Tag Archives: food fraud

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Marzipan Or Persipan, That’s the Question

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

Both Prunus species produce similar flavor and sensory profiles, but have significantly different costs—the 50% cheaper apricot kernels are sometimes used as an adulterant, replacing almonds in products such as marzipan, almond oil or almond powder. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method shows that the DNA barcode of almond shows significant differences from other Prunus species and can therefore be used to detect adulteration of almond products.

Resource

  1. Uncu, A.O. (March 2, 2020). “A trnH-psbA barcode genotyping assay for the detection of common apricot (Prunus armeniaca L.) adulteration in almond (Prunus dulcis Mill.)” Retrieved from Taylor & Francis Online.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Some Very Fishy Fish

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

The coronavirus lockdown has halted fishing operations in most Indian harbors, and now stale fish and shellfish is finding its way to the consumer. In India, 50 tons of stale and spoiled tuna fish and prawns, no longer fit for human consumption, have been seized and destroyed after inspections by the Food Safety Department. These violations can carry fines and jail sentences.

Resource

  1. The New Indian Express. (April 11, 2020). “Stale tuna fish, prawns flood markets”.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A New Way to Spot a Fake

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

The common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) is a popular food source, and it is often adulterated with other cephalopod and sepia species. A new, low cost, real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method can be used on fresh, cooked, grilled, frozen and canned preparations of Sepia officinalis, producing quick and highly reliable results. In this study, 25% of the samples were found to be different cephalopod species, and not Sepia officinalis.

Resource

  1. Amaya Velasco, Graciela Ramilo-Fernandez, Carmen G. Sotelo (March 4, 2020) Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas (IIM-CSIC), Eduardo Cabello 6, 36208 Vigo (Pontevedra), Spain: “A Real-Time PCR Method for the Authentication of Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) in Food Products”. This study is part of the SEATRACES project (www.seatraces.eu).
John McPherson, rfxcel
FST Soapbox

Clear Waters Ahead? The Push for a Transparent Seafood Supply Chain

By John McPherson
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John McPherson, rfxcel

The seafood supply chain handles 158 million metric tons of product every year, 50% of which comes from wild sources. Operating in every ocean on the planet, the industry is struggling to figure out how to overcome the numerous obstacles to traceability, which include unregulated fishing, food fraud and unsustainable fishing practices. With these and other problems continuously plaguing the supply chain, distributors and importers cannot consistently guarantee the validity, source or safety of their products. Furthermore, there are limits to what a buyer or retailer can demand of the supply chain. Niche solutions abound, but a panacea has yet to be found.

In this complex environment, there are increasing calls for better supply chain management and “catch to plate” provenance. One problem, however: The industry as a whole still regards traceability as a cost rather than an investment. There are signs this attitude is changing, however, perhaps due to pressure from consumers, governments and watchdog-type organizations to “clean up” the business and address the mounting evidence that unsustainable fishing practices cause significant environmental problems. Today, we’ve arrived at a moment when industry leaders are being proactive about transparency and technologies such as mobile applications and environmental monitoring software can genuinely help reform the seafood supply chain.

A Global Movement for Seafood Traceability

There are several prominent examples of the burgeoning worldwide commitment to traceability (and, by default, the use of new technologies) in the seafood supply chain. These include the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration, the Global Tuna Alliance, and the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. Let’s focus on the latter to illustrate the efforts to bring traceability to the industry.

The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability. The GDST, or the Dialogue, is “an international, business-to-business platform established to advance a unified framework for interoperable seafood traceability practices.” It comprises industry stakeholders from different parts of the supply chain and civil society experts from around the world, working together to develop industry standards to, among other things, improve the reliability of information, make traceability less expensive, help reduce risk in the supply chain, and facilitate long-term social and environmental sustainability.

On March 16, 2020, the Dialogue launched its GDST 1.0 Standards, which will utilize the power of data to support traceability and the ability to guarantee the legal origin of seafood products. These are guidelines, not regulations; members who sign a pledge commit themselves to bringing these standards to their supply chains.

GDST 1.0 has two objectives. First, it aims to harmonize data standards to facilitate data sharing up and down the supply chain. It calls for all nodes to create Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) events to make interoperability possible (EPCIS is a GS1 standard that allows trading partners to share information about products as they move through the supply chain.). Second, it defines the key data elements that trading partners must capture and share to ensure the supply chain is free of seafood caught through illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to collect relevant data for resource management.

Why Transparency Is Critical

By now it’s probably clear to you that the seafood sector is in dire need of a makeover. Resource depletion, lack of trust along the supply chain, and the work of global initiatives are just a few of the factors forcing thought leaders in the industry to rethink their positions and make traceability the supply chain default.

However, despite more and more willingness among stakeholders to make improvements, the fact is that the seafood supply chain remains opaque and mind-bogglingly complex. There are abundant opportunities for products to be compromised as they change hands over and over again across the globe on their journey to consumers. The upshot is that the status quo rules and efforts to change the supply chain are under constant assault.

You may ask yourself what’s at stake if things don’t change. The answer is actually quite simple: The future of the entire seafood sector. Let’s look at a few of the most pressing problems facing the industry and how transparency can help solve them.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. IUU fishing includes fishing during off-season breeding periods, catching and selling unmanaged fish stocks, and trading in fish caught by slaves (yes, slaves). It threatens the stability of seafood ecosystems in every ocean.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, IUU fishing accounts for as much as 26 million tons of fish every year, with a value of $10–23 billion. It is “one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems” and “takes advantage of corrupt administrations and exploits weak management regimes.” It occurs in international waters and within nations’ borders. It can have links to organized crime. It depletes resources available to legitimate operations, which can lead to the collapse of local fisheries. “IUU fishing threatens livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.”

Transparency will help mitigate IUU fishing by giving buyers and wholesalers the ability to guarantee the source of their product and avoid seafood that has come from suspect sources. It will help shrink markets for ill-gotten fish, as downstream players will demand data that proves a product is from a legal, regulated source and has been reported to the appropriate government agencies.

International food fraud. When the supply for a perishable commodity such as seafood fluctuates, the supply chain becomes vulnerable to food fraud, the illegal practice of substituting one food for another. (For seafood, it’s most often replacing one species for another.) To keep an in-demand product flowing to customers, fishermen and restaurateurs can feel pressure to commit seafood fraud.

The problem is widespread. A 2019 report by Oceana, which works to protect and restore the Earth’s oceans, found through DNA analysis that 21% of the 449 fish it tested between March and August 2018 were mislabeled and that one-third of the establishments their researchers visited sold mislabeled seafood. Mislabeling was found at 26% of restaurants, 24% of small markets, and 12% of larger chain grocery stores. Sea bass and snapper were mislabeled the most. These results are similar to earlier Oceana reports.

Consumer health and food safety. It’s difficult to guarantee consumer health and food safety without a transparent supply chain. End-to-end traceability is critical during foodborne illness outbreaks (e.g., E. coli) and recalls, but the complex and global nature of the seafood supply chain presents a particularly daunting challenge. Species substitution (i.e., food fraud) has caused illness and death, and mishandled seafood can carry high histamine levels that pose health risks. Consumers have expectations that they are eating authentic food that is safe; the seafood industry has suffered from a lack of trust, and is starting to realize that the modern consumer landscape demands transparency.

Why Seafood Traceability Supports the Whole Supply Chain

Most seafood supply chain actors are well-intentioned companies. They regard themselves as stakeholders of a well-managed resource whose hardiness and survival are critical to their businesses and the global food supply chain. Many have implemented policies that require their buyers to verify—to the greatest extent possible—that the seafood they procure meets minimum standards for sustainability, safety and quality.

This kind of self-regulation has been an important first step, but enforcing such standards has been hampered by the lack of validated traceability systems in a digital supply chain. Of course, it costs money to implement these systems, which has been a sticking point, but industry leaders are starting to realize the value of the investment.

Suppliers. A key benefit of traceability for suppliers (i.e., processors and manufacturers) is that it allows them to really protect their business investments. Traceability achieves this because it demonstrates to consumers and trading partners that suppliers are doing things the correct way. Traceability also gives them better control over their supply chains and improves the quality of their product—other important “indicators” for consumers and trading partners.

These advantages also create opportunities for suppliers to build their brand reputations. For example, they can engage with consumers directly, using traceability data to explain that they are responsible stewards of fish populations and the environment and that their products are sustainably sourced and legitimate.

The bottom line is that suppliers that don’t modernize and digitize their supply chains probably won’t be able to stay in business. This stark realization should make them embrace traceability, as well as adopt practices that comply with the regulations that govern their operations. And once they “get with the program,” they should also be more inclined to follow initiatives and guidelines such as the GDST 1.0 Standards. This will invariably create more trust with their customers and partners.

Brands (companies) and distributors. These stakeholders also have a lot to gain from traceability. In a nutshell, they can know exactly what they’re purchasing and have peace of mind about the products’ origins, sustainability, and legitimacy. Like suppliers, they can readily comply with regulations, such as the U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a risk-based traceability effort that requires importers to provide and report key data about 13 fish and fish products identified as vulnerable to IUU fishing and/or seafood fraud.

And, of equal importance to their own fortunes, brands and distributors can use traceability to bolster their reputations and build and solidify their relationships with customers. Being able to prove the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the products they’re selling is a powerful branding and communications tool.

The end of the supply chain: Retailers, food service groups/providers, and consumers. High-quality products with traceable provenance mean retailers and food service companies will have better supply chain control and more “ammunition” to protect their brands. As with the stakeholders above, they’ll also garner more customer loyalty. For their part, consumers will know where their seafood comes from, be assured that their food is safe, feel good about being responsible buyers, and be inclined to purchase only products they can verify.

Transparency, Technology, Trust and Collaboration

The seafood industry is at a critical point in its very long history. It’s not a new story in business: Adapt, adopt and improve or face the consequences—in this case, government penalties, sanction from environmental groups, consumer mistrust and abandonment, and decreased revenues or outright failure.

There is one twist to the story, however: What the industry does now will affect more than just its own interests. The health of all fish species, the environment, and the future of the food supply for an ever-growing population hang in the balance.

But as we’ve demonstrated, there is good news. Supply chain transparency, driven by international initiatives and new technologies, is catching on in the industry. Though companies still struggle to see transparency as an investment, not a cost, their stances seem to be softening, their attitudes changing. The writing is on the wall.

The message I want to end with is that supply chain stakeholders should know that transparency is attainable—and it needn’t be painful. Help is available from many quarters, from government and global initiatives like the GDST to consumers themselves. Working with the right solution provider is another broad avenue leading to supply chain transparency. Technology is at the point now that companies have solid options. They can integrate their current systems with new solutions. They can consider replacing outdated and expensive-to-operate systems with less complicated solutions that, in the long run, do more for less. Or they can procure an entirely new supply chain system that closes all the gaps and jumps all the hurdles to transparency.

Whatever path the industry decides follow, the time to act is now.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Finding the Root Cause for Starch Fraud

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

Due to its lower cost, cassava starch is a common adulterant in higher priced starches, such as for potato and wheat. Tests with droplet digital polymerase chain reaction ddPCR in China uncovered that over 30% of sweet potato starch samples, 25% of cornstarch samples and 40% of potato starch samples were adulterated with cassava starch. Besides the economic impact, this kind of fraud also poses a risk to consumers allergic to cassava.

Resource

  1. Chen, J., et. al. (February 26, 2020). “Identification and quantification of cassava starch adulteration in different food starches by droplet digital PCR”. PLOS One.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Little Kiwi Birdie Told Me

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

New Zealand is known for its premier, high quality wine industry, enjoying a steady growth for the past several years. Even just one isolated case like the one reported here can hurt the reputation of an entire country’s wine industry. The Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand found that a large wine producer in New Zealand is responsible for falsely blending wines, as well as mislabeling the vintage and origin of the wines. The wines do not pose any health risks but due to the damaging nature to the New Zealand wine industry, this fraud is being punished by a hefty fine and other sentences.

Resources

  1. Radio New Zealand (March 13, 2020). “Wine fraud: Southern Boundary Wines fined $1.7m”.
  2. Shermand, E. (August 4, 2017). “New Zealand Winery Accused of Wine Fraud in Landmark Case“. Food & Wine.
Selvarani Elahi, Food Authenticity Network
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Fraud Information Sharing

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D., Selvarani Elahi
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Selvarani Elahi, Food Authenticity Network

Coordination among the various agencies and laboratories responsible for food safety is an ongoing challenge. Coordination and standardization of laboratories and methods related to food authenticity testing can be even more challenging. As noted in the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks (conducted following the 2013 horsemeat incident):

“Official controls of food authenticity require a wide range of analytical and molecular biological techniques, many with exacting instrumentation requirements and in-depth scientific interpretation of the datasets generated. No single institution…could field the complete range of such techniques with the required expertise.”

One of the recommendations in Elliott Review was the establishment of an “Authenticity Assurance Network” to facilitate standardized approaches to food authenticity testing. This network would also enable better coordination among government departments related to policies, surveillance and criminal investigation around food fraud. The Food Authenticity Network (FAN) was subsequently established in 2015 by the U.K. government and serves as a repository for news and information on best practices for food authenticity testing methods and food fraud mitigation. At the heart of FAN, there is a network of laboratories that provide authenticity testing, which are designated as Food Authenticity Centers of Expertise (CoE). A contact person is named for every CoE so that stakeholders can communicate with them regarding food authenticity testing. There is a call currently open for UK Food Authenticity Centres of Expertise, so take a look and see if your laboratory fits the requirements.

Over the past four years, FAN has grown to more than 1,500 members from 68 countries/territories and in 2019, more than 12,000 unique users accessed information on the network’s website.

Food Authenticity Network
Heatmap of Food Authenticity Network membership. (Graphic courtesy of FAN)

The site currently hosts 101 government reports, 77 standard operating procedures (SOPs), 16 survey reports, and 22 reports on nitrogen factors (which are used for meat and fish content calculations). Importantly, the site also includes a section on food fraud mitigation, which signposts some of the world’s leading services, guidance and reports aimed at preventing fraud from occurring.

FAN posts periodic newsletters with updates on funded projects, research reports, government activity, upcoming conferences, and other news of interest related to assuring the integrity of food. The latest newsletter has just been issued.

In its efforts to create a truly global network, as well as reaching out to the international food community, FAN is collaborating with other governments. In 2019, Selvarani Elahi gave presentations on FAN in Ghana and Vietnam, and discussions are currently taking place with the Ghana Food and Drugs Administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency about creating bespoke country-specific pages. In 2018, FAN was recognized at a Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting as being a “leading example of an integrity network.” Discussions are also in progress with multiple Codex Member countries.

FAN is an open access platform and membership is free (you can sign up here). The benefits of membership include access to closed discussion fora on the site, customizable email alerts, and options to communicate with other network members, as well as a monthly highlights email that rounds up the month’s activities in one convenient location.

The Network was set-up with funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, and is currently supported with public-private partnership funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, McCormick and Company, LGC Standards and the Institute of Food Science & Technology.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Fraudulent Dinner Is Served

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

Due to extensive opportunities for fraud, the lack of an adequate monitoring system, cost pressures in the industry, and lack of transparency in the food supply chain, amongst other factors, fraudulent food products still pose a significant risk within the hospitality industry. A recent study discusses the food service food fraud vulnerability assessment (FS-FFCA), showing as an example that one-third of extra virgin olive oil samples at restaurants and catering facilities were adulterated. More tools are urgently needed to protect consumers and legitimate operations from illicit activities.

Resource

  1. van Ruth, S.M., et al. (March 9, 2020): “Feeding fiction: Fraud vulnerability in the food service industry”. Food Research International, Volume 133, July 2020, 109158

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Whisky Improves With Age

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

Aged Scotch whisky can cost a fortune. For example, a bottle of Macallan Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old 1926 was auctioned off for $1.9 million. What a perfect target for counterfeiters! Nuclear science to the rescue: Scientists at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center have developed a method to determine a whisky’s age. The radioactive fallout from the detonation of atomic bombs in the 1950s and 1960s has enabled scientists to create a Carbon-14 calibration curve based on whiskies with known age.

Resource

  1. Gordon T Cook, Elaine Dunbar, Brian G Tripney and Derek Fabel (8 January 2020): “Using Carbon Isotopes to Fight the Rise in Fraudulent Whisky”. Cambridge University Press. Volume 62, Issue 1, February 2020, pp. 51-62
Food Labs Conference

Food Labs / Cannabis Labs 2020 Agenda Announced

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Labs Conference

The agenda for the 2020 Food Labs / Cannabis Labs conference has been announced. The event, which will address regulatory, compliance and risk management issues that companies face in the area of testing and food laboratory management, is scheduled to take place on June 3–4 in Rockville, MD.

Some agenda highlights include a special morning session on June 3 that discusses the proposed FSMA rule on lab accreditation: “FSMA and the Impact on Laboratories and Laboratory Data Users” and “FSMA Proposed Rule on Laboratory Accreditation: What it says and what it should say” presented by Reinaldo Figueiredo of ANSI and Robin Stombler of Auburn Health Strategies, respectively. FDA has also been invited to speak on the proposed rule. Sessions will also cover the role of labs as it relates to pathogens, with presentations from Benjamin Katchman, Ph.D. (PathogenDx) about a novel DNA microarray assay used for detecting and speciating multiple Listeria species and Dave Evanson (Merieux Nutrisciences) on pathogen detection and control. The full agenda is listed on the Food Labs / Cannabis Labs website.

The early bird discount of $395 expires on March 31.

Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., the organizer of the conference, is fully taking into considerations the travel concerns related to the coronavirus. Should any
disruption that may prevent the production of this live event at its physical location in Rockville, MD due to COVID-19, all sessions will be converted to a virtual conference on the already planned dates. More information is available on the event website.