Tag Archives: organic

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Going Against The (Organic) Grains

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

Organic fraud cases are on the increase and often, the criminals get away with these crimes. The USDA-OIG catching a multi-million dollar case like this one represents just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of five years, the operator of a grain and seed business misrepresented his products as organic, claiming premium prices and defrauding clients of millions of dollars. Transactions for money and documents crossed multiple state lines in the United States through several related business entities. The business owner was sentenced to several years in prison and hefty fines for wire fraud, money laundering, and for defrauding the National Organic Program.

Resource

  1. United States Attorney’s Office District of South Dakota (February 25 2021). “Florida Man Sentenced for Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Money Laundering”. The United States Department of Justice.

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Not-So-Green Pistachio

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

Organic produce is a lucrative and growing market and an easy target for food fraud. Mislabeled organically certified pistachios were bringing in up to 80% more revenue than conventional nuts, resulting in a €6 million profit. European officials including Europol uncovered the illegal operation and made 14 arrests in Spain. Forensic analysis showed that the pistachios contained illegal pesticides.

Resource

  1. Europol. (December 18, 2020). “€6 million in illegal profit of fraudulent of fraudulent organic pistachio sales”. Press release. Europol.
Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Authenticity: 2020 in Review

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

It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year with wide-ranging effects, including significant effects on our ongoing efforts to ensure food integrity and prevent fraud in the food system. COVID-19 caused major supply chain disruptions for foods and many other consumer products. It also highlighted challenges in effective tracking and standardization of food fraud-related data.

Let’s take a look at some of the notable food fraud occurrences in 2020:

  • Organic Products. The Spanish Guardia Civil investigated an organized crime group that sold pistachios with pesticide residues that were fraudulently labeled as organic, reportedly yielding €6 million in profit. USDA reported fraudulent organic certificates for products including winter squash, leafy greens, collagen peptides powder, blackberries, and avocados. Counterfeit wines with fraudulent DOG, PGI, and organic labels were discovered in Italy.
  • Herbs and Spices. Quite a few reports came out of India and Pakistan about adulteration and fraud in the local spice market. One of the most egregious involved the use of animal dung along with various other substances in the production of fraudulent chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and garam masala spice mix. Greece issued a notification for a turmeric recall following the detection of lead, chromium, and mercury in a sample of the product. Belgium recalled chili pepper for containing an “unauthorized coloring agent.” Reports of research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast also indicated that 25% of sage samples purchased from e-commerce or independent channels in the U.K. were adulterated with other leafy material.
  • Dairy Products. India and Pakistan have also reported quite a few incidents of fraud in local markets involving dairy products. These have included reports of counterfeit ghee and fraudulent ghee manufactured with animal fats as well as milk adulterated with a variety of fraudulent substances. The Czech Republic issued a report about Edam cheese that contained vegetable fat instead of milk fat.
  • Honey. Greece issued multiple alerts for honey containing sugar syrups and, in one case, caramel colors. Turkey reported a surveillance test that identified foreign sugars in honeycomb.
  • Meat and Fish. This European report concluded that the vulnerability to fraud in animal production networks was particularly high during to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the “most widely spread effects in terms of production, logistics, and demand.” Thousands of pounds of seafood were destroyed in Cambodia because they contained a gelatin-like substance. Fraudulent USDA marks of inspection were discovered on chicken imported to the United States from China. Soy protein far exceeding levels that could be expected from cross contamination were identified in sausage in the Czech Republic. In Colombia, a supplier of food for school children was accused of selling donkey and horse meat as beef. Decades of fraud involving halal beef was recently reported in in Malaysia.
  • Alcoholic Beverages. To date, our system has captured more than 30 separate incidents of fraud involving wine or other alcoholic beverages in 2020. Many of these involved illegally produced products, some of which contained toxic substances such as methanol. There were also multiple reports of counterfeit wines and whisky. Wines were also adulterated with sugar, flavors, colors and water.

We have currently captured about 70% of the number of incidents for 2020 as compared to 2019, although there are always lags in reporting and data capture, so we expect that number to rise over the coming weeks. These numbers do not appear to bear out predictions about the higher risk of food fraud cited by many groups resulting from the effects of COVID-19. This is likely due in part to reduced surveillance and reporting due to the effects of COVID lockdowns on regulatory and auditing programs. However, as noted in a recent article, we should take seriously food fraud reports that occur against this “backdrop of reduced regulatory oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic.” If public reports are just the tip of the iceburg, 2020 numbers that are close to those reported in 2019 may indeed indicate that the iceburg is actually larger.

Unfortunately, tracking food fraud reports and inferring trends is a difficult task. There is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens. Media reports of fraud are challenging to verify and there can be many media reports related to one individual incident, which complicates tracking (especially by automated systems). Reports from official sources are not without their own challenges. Government agencies have varying priorities for their surveillance and testing programs, and these priorities have a direct effect on the data that is reported. Therefore, increases in reports for a particular commodity do not necessarily indicate a trend, they may just reflect an ongoing regulatory priority a particular country. Official sources are also not standardized with respect to how they report food safety or fraud incidents. Two RASFF notifications in 2008 following the discovery of melamine adulteration in milk illustrate this point (see Figure 1). In the first notification for a “milk drink” product, the hazard category was listed as “adulteration/fraud.” However, in the second notification for “chocolate and strawberry flavor body pen sets,” the hazard category was listed as “industrial contaminants,” even though the analytical result was higher.1

RASFF

RASFF, melamine detection
Figure 1. RASFF notifications for the detection of melamine in two products.1

What does all of this mean for ensuring food authenticity into 2021? We need to continue efforts to align terminology, track food fraud risk data, and ensure transparency and evaluation of the data that is reported. Alignment and standardization of food fraud reporting would go a long way to improving our understanding of how much food fraud occurs and where. Renewed efforts by global authorities to strengthen food authenticity protections are important. Finally, consumers and industry must continue to demand and ensure authenticity in our food supply. While most food fraud may not have immediate health consequences for consumers, reduced controls can lead to systemic problems and have devastating effects.

Reference

  1. Everstine, K., Popping, B., and Gendel, S.M. (2021). Food fraud mitigation: strategic approaches and tools. In R.S. Hellberg, K. Everstine, & S. Sklare (Eds.) Food Fraud – A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences (pp. 23-44). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-817242-1.00015-4
Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Recalls Limited Amount of Organic Romaine Hearts

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Dole Organic Lettuce

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of a limited number of cases of organic romaine lettuce hearts over E.coli contamination. The recalled products, Dole Organic Romaine Hearts 3pk, combined English/French packaging (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20), and Wild Harvest Organic Romaine Hearts (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20).

The products were harvested and packed nearly four weeks ago, according to the FDA release and were distributed in AZ, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND and VA. No illnesses have been reported.

Marketside Ground Beef

Nearly 43,000 Pounds of Ground Beef Recalled Due to Potential E. Coli Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Marketside Ground Beef

Swedesboro, NJ-based Lakeside Refrigerated Services recalled about 42,922 pounds of ground beef products over concern of potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The Class I recall involves raw ground beef products that were produced on June 1.

The issue was uncovered during routine FSIS testing. The products were reportedly distributed to retailers, including Walmart, nationwide. Thus far there are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the affect products.

A full list of the recalled products are available on the USDA’s website.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Organic Foods Are Growing And So Is Fraud

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

USDA Certified Organic foods keep enjoying a robust growth, with fruit and vegetables leading, followed by dairy and beverages. Fraudulent organic certification is a growing problem, especially because food supply chains are becoming more complex, with a large amount of organic food now being imported. Violations by fraudulent organic certification are punishable by hefty fines and can be reported to the National Organic Program Online Complaint Portal.

Resource

  1. United States Department of Agriculture (March 9, 2020) Scientific Reports 9: “Fraudulent Organic Certificates”.
Lab grown meat

How Plant-Based Foods Are Changing the Supply Chain

By Maria Fontanazza
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Lab grown meat

The plant-based meat market is anticipated to be worth more than $320 million in the next five years, according to a report released last summer by Global Market Insights. As the popularity of meat-alternative products continues to rise, new challenges are being introduced to supply chain management. Joe Scioscia, vice president of sales at VAI explains some of these hurdles and proposes how technology can help.

Food Safety Tech: Is the growing popularity of plant-based foods introducing hazards or challenges to the supply chain?

Joe Scioscia, VAI
“The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain,” says Joe Scioscia of VAI.

Joe Scioscia: The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain, especially considering many of these organic items are being introduced by traditionally non-organic retailers. Impossible Foods received FDA approval for its plant-based burger in 2019, showing just how new the plant-based movement is to the industry.

Obviously, the organic supply chain and produce suppliers have long followed regulations for handling produce, such as temperature controls, cargo tracking, and supply and demand planning software, so the produce could be tracked from farm to table and in the case of a recall, be traced back to the source. But for meat alternatives that are combining multiple plant-based ingredients, organizations in the supply chain who are handling these products
have new food safety concerns. Considerations on how to store and process meat alternatives, how to treat each ingredient in the product and, most importantly, how to determine temperature controls or the source of contamination are all discussions the food industry is currently having.

FST: How are plant-based foods changing the dynamic of the supply chain from a food safety perspective?

Scioscia: The food supply chain has changed dramatically in recent years to become more complex, with food items traveling farther than ever before, containing more ingredients and required to follow stricter regulations. Many of the changes to the supply chain are for the better—organic and plant-based alternatives offer health benefits for consumers and are a move towards a more sustainable future. But the reality is that the supply chain isn’t quite there yet. Suppliers, retailers and producers at every part of the supply chain need to work together to ensure transparency and food safety compliance—including for plant-based products. Foodborne illnesses are still a real threat to the safety of consumers, and these same consumers are demanding transparency into the source of their food and sustainable practices from brands. All of these considerations are what’s making this next era of the food industry more complicated than ever before.

Because food safety compliance is always top of mind in the food industry to keep consumers safe, this new and complex supply chain has required companies to rely heavily on technology solutions to ensure plant-based products are equally as safe to consume as non-organic alternatives. These same solutions are also helping supply chains become more transparent for customers and streamline food processes to build a more sustainable future.

FST: What technologies can food companies and retailers use to better manage the supply chain risk while supporting the increased consumer demand for meat alternatives?

Scioscia: Utilizing a centralized software system is one tool many food suppliers and distributors can use to better visualize, trace and process products in the supply chain—including for plant-based alternatives. Having access to a central platform for business data to track assets and ensure food safety regulations are being met allows for companies to optimize processes and cut unnecessary costs along the way.

Heading into 2020, many organizations in the food supply chain are also looking at new applications like IoT, automation, and blockchain as ways to curb food safety issues. The FDA has taken steps to pilot blockchain and AI programs to better track drugs and food products, in conjunction with major food brands and technology companies. Other organizations are following suit with their own programs and many are looking at these solutions to improve their food tracking efforts. It’s clear technology has the most potential to make it easier on the industry to comply with food safety regulations while meeting customer demands for plant-based alternatives and organic options—all the while building a sustainable supply chain for the future.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Good Coordination Catches the Worm

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

An organized crime group produced and traded rotten and adulterated apple products labeled as organic. The food and beverage items, which were not suitable for human consumption, were worth several million Euros. A transnational investigation, coordinated by Eurojust, led to several arrests in Italy and Serbia and the confiscation of millions worth of illegal assets.

Resource

  1. Ton van Lierop. (July 1, 2019). “Eurojust helps reveal fake organic food fraud”. Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit. Retrieved from http://www.eurojust.europa.eu/press/PressReleases/Pages/2019/2019-07-01.aspx
Kroger

Kroger to Sell Groceries in China Via Alibaba

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Kroger

The Cincinnati-based supermarket chain Kroger has entered into a pilot partnership with Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform to sell its “Our Brands” products online to consumers in China. This platform is China’s largest business-to-consumer marketplace, and helps retailers that don’t have physical operations in the country build virtual storefronts and send products to China.

The pilot will start with Kroger’s Simple Truth products, which are positioned as natural and organic, and are also the second-largest brand sold in Kroger stores. This year alone the brand generated more than $2 billion in sales, earning it the title of largest natural and organic brand in the United States, according to Kroger.

“Kroger is the world’s third largest retailer by revenue–$122.7 billion in sales in 2017,” said Yael Cosset, chief digital officer at Kroger in a news release. “We are creating the grocery retail model of the future by focusing on digital and technology.”

The partnership also supports the company’s “Restock Kroger” pillars of redefining the grocery customer experience by elevating “Our Brands” and creating customer and shareholder value through promoting top line growth via alternative revenue streams.

Organic, NonGMO, Natural, Labeling

Achieving Transparency in Organic and Natural Product Claims

By Lori Carlson
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Organic, NonGMO, Natural, Labeling

Consumer preference for organic and “all natural” foods remains on the rise, according to market trend research and retailer sales.1,2 The Organic Trade Association (OTA) recorded $40 billion in U.S. organic food sales for 2015, stating that sales have nearly doubled since 2008.3 Pair this with $21 billion in sales for Q1 2016 for non-GMO labeled foods and $1.6 billion in 2015 gluten-free sales and, it is hard to ignore this thriving market sector, which seeks to support consumers in their quest for fresh, healthy and transparently-labeled foods.4,5

As a result of these trends, the industry is experiencing a surge in natural food and beverage start-up companies as well as the acquisition of organic and natural product companies by manufacturing giants such as Campbell Soup Co., Danone and General Mills, Inc. But in complex—and especially global—supply chains, achieving transparency comes with hurdles for verifying product claims  such as “all-natural”, non-GMO, antibiotic-free, and other nutrient content or functional claims.

Organic and other natural food manufacturers are under increasing regulatory and consumer scrutiny for tracing claims back to the source for all ingredients. Failing to verify the authenticity or identity preservation (IP) status of materials, maintain chain of custody and ensure the accuracy of labels can have devastating consequences for a manufacturer, including regulatory action and consumer fraud class action law suits.6 It’s not just consumers demanding the “right to know” where food comes from, but manufacturers must also push this sentiment back through their supply chain to drive transparency for ensuring safety, brand protection and verifying product claims.

With the goal of meeting consumer demands for healthy food products, improved transparency in food production and clean labels, how can organic, non-GMO and natural food manufacturers stay ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring that product claims provide the value consumers seek?

Consider the following tasks for achieving transparency in organic and natural product claims.

Analyze Your Ingredients for Risk

Get to know the pitfalls, which can affect the integrity of product claims. Many of these stem from cross contamination, authenticity or mislabeling issues for sourced materials. To prevent these pitfalls, analyze each ingredient for supply chain risks. Identifying potential risks, which may affect the integrity of claims creating liability for misbranding, is a critical step in achieving transparency.

For example, is there a potential for cross contamination from a non-organic source? This is a common risk where a supplier engages in the co-production of organic and non-organic materials. A lack of segregation and clear product identification during transportation, storage and processing activities can lead to commingling or cross-contamination, which affects material integrity and thus, any downstream product claims. Ensuring suppliers and the manufacturer have clear measures in place for segregation is an important consideration when determining risk.

Or, consider adulteration from a non-authentic material, which can affect the integrity of the claim. Identifying vulnerabilities within the supply chain is necessary to reduce opportunities for perpetrating food fraud. Materials such as organic products and some natural ingredients are at greater risk for fraud where limited availability is an issue and/or the material is a high-value commodity or product. Mislabeling, counterfeit production or economically motivated adulteration, such as the substitution or dilution of ingredients in a sourced material, has a significant impact on downstream product claims.

Unverified packaging and labels are other sources of risk with the potential to affect the integrity of product claims. Ensure your supplier’s labeling practices include controls to verify the correct packaging and labels when producing IP materials or other ingredients with nutrient content or functional claims.

With a clear understanding of material risks, what attributes of an ingredient should be prioritized, tested and/or verified when considering the integrity of finished product claims?

Once material risks are analyzed, establish clear specifications for raw materials, which are agreed upon between the supplier and manufacturer. This serves as the basis for verifying material claims and subsequently, downstream product claims. Where specifications are in place, material verification may be performed through a variety methods including: testing, mass balance, COA review and audits. Verifying materials against agreed upon specifications not only supports due diligence in product claims but also brings manufacturers closer to their suppliers, steering us towards the next task.

Get to Know Your Suppliers

At the heart of food production transparency is the relationship a manufacturer has with its suppliers. Even the simplest of manufactured foods have a handful of ingredients, which are typically sourced through a global supply chain network. Due to the seasonality of produce or supply chain risks such as market fluctuations, business disruptions, natural disasters, or transportation failures; manufacturers can’t rely on a single supplier for the sourcing of a particular ingredient.

This leads to reliance on multiple suppliers, which may be geographically dispersed. Sourcing from multiple suppliers—especially when this occurs for multiple ingredients across multiple products—can create hurdles to relationship building for enhanced transparency due to time and resource constraints for acquiring first-hand knowledge of a supplier’s operation. Thus, proactive supply chain management, which enables a manufacturer to learn about the supplier’s history and operation, is essential for transparency.

This can be accomplished by establishing supplier approval criteria to provide a baseline for getting to know your supplier and establish minimum criteria for sourcing. Building upon this, is the use of approved suppliers to solidify the relationship and develop out a stable supply chain network. And finally, it is best practice to visit the supplier’s site to learn more about operational practices and the people responsible for ensuring material specifications and identity status are consistently achieved.

Apply Supply Chain Management Best Practices

Effective management of suppliers to prevent or reduce risks, which can lead to mislabeling and false claims, relies on the risk assessment conducted for materials and suppliers, applied controls (e.g., segregation) and verification that the supplier’s controls consistently ensure material integrity.

GFSI benchmarked schemes paved the way for enhanced supply chain management and risk mitigation when it comes to sourcing materials to ensure food safety and legal status. Some schemes additionally require controls and verification activities such as the validation of health claims or verification of nutrient content to provide a framework for helping manufacturers develop a system, which ensures product integrity. For food sold in the United States, a GFSI-based system is now reinforced by the  FSMA Preventive Controls rule, which requires supply chain-applied controls to mitigate material risks along with additional controls to ensure that food is not adulterated or misbranded under the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.

It is important to note that while the FSMA Preventive Controls rule regulates most processors and manufacturers, organic raw agricultural commodities (RAC’s), dietary supplements and unprocessed meats are not covered by the rule as they are covered by other U.S. food regulations. Since these products may be included in organic and natural product formulations, manufacturers may want to consider applying a Preventive Controls methodology to their supply chain or pursue certification to a recognized food safety standard such as a GFSI benchmarked scheme where this is not already in place.

Simplify Your Supply Chain

Complex supply chains reduce visibility, add latency into monitoring, and increase opportunities for contamination or fraud.7,8

Simplifying your supply chain can take a variety of forms such as the sourcing of local or domestic materials.

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