can check these records online to ensure authenticity of the purchased product.


  1. Taylor, P. (March 21, 2022). “Hennessey adds blockchain traceability via Aura alliance”. Securing Industry.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Putting a Classified Carcinogenic in Food Gives Everyone the Blues

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Blue corn, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

While blue is the most popular color around the world, not all blues are created equal and or belong into the food supply. The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed in Europe mentioned a case of unauthorized food dye Sudan Blue II in a roasted corn snack food. Sudan Blue II, also known under the name Solvent Blue 35, is used to dye oils, solvents, alcohols, esters, hydrocarbon derivatives and other industrial chemicals, and is classified as carcinogenic and harmful to humans and the environment.


  1. Malta Government. (February 21, 2022). “Environmental Health Directorate Notice”.