Tag Archives: labeling

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

If Fish Could Talk

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Seafood 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.

Seafood fraud is still on an almost unchanged high level in Canada. Based on a 2021 investigation by Oceana Canada, 46% of 94 DNA tested seafood samples were not what the label claimed them to be. The Oceana report describes seafood traceability in Canada, the 2021 seafood fraud investigation and results, what consumers can do, and suggestions for the federal government on how to mitigate seafood fraud. These recommendations include setting up a traceability system, labeling standards, improving testing standards and better documentation in the supply chain.

Resource

  1. Oceana. (August 2021). “Seafood Fraud in Canada: 2021 Testing Results Report”.
Allergens

Key Trends Reinforce Food Allergen Testing Market Across North America

By Saloni Walimbe
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Allergens

The food allergen testing industry has garnered considerable traction across North America, especially due to the high volume of processed food and beverages consumed daily. Allergens are becoming a significant cause for concern in the present food processing industry worldwide. Food allergies, which refer to abnormal reactions or hypersensitivity produced by the body’s immune system, are considered a major food safety challenge in recent years and are placing an immense burden on both personal and public health.

In 2019, the most common reason behind recalls issued by the USDA FSIS and the FDA was undeclared allergens. In light of this growing pressure, food producers are taking various steps to ensure complete transparency regarding the presence of allergenic ingredients, as well as to mitigate risk from, or possibly even prevent contact with, unintended allergens. One of these steps is food allergen testing.

Allergen detection tests are a key aspect of allergen management systems in food processing plants and are executed at nearly every step of the process. These tests can be carried out on work surfaces, as well as the products, to detect any cross contamination or allergen presence, and to test the effectiveness of a food processing unit’s cleaning measures.
There has been a surge in awareness among consumers about food allergies and tackling the risk of illnesses that may arise from consuming any ingredient. One of the key reasons for a higher awareness is efforts to educate the public. In Canada, for example, May has been designated “Food Allergy Awareness Month”. It is estimated that more than 3 million people in Canada are affected by food allergies.

The size of the global food allergen testing market is anticipated to gain significant momentum over the coming years, with consistent expansion of the dairy, processed food and confectionary segments.

Understanding the Prevailing Trends in Food Allergen Testing Industry

Food allergies risen nearly 50% in the last 10 years, with a staggering 700% increase observed in hospitalizations due to anaphylaxis. Studies also suggest that food allergies are a growing health concern, with more than 250 million people worldwide estimated to be affected.

Although more than 170 foods have been identified as causing food allergies in sensitive consumers, the USDA and the FDA have identified eight major allergenic foods, based on the 2004 FALCPA (the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act). These include eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, peanuts, tree nuts, soybean, and wheat, which are responsible for 90% of allergic reactions caused due to food consumption. In April 2021, the FASTER (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research) Act was signed into law, which categorized sesame as the ninth major food allergen.

This ever-increasing prevalence of allergy-inducing foods has presented lucrative opportunities for the food allergen testing industry in recent years since food processing business operators are placing a strong emphasis on ensuring transparency in their products’ ingredient lists. By testing for allergens in food products, organizations can accurately mention each ingredient, and thereby allow people with specific food allergies to avoid consuming them.

Several allergen detection methods are used in the food processing industry, including mass spectrometry, DNA-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as well as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), to name a few. The FDA, for instance, created a food allergen detection assay, called xMAP, designed to simultaneously identify 16 allergens, including sesame, within a single analysis, along with the ability to expand for the targeting of additional food allergens. Such industry advancements are improving the monitoring process for undeclared allergen presence in the food supply chain and enabling timely intervention upon detection.

Furthermore, initiatives, such as the Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling (VITAL), created and managed by the Allergen Bureau, are also shedding light on the importance of allergen testing in food production. The VITAL program is designed to support allergen management with the help of a scientific process for risk assessment, in order to comply with food safety systems like the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), with allergen analysis playing a key role in its application.

ELISA Gains Prominence as Ideal Tool for Food Allergen Testing

In life sciences, the detection and quantification of various antibodies or antigens in a cost-effective and timely manner is of utmost importance. Detection of select protein expression on a cell surface, identification of immune responses in individuals, or execution of quality control testing—all these assessments require a dedicated tool.

ELISA is one such tool proving to be instrumental for both diagnostics as well as research). Described as an immunological assay, ELISA is used commonly for the measurement of antibodies or antigens in biological samples, including glycoproteins or proteins.

While its utility continues to grow, ELISA-based testing has historically demonstrated excellent sensitivity in food allergen testing applications, in some cases down to ppm (parts per million). It has a distinct advantage over other allergen detection methods like PCR, owing to the ability to adapt to certain foods like milk and oils, where its counterparts tend to struggle. The FDA is one of the major promoters of ELISA for allergen testing in food production, involving the testing of food samples using two different ELISA kits, prior to confirming results.

Many major entities are also taking heed of the growing interest in the use of ELISA for food allergen diagnostics. A notable example of this is laboratory analyses test kits and systems supplier, Eurofins, which introduced its SENSISpec Soy Total protein ELISA kit in September 2020. The enzyme immunoassay, designed for quantitative identification of soy protein in swab and food samples, has been developed by Eurofins Immunolab to measure residues of processed protein in various food products, including instant meals, chocolate, baby food, ice cream, cereals, sausage, and cookies, among others.

In essence, food allergens continue to prevail as high-risk factors for the food production industry. Unlike other pathogens like bacteria, allergenic proteins are heat resistant and stable, and cannot easily be removed once present in the food supply chain. In this situation, diagnostic allergen testing, complete segregation of allergenic substances, and accurate food allergen labeling are emerging as the ideal courses of action for allergen management in the modern food production ecosystem, with advanced technologies like molecular-based food allergy diagnostics expected to take up a prominent role over the years ahead.

lightbulb, innovation

Trends in Consumer Buying Behavior: Complimentary Webinar June 16

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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lightbulb, innovation

What matters to consumers when they buy food and beverage products, and what do they see on labels? Next week, food safety professionals can gains from insight on this topic during a complimentary Food Safety Tech webinar.

Sponsored by DNV, this virtual event will present research results conducted by DNV and (independently) Natalia Velikova, Ph.D., professor and associate director at Texas Tech University and Sophie Ghvanidize, Ph.D., agribusiness lecturer at Geisenheim University in Germany on consumer behavior and trust, when buying well established and novice food and beverage product brands, along with the impact of information on labels regarding products nutritional and health benefits, environmental impact of production and social responsibility of producers on consumer choices.

Event: What matters to consumers when buying food & beverage products, and what do they see on labels?
When: Wednesday, June 16, 1 pm ET
Where: Your office
Register for this complimentary virtual event now.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

An Appellation Hodgepodge

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis

In Italy’s Tuscany / Maremma region a fraud system with a broad scope that included clandestine meat, vegetable and fruits was set up by a company that claimed to sell these items from their own production. Included in this fraud was a significant amount of wine, some of which was violating health regulations. The products were either mislabeled by removing original labels, or they did not have any labeling and traceability. Due to their questionable origin and potential impact on human health, the products were seized by officials and scheduled for destruction.

Food fraud, Italy
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

Resource

  1. Editorial Staff (April 29, 2021) “Macellazione clandestina e falsa “produzione propria” su frutta e verdura: imprenditore denunciato per frode”. Il Giunco il quotidiano della Maremma
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

I Say Tomato, You Say Fraudulent Tomato

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Tomato
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.

Country of origin food fraud is not uncommon. In this latest case, involving a well-known Italian company, tomato products from outside of Europe were sold as 100% Italian, leading to the confiscation of 4000 tons of products. Country of Origin laws are taken very seriously in Italy and the EU, as can be seen in the EU Regulation 775/2018 Country of Origin labeling law, also known as COOL.

Resource

  1. Branthôme, F.X. (May 3, 2021). “Italy: Petti company operations under investigation”. Tomato News.

What Matters to Consumers when Buying Food & Beverage Products, and What Do They See on Labels?

Consumer concerns for healthier lifestyles and for the environment have become major driving forces for forming food-buying intentions. This webinar presents results of research on consumer behavior and trust when buying well established and novice food & beverage product brands, as well as the impact of information on labels regarding products nutritional and health benefits, environmental impact of production and social responsibility of producers on consumer choices.

Julie Holt, Decernis
FST Soapbox

California Proposition 65: Every Company Should Know Their Risk

By Julie Holt
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Julie Holt, Decernis

Known officially as The California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, California Proposition 65 reaches far beyond state boundaries and has potential regulatory implications for almost any company that manufactures, imports, and / or sells products containing listed chemicals in the state. California Prop 65 prohibits the sale of a product in California that knowingly and intentionally exposes an individual to a California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) listed chemical without a specific stated warning. For many food and supplement companies, the risk of opportunistic litigation based on California Prop 65 drives the need to monitor updates, new amendments and enforcement of the law.

Prop 65 Background

California Proposition 65, also known by the shortened name Prop 65, is not a ban on products or ingredients. The law is intended to inform consumers in California about exposure to a list of chemicals exceeding a defined level in products for sale, including product packaging. The regulation mandates a warning label for exposure to chemicals at a level that could cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Guidance for upper limits (“Safe Harbor Level”) on chemicals is based on expected daily exposure. If no Safe Harbor Level exists for a chemical, the product containing a listed chemical must include a warning, unless the exposure level can be proven to not pose a significant risk of causing harm.

With the size of the California economy and the interconnected U.S. supply chain, the state law effectively reaches other states and U.S. importers. More recently, the Prop 65 requirements impact online and catalog sales, which have increased significantly during the global pandemic.

Know Your Suppliers

All companies need to proactively evaluate and document Prop 65 risks. Enforcement occurs primarily through civil litigation, resulting in specialized legal firms profiting from a company’s ignorance of the law’s extent. Even the threat of publicity from a lawsuit can cause targeted companies to settle a case.
At each point of manufacturing and distribution—supplier, manufacturer, packager, importer or distributor—regulatory teams should ask about Prop 65 compliance. The main point of responsibility is at the manufacturer, but a retailer can also be obligated for introducing a chemical at point-of-sale.

What’s New with Prop 65

The OEHHA issues notices regarding amendments to the California Code of Regulations Title 27, Article 6, covering “Clear and Reasonable Warnings”. Recently the OEHHA requested public comments on proposed amendments that would modify the content and methods for providing “short-form” warnings. The short form was originally intended for products with restricted label space.

The proposed rule would modify the existing short-form warning provisions to:

  • Only allow use of the short-form warning on products with five square inches or less of label space.
  • Eliminate use of short-form warnings for products sold via the Internet and catalogs.
  • Clarify how short-form warnings can be used for food products.
  • Require the name of at least one chemical be included in the short-form warning.

Bottomline: Know Your Business and Risk

As an advisor with more than 20 years of regulatory compliance experience in food and food ingredients, my guidance for business best practice on Prop 65 is to be proactive, maintain supply chain knowledge, and understand risk. Regulatory or legal staff, or consultant teams specializing in Prop 65, should regularly monitor for additions to the chemical list and rulemaking changes to the far-reaching law.

Steven Blonder, Much Law
FST Soapbox

Food Litigation Trends Lay the Foundation for an Industry-Defining 2021

By Steven Blonder
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Steven Blonder, Much Law

The year 2020 brought with it continued court filings within the food safety litigation space, and it should come as no surprise the pandemic presented its own set of unique challenges. We’ve seen disruptions to the food and beverage supply chain, noteworthy changes with recalls, and continued developments in litigation specific to product labeling. These challenges have impacted everyone involved in the industry and laid the groundwork for what’s to come in 2021.

The most notable impact the food industry has faced as a result of the pandemic has been the massive disruption of the food supply chain. Grocers and other retail food providers have seen an immense spike in demand, whereas foodservice locations, such as restaurants, universities, and hotels, have seen the exact opposite. This disruption to the supply chain has required regulatory agencies to take notice and implement temporary policies to support these businesses and consumers alike. Employees across the food industry supply chain, including agriculture and food processing, have further been classified as essential, leading federal agencies to issue guidance to these employers to help them assess COVID-19 control plans and protect their employee’s health. Further, safety concerns and bumps in unemployment compensation have imposed additional strains on worker retention and attendance.

Another interesting facet of the pandemic’s impact on the industry has been its influence in the product recall space. Believe it or not, companies have strayed from pulling their products off the shelf even if it subjects them to potential liability. Why is this? Because as mentioned earlier, the demand for food in the retail space has increased so much, it has become a necessary choice to avoid food shortages across the United States. Don’t worry, if a product possesses a health or safety threat, companies are still recalling those to protect consumers and address safety concerns, but voluntary non-health or safety related recalls may have become a thing of the past. For example, rather than recall a box of cereal or other dry good for not meeting a fill-line requirement, providers may elect to risk a false-advertising lawsuit to meet the recent shift in retail food demand.

Since 2012, there have been more than 200 class action lawsuits filed related to the labeling on food products. This past year, we observed a continuation of this trend. Class action lawsuits were filed addressing the authenticity of “all-natural” products or claims based on the “origin” of a product, while we witnessed a sharp decline in slack-fill lawsuits. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients in food products and are continuing to demand transparency from companies to disclose how their products are made. There has been a particular increase in claims related to the definition of vanilla—is it pure? Is it natural? The same goes for citric acid, a product that can be made naturally or synthetically. There has been continued debate within the industry about citric acid in its use within other products where some citric acid is naturally occurring either from citrus fruit, tomatoes or other fruits with citric acid. If all-natural citric acid is added into tomato paste to help with the taste, can the tomato paste still be classified as being all-natural, even if the use of citric acid is displayed on the label?

To help combat the discrepancies around all-natural products, the USDA is currently working on developing an official definition of “all-natural,” which upon its completion is anticipated to have a major impact on the labeling industry and the number of false-advertising class actions. This definitional development comes at a crucial time especially as plant-based protein continues to rise in popularity.

The next wave of claims are being filed related to plant-based protein products. These claims include trademark and First Amendment issues. For example, when is a burger, a burger? Everyone assumes a burger means a hamburger, traditionally deriving from beef, and there has been an increase in debate around when the sale of plant-based products infringe on the rights of ranchers selling traditional beef products. Can food created in a petri-dish claim the same title as products created through traditional harvesting methods? What about other genetically modified products? These issues will likely spawn additional litigation in the coming year.

Looking ahead towards 2021, we can fully anticipate cases addressing food labeling issues to continue. Historically many of these claims were filed in Northern California with one federal court there earning the moniker of the “Food Court”. Recent years have seen increased filings in New York and Illinois, but the coming year may see a decrease in cases filed in New York as a result of recent court decisions relating to pre-emption and a recent opinion of a federal appellate court disallowing the settlement of class claims on an injunction-only basis. California may also see changes in their total cases as food producers curtail product sales in California to avoid the ambit of Prop 65.1

2021 will continue to bear witness to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The supply chain will continue to adjust to the varying demands of the public as they navigate safety regulations, and companies will maintain an “only-recall-if-absolutely-necessary” mindset. Many of the adjustments that businesses, consumers and regulators have had to make in light of the pandemic may also lead to long-term or permanent shifts. In fact, the Consumer Brands Association has identified a few select areas ready for change, such as the maintenance of flexibility in food labeling to ease the transfer process of products between foodservice and food retail providers. We just might find 2021 to be one of the most industry-defining years in the food safety litigation space.

Reference

  1. California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (n.d.). Proposition 65. Accessed December 17, 2020. Retrieved from https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65
FDA

FDA Asks for Comments and Evidence to Aid in Labeling of Cultured Seafood Cells

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has issued a Request for Information in an effort to gain information and data about how to properly label foods made with cultured seafood cells. The goal is to help FDA determine next steps in ensuring that products derived from cultured seafood cells are labeled consistently and transparently. The “Request for Information: Labeling of Foods Comprised of or Containing Cultured Seafood Cells” will be published on the Federal Register on October 7, and there is a 150-day comment period.

“The FDA invites comment, particularly data and other evidence, about names or statements of identity for foods made with cultured seafood cells. The agency is also interested in information on consumer understanding of those terms and how to determine material differences between cell cultured and conventionally produced seafood,” FDA stated in an email constituent update.

The labeling of foods derived from cultured seafood cells falls under FDA jurisdiction. In March the USDA and FDA entered into a formal agreement regarding the oversight of human food made from cells of livestock and poultry.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

More Than 100 Incident Records of Fresh Produce Fraud

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

Fraud in fresh produce can occur in several ways, including fraudulent organic certifications, counterfeit branding, misrepresentation of geographic origin, and the use of unapproved ripening agents. Since most fresh produce is visually identifiable, partial dilution or replacement with less expensive substances is usually not possible. Fraud in produce is commonly related to labeling claims about production practices, production location or brand names. In some parts of the world, unapproved substances may be used to speed or enhance ripening or to make fruits look more visually appealing.

In 2019, a company in Canada was charged with misrepresenting broccoli grown in California as “Product of Canada.” In 2018, 500 kg of mangoes were seized from a market in Puducherry, India, for being ripened with calcium carbide.

Food fraud fresh produce map
Figure 1. Geographic distribution of incidents of fraud in fresh produce

There are currently 108 incident records and 54 inference records for fresh produce in the Food Fraud Database. Many of these are related to fraudulent organic certificates, but there are also examples of varietal misrepresentation, falsification of geographic origin, the use of substances such as ethephon, artificial color enhancement, and counterfeit labeling.

Do you work in the fresh produce sector in the U.S. or U.K.? Please consider responding to a survey to collect information about the use of food fraud tools by members of the fresh produce sector. This is an exploratory an anonymous survey that will take six to eight minutes to complete. The results will be used in a P.D. thesis by a student at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. A copy of the published research will be available on the University’s website. Experience the survey or copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://uclan.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Qcog9H1V09wF01