Tag Archives: fraud

Food Fraud

Fertilizer-Tainted Sugar, Formalin-Drenched Chicken Guts Top Fake Foods List

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Fraud

–Update– 4/1/2016 16:40 pm–

This article was part of our April Fool’s special edition. While the information about the Interpol seizure is indeed factual, we made up the new detection method (EFAS). 35% of poll participants were correct in guessing that this was the article that contained false information.

This week Interpol-Europol announced its largest-ever seizure of fake foods and beverages across 57 countries over a four-month time period. In total, Operation Opson V seized 10,000 tones and 1 million liters of food products between November 2015 and February 2016, with the following topping the list:

  • Fertilizer-contaminated sugar from Khartoum, Sudan (nearly 9 tons)
  • Olives painted with copper sulphate solutions to enhance color (85+ tons)

“Today’s rising food prices and the global nature of the food chain offer the opportunity for criminals to sell counterfeit and substandard food in a multi-billion criminal industry which can pose serious potential health risks to unsuspecting customers. The complexity and scale of this fraud means cooperation needs to happen across borders with a multi-agency approach,” said Chris Vansteenkiste, cluster manager of the Intellectual Property Crime Team at Europol in an agency release.

Other seized products worthy of note include:

  • Chicken intestines preserved in formalin from Indonesia (70 kg)
  • Monkey meat from Belgium
  • Locusts (11 kg) and caterpillars (20 kg) from France
  • Fake whiskey from Zambia (1300 bottles)
  • Tilapia unfit for human consumption imported to Togo (24 tons)
  • Honey from Australia  (450 kg)

And for the false information:

At a recent conference for food laboratory professionals, Gavin Rosenberg, Ph.D., discussed an emerging analytical method that could be game changing in detecting adulterated products in the field. Using electrostatic fluorescence absorbance spectroscopy (EFAS), Rosenberg’s lab has been able to probe the chemical composition of products, from liquids to bulk and high-moisture foods, while simultaneously assessing concentration in products such as meat and even spices. The rapid and portable method is also highly sensitive and can provide trace detection of pathogens, dyes, antibiotics and pesticides within 60 seconds.

“While still in the research stage, EFAS has been utilized in several studies and has successfully been shown to detect contaminants as well as ingredients that are frequently added to adulterate food products,” said Rosenberg.  He indicated that his team will pursue initial applications of the product to identify adulteration of olive oil (nearly 70% of olive oil is adulterated or diluted) and ground beef, specifically in the European and Asian markets.

David Fried, Food Labs
In the Food Lab

Food Labs: Authentic and Safe Food is Key

By David Fried
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David Fried, Food Labs

The recent Foods Lab Conference (co-located with Pittcon) was an intersection of compliance, technology and best possible practices. One of the goals of this international symposium was to have laboratories and the food industry recognize one another as part of an effort for a more intentional and collaborative system in the industry, especially in terms of policies and practices.

As a Food Science student from Tallahassee, Florida I ended up at this incredible conference after seeing a blurb for it on LinkedIn and was able to attend as an intern. The two main objectives of my role were to assist with various tasks to help ensure the event transitioned smoothly, as well as further my knowledge base of the enormous realm of food safety. The following are some themes that I heard throughout the two days.

Having the analysis and validation performed or overseen with preventative types of controls from a qualified individual should ideally occur before the food safety plan is implemented. This appears to be desired by the consensus and was a common thread during the conference. If there is a change in a process control, it can have a serious impact on the legitimacy of the documentation if the change is not taken into account. The ISO implementations are food safety management systems and hazard analysis identification, which is the international benchmark for compliance standards.

Analytical scientific instrumentation is absolutely necessary for guaranteeing data and reproducibility on a consistent basis. The scope and complexity of modern technology should be considered when used for repeated trials in which the narrowest margins of results are being demanded by consumers and industry. Microbiologists confirm their peace of mind is reliant on the ability for reproducible experimental trials. In a laboratory, the presence of variables and species must be handled in an extremely controlled manner. All too frequently undesirable organisms appear in foods, and this is often the result of poor food handling practices, fraudulent practices or summed up, lazy shortcuts for the most unthinkable reasons. An effort to decrease these microbes is being made through transparency in supply chains to trace the journey of the food from seed to the table.

Food production is being shaped as a result of FSMA, which is a milestone in food safety. A few features of this legislation are to offer assistance for the food technology sector and address questions about policy and safe handling practices. It has and will continue to influence the process of laboratory accreditation, validation and compliance in order to provide thorough transparency for the development of more modern food systems. There were many fascinating perspectives shared about validation and accreditation for both laboratories and facilities. Many large companies have their laboratories in-house, because it is easier from a production perspective if the product is going to market, to test it repeatedly in order to have less delay in the market launch. There have been times in which carcinogenic fillers or fake foods were portrayed. Examples would be the horse meat and melamine scandals. An additional perspective would be the possibility in protecting the own interests of the company by not disclosing true ingredients, practices, or actual comprehensive food safety evaluation. All are truly unacceptable with regards to mega food base distribution companies. Small- to medium-sized businesses typically source laboratory evaluations to third-party assessors to perform product validation because it’s simply too expensive to implement on their own because of labor, technology and space constraints. Claims of 100% pure olive oil are not true the majority of the time. A sunflower oil and chlorophyll solution can be made to mimic the coloration of pure extra virgin olive oil. So it is commonplace for this sort of solution to be created and combined with pure olive oil at a ratio of 2:1, as a conservative figure. True wording and claims are becoming a thing of the past, because it is way too simple for big food business to engage in such unthinkable practices to maximize their own profits.

A key thread running throughout the conference was the importance of necessitating the collaborative efforts needed to achieve a comprehensive dialogue set in place as a universal type of database. This database would serve as the foundation to ensure safe food practices throughout worldwide food production companies, accredited laboratories, governments, and consumers.

The Food Labs Conference was truly one of fantastic speakers, interesting participants, and fascinating conversation. The advanced topics were explored by professionals who share a deep passion for this vital industry sector. Food Laboratories and the conference, respectively, will become even more revolutionary in terms of future technology, the influence garnered by key publics, and future experts.

Mislabeled Salmon

Rapid Salmon ID Test the Latest in Fraud Prevention

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Mislabeled Salmon

Two rapid test kits have been launched for the identification of salmon species: Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka). The tool kits were developed in collaboration with the University of Guelph and allow distributors, food processors and government regulators to positively identify the salmon species in less than two hours. 

Recent studies have revealed that a significant amount of the salmon sold in the United States is mislabeled.

The test kits are used in conjunction with a portable, real-time PCR system that provides DNA detection. The tools are part of the Instant ID Species product line from InstantLabs, which include seafood identification tests for Atlantic (Salmo salar) and Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch as well as Atlantic Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus) and U.S. Catfish (Ictalurus species).

Is Your Company Prepared to Fight Food Fraud and Product Adulteration?

By Maria Fontanazza
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Having the ability to detect and identify contamination and adulteration in product is a top priority for companies, especially when working with foreign suppliers. In a discussion with Food Safety Tech, Craig S. Schwandt, Ph.D., director of industrial services at McCrone Associates, discusses how companies, especially those with limited resources, can use technologies to improve contamination detection to be ahead of the FSMA implementation curve.

Food Safety Tech: From your perspective, what key elements of FSMA will have a big impact on manufacturers and processors?

Craig Schwandt: For U.S. manufacturers, more and more of their ingredients are coming from foreign countries. [Companies] are responsible for reporting to FDA what measures they have taken to assure food safety in all aspects. Participating in the Foreign Supplier Verification Program will be critical to [their awareness of] whether their foreign suppliers are meeting those obligations. That critical element hasn’t been realized yet.

FST: Is navigating the foreign supplier relationship more of a challenge for smaller businesses versus larger companies?

Schwandt: Global companies have the resources to address contamination concerns and can monitor the processing that takes place in foreign countries. It’s the small companies that don’t have the financial resources to be present in foreign countries. There will be many more issues for them to address—are they really receiving product that they’re paying for? Is the testing that is being conducted in foreign countries really meeting the requirements.

FST: What steps can small companies take to ensure they have testing programs in place to meet requirements?

Schwandt: This ties in with the difference between testing and investigational analysis. Testing involves identification methods that are done to ascertain what is present—it might be an elemental concentration basis or an organic molecule basis—but they’re bulk analysis that determines whether the product is meeting the expected composition.

Then there might be components for which there are actionable levels, if the concentration exceeds actionable levels. But with bulk analysis testing methods, they only understand that they have a component in their product that exceeds an action level, and those methods don’t really specify where that component might be introduced into the product. This is where microscopy-based investigational analysis can assist smaller companies with understanding at what point the contaminant might have been introduced into the product. It can be isolated in individual particles, establishing a forensic pathway for stage of the process in which the contaminant might have been introduced.

FST: Can you expand on the technologies and methods that can be used to detect fraud or adulterated product?

Schwandt: In the case of intentional adulteration and fraud, current technologies include ultrahigh pressure liquid chromatography, liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry, and the food industry is doing a great job of using them.

In the case of intentional adulteration or fraud, the level of adulteration has to be fairly high, otherwise there isn’t an economic incentive to adulterate it. A great example is with pomegranate juice—if you’re going to intentionally adulterate pomegranate juice with grape juice to cut it down, a fairly large percentage of the final juice will be grape juice in order to make that intentional adulteration process economically motivating. It’s not really so difficult to identify it with [current] technologies.

Where the technologies need to be improved is in instances in which there might be more unintentional adulteration or contamination at trace levels:

  • When there are solid phase particulate contaminants, use of microscopy-based methods (which isn’t new technology) where you isolate the contaminant particles of interest; they occur at trace level. Because we isolate them from the matrix, we can analyze them and [detect] if there were metal particles from processing machinery; we can identify them to the alloy level and give clients a way to trace back to what part in the process stream those particles may have originated.
  • Likewise, Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, especially for pesticide residue analysis, will be increasingly more valuable using the QuEChERS program FDA has outlined for quick, safe, reliable and easy analysis of trace contaminants in food products.

FST: What factors are contributing to under-use of microscopy-based methods?

Schwandt: I think the expensive–instrument vendors would like you believe it is as simple as pushing a button to receive your complete quantitative answer. In many cases, the instruments, even though they might be designed with the best intentions, actually do require expert chemists to use them for complete success. There’s a push on the part of instrument manufacturers to provide instrumentation that they sell as providing the complete answer. And there’s a willingness in the food industry to believe it would be as simple as putting a less-skilled person in front of the instrument to run the analysis, push the button, and get the answer, as opposed to hiring an analyst with a lot of expertise.

FST: What industry partnerships/collaborations are essential in testing and analysis?

Schwandt: The partnerships are productive in this area when they’re between production and quality assurance branches of companies and third-party laboratories that can offer niche solutions and third-party verification.

Food Defense Culture is Coming

By Maria Fontanazza
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FSMA’s proposed rule on intentional adulteration isn’t the only reason companies should be paying attention to food defense.

Establishing metrics in food defense, similar to the growing awareness around the importance of measuring behaviors in a food safety culture, was a topic recently brought up at FDA’s FSMA public meeting in the spring. The agency acknowledged that it will need to both clearly define what exactly is intentional adulteration and how it can be measured.

While food safety involves assessing and mitigating hazards, food defense is all about the threat and protection against intentional contamination. “The threat of fraud is a growing problem as supply chains get more complex, resources grow scarcer and the cost of food increases. All this provides more opportunity and potential reward for food adulterers,” stated a recent PwC report on food trust.

The FSMA final rule Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration is scheduled to be published in spring 2016, and companies need to be revisiting and revamping their food defense plans to prepare.

Prevention is the key word and on the most fundamental level of a food defense plan, businesses need to have management commitment before building, or even revisiting, a food defense plan—do they understand the resources, time and cost involved?

Conducting a vulnerability assessment is the first step in finding the gaps and examining whether a facility is secure. Beyond the standard questions that companies may ask when embarking on this assessment, businesses should identify potential attackers, asking how an attacker could have access to a product or process and what would be the outcome of an attack. Then look at the protective measures that are already in place—would these act as a deterrent? And if deterred, would the attacker proceed to the next target or would he or she stop? What measures are in place to find the attacker before there is an effect on the product?

When developing a food defense plan, there are several areas of potential vulnerability:

  • Shipping and receiving and packaging
  • Laboratories and testing sites
  • Recall and traceability programs and processes
  • Water used in processing/manufacturing—what is its origin?
  • Employees—what are the health risks? Is there a process for employee health reporting? Is there a process for reporting disgruntled employees?
  • Security personnel

With food fraud on the rise, it’s important for companies to continue to revisit and update their food defense plans, considering changes to facility designs or strategies, packaging changes, security improvements, etc. Companies should also be proactive in monitoring their employees both from a satisfaction (reducing the incidence of a disgruntled employee) and awareness perspective. FDA has initiatives to help companies build a food defense culture and employee awareness, including the ALERT training course for owners and operators of food facilities and Employees FIRST, and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense has programs aimed at workforce training as well as undergraduate and graduate curriculum on food defense.

Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.
In the Food Lab

Is that Pricey Wine the Real Deal? Using IRMS to Detect Fraud

By Paul Dewsbury
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Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

By Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

Upon conducting some online research to find a nice bottle of wine to bring to a party, I became distracted by a story about the world’s most expensive wine, priced at an eye-watering $195,000. With just a few clicks, I uncovered stories about auctioning a single bottle of wine for more than $300,000, and a case of 114 bottles selling for a record $1.6 million. Some of the reasons for the huge sums invested in pricey wines include rarity, social status of owner (aka famous), vintage, and perhaps most importantly, region and vineyard.

Ever the analytical chemist, I wondered, how do buyers identify whether that the extravagant bottle of wine they’re purchasing is the real thing? Perhaps the serious wine collectors out there could benefit from having an isotope ratio mass spectrometer (IRMS) in their cellar! But seriously, could IRMS play a role in authenticity testing?

Testing for Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Wine

Increasingly, fraud surrounding the provenance of wine has become a problem. Last year, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling millions of dollars of counterfeit wine. He not only created fake labels, but he also mixed and blended lower-priced wines to imitate the taste and character of rare and much more expensive wines.

An article published last year about the authenticity and geographic origin of wine discusses the results of investigating the stable isotope composition (C and O) of wine samples.1 The authors claim to have found significant isotope variations within samples from the same country as well as between samples from different countries.

¹³C and Simultaneous ¹⁸O and ²H Isotope Analysis in Ethanol with Thermo Scientific DELTA V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometers is also a useful resource, as it defines the configuration required for such testing. The method demonstrates excellent results and could be quite suitable for origin testing of wine. Isotopic analysis of wine has become a widespread tool to evaluate the quality, authenticity and origin of labeled products. This application note shows the ability and performance of the analysis of ethanol with combustion and with a high temperature carbon reduction technique in combination with a DELTA V IRMS. With this configuration, the ethanol can be analyzed for oxygen and carbon isotope composition. The analysis allows for the quantification of exogenous sugar added during the fermentation process, which is used to increase the alcohol content of the wine. This control is also needed for the detection of frauds, such as mislabeling regarding both ingredients and origin.

Most laboratories will seek alternative or complimentary techniques for authenticating wine. A few months ago, I blogged about using an ion chromatography method to verify the authenticity of your wine. I was also captivated by the poster, Related Seasonal and Geographical Differences in Wine from California’s Central Coast, which describes how a high performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) configuration was successfully implemented to analyze several wine varieties from different areas to show simultaneous detection and relative quantification of the wine’s components.

Wine authenticity is a fascinating subject, and I will leave you with this unbelievable but true story. In 1989, a bottle of 1787 Château Margaux from Thomas Jefferson’s wine collection was valued at more than $500,000 by its owner, William Sokolin, a New York wine merchant. At a dinner, it was accidentally knocked over and broke. What’s more,  the insurers paid $225,000 for the loss of the wine.

And to get back to where I started—I went to the supermarket and picked up a cheap bottle of wine. I don’t think anyone was the wiser, either.

References

1. Horacek, M., Papesch, W., Ogrinc, N., Magdas, A., Wunderlin, D., and
Misurovic, A. (2014). Control of Authenticity and Geographic Origin of Austrian, Slovenian,Romanian, Montenegrin and Argentinean wine, Geophysical Research Abstracts, 14. Retrieved from: http://www.josephinum.at/fileadmin/content/BLT/Puplikationen/1444-00_E.pdf.

Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

Honey Laundering: Food Fraud That’s Not So Sweet

By Paul Dewsbury
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Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

ThermoFisherpodcastAs a result of my research, I found two fantastic resources describing the background of food fraud, the first is an excellent 3-minute podcast on our website, titled, Food Fraud by Dr. Jennifer McEntire, who at the time was VP and Chief Science Officer at The Acheson Group and is now the newly appointed VP of Science Operations at the GMA. Dr. McEntire succinctly gets to the crux of the reasons pertaining to food fraud and it is well worth a listen.

The second is a 3-minute slide deck narrated by renowned food safety expert Professor Chris Elliot, Director of the Institute of Global Food Safety at Queens University Belfast. Professor Elliot highlights the impact of various food frauds including melamine adulteration in milk, spices, meat and he specifically expands on the topic of honey laundering.

There are too many honey adulteration frauds to list here and while some have resulted in huge fines and criminal charges, there is one that will not go away is the mislabeling of Manuka honey. This premium product (and premium price) is a rare honey from New Zealand produced by bees that pollinate the manuka bush and has numerous claimed medicinal properties that can be extremely profitable for the fraudsters through substitution with a basic product. As food fraud is an international issue, various organizations likeInterpol and Europol have food fraud units and here in the UK the government has committed to, and is setting up a dedicated Food Crime Unit.

Moving into the science, one of the best literature resources I would like to share is the Food Fraud Resources website which has some highly cited articles including reviews, thought leadership and analytical methods that are available for download. There are various techniques for honey analysis in the journals and I want to briefly focus on one of the most powerful for authentication, the use of isotope analysis. In our Application Note 30177, Detection of Honey Adulteration with FlashEA Elemental Analyzer and DELTA V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer, we describe a fully automated system for the detection of honey adulteration with C4-syrups according to the AOAC 998.12 guidelines and is routinely used in many laboratories.

Is honey analysis or food fraud of interest to your laboratory? If so, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

Check out Thermo Fisher’s Food Community page for more resources, on-demand webinars, videos, and application notes.

 

GFSI Position on Mitigating the Public Health Risk of Food Fraud

By Michael Biros
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New Food Fraud mitigation elements will be added to the next revision of the GFSI Guidance Document.

The GFSI board has decided to add two new key elements to the GFSI Guidance Document that address food fraud mitigation according to a recently published white paper. 

The additions to the Guidance Document will require a company to perform a food fraud vulnerability assessment and to have a control plan in place. The vision for the mitigation of food fraud to become an integral part of a company’s food safety management program. 

During a food safety certification audit, conducted against GFSI recognized schemes, the auditor will review the documentation related to the vulnerability assessment process and confirm that a comprehensive control plan has been developed and implemented by the company. 

Food fraud, including the subcategory of economically motivated adulteration, is not the same as food defense. Food defense protects against tampering with intent to harm whereas food fraud concerns the deception of consumers and includes substitution, unapproved enhancements, misbranding, counterfeiting, and stolen goods. The food safety risks associated with food fraud can be more dangerous and challenging to address than traditional food safety risks because the contaminants are unconventional. Some high profile food fraud incidents include the melamine tainted milk crisis, mislabeled recycled cooking oil, and knowingly shipping Salmonella contaminated peanuts. 

The new food fraud mitigation key elements will be included in the next revision of the GFSI Guidance Document (Version 7) to be released in 2016.