Food fraud has plagued the food industry for thousands of years. Advances in analytical technology have improved detection capabilities, but incidents of food adulteration continue to occur, sometimes with tragic consequences. Some manufacturers employ vulnerability assessments and risk mitigation plans to safeguard the quality and authenticity of the ingredients they use. Everyone from food producers and manufacturers, to commercial and retail sellers, to the general public is demanding accountability and remediation, and now so are new regulations and requirements.
The Challenge of Complex Food Supply Chains
The threat of food fraud is a growing concern because increasingly complex global food supply chains create numerous opportunities for fraudsters[i]. Sellers, distributors, and middlemen are often spread across multiple countries, and individuals are not always aware of what the upstream and downstream players are doing. This decreased transparency hinders traceability efforts and increases the risk of adulteration. “One of the biggest challenges I see nowadays is the globalization in the food trade. The supply chain is becoming more and more complex, and we have to stay up to date on all of the issues that might occur. It’s easy to get this information, but we can quickly become overwhelmed,” explained Anal Dave, Quality Manager at The Original Cakerie in a recent interview.
Preventing Issues Before They Arise
Some best-in-class food companies have proactively addressed the threat of food fraud, even before new regulatory requirements take effect. “Instead of waiting for the regulators to come tell us what to do, we look at the trends and project where they are going and develop systems that help us be compliant, protect our brand, and create safe and high-quality products for our customers,” explains Dave. His company has conducted vulnerability assessments to identify potential weaknesses in their ingredient sourcing that could be at risk of food fraud, and developed risk mitigation plans to anticipate and prevent such incidents. In addition, they have prepared detailed response plans to various worst-case scenarios and so they can react quickly and responsibly, should the need arise.
Regularly monitoring food fraud incidents[ii] and updating the assessments using resources such as USP’s Food Fraud Database are integral parts of the process. If a company is suspicious of a particular ingredient, it can request certificates of authenticity or testing to confirm ingredient quality. John Bojak, manager of quality systems and food safety at Ingredion, Inc., says, “"The Food Fraud Database is a valuable tool to assist in the evaluation of our ingredients and raw materials for historical incidents of food fraud. The database is also a vital component in supporting our vulnerability assessments.”
Requirements from the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) seek to improve food safety and quality by requiring food industry players to assess potential supply chain vulnerabilities and develop risk mitigation plans. Angela Echols from Bay State Milling Company explains, “The quality regulations are not going away. They’re just getting more stringent, so we are putting a lot of our focus in this area.” Dave advises other companies to start working to get a step ahead of the regulations. “The threat of food fraud is real. If you don’t already have a food fraud mitigation plan in place, get on board and establish one. Don’t just sit back and wait for the regulators to enforce these policies.” Bojak echoes this advice, “It’s in your best interest to be able to defend your company’s food safety systems.”
The identification of specific companies or programs in this post does not imply approval, endorsement, or certification by USP of a particular brand, product, or program.
[i] Everstine, K., Spink, J. & Kennedy, S. Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) of Food: Common Characteristics of EMA Incidents. J. Food Prot. 76, 723–735 (2013)
[ii] Moore, J. C., Spink, J. & Lipp, M. Development and Application of a Database of Food Ingredient Fraud and Economically Motivated Adulteration from 1980 to 2010. J. Food Sci. 77, 118–126 (2012)