// June 22, 2017

Food Quality: Do You Really Get What You Pay For?

Food quality: do you really get what you pay for?

When purchasing food products, consumers may take for granted that the information on the label accurately reflects the contents of the package. As they become more health conscious and aware of food quality, many are willing to pay more for what they perceive to be healthier, higher quality foods. Unfortunately, there are instances when consumers’ trust in the integrity and quality of the foods they buy is misplaced. Many common foods are among the most susceptible to adulteration. Milk, coffee, extra-virgin olive oil and seafood are some of the most frequently adulterated food products.

Food Quality and Food Fraud

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food fraud or “economically motivated adulteration” (EMA) is the “fraudulent, intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production, i.e., for economic gain.” Food fraud reduces food quality and can occur in many forms including substitution of foods or food ingredients with lower quality alternatives, dilution of foods or omission of ingredients.

Dangers of Food Fraud

The dangers posed by compromised food quality range from benign to potentially deadly. In many cases, food fraud does not present a safety risk. While dishonest and unethical, selling tilapia labelled as grouper is not potentially harmful.  In other cases, food fraud can be a health concern. When ingredients are substituted with known allergens, adverse reactions can occur. If you have nut allergies, you may experience an allergic reaction but not connect it to the olive oil (that was adulterated with hazelnut oil) used in preparing your lunch. In the most extreme instances, food fraud has resulted in tragedy, as occurred in the Ukraine in 2016 when 50 people died from drinking vodka adulterated with methanol.

Costs of poor food quality can be massive.

Occurrence of Food Fraud

With the globalization of the food industry, any incidence of food fraud can have world-wide repercussions. Complex, international supply networks offer opportunities for compromising quality at every stage of the production process. This complexity presents serious challenges to manufacturers seeking to combat food fraud and ensure product quality. 

Fighting Food Fraud

More reliable data, better data analysis methodologies, and new tools and technologies for data sharing are making it increasingly difficult for food fraud to remain hidden. 

  • Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance (FFMG) offers a comprehensive and practical approach to an ingredient-based food fraud vulnerability assessment and can be used by manufacturers and retailers to strengthen their supply chain and establish or enhance a customized food fraud mitigation plan.
  • Standards published in the Food Chemicals Codex and associated reference materials are important resources to verify the purity and quality of the food ingredients within the supply chain. 
  • USP’s Food Fraud Database is a critical tool for industry and regulators to combat economically motivated food adulteration. This online resource is used to inform risk-based decisions on how vulnerable a particular food ingredient is to economically motivated adulteration. Among the data available in the database are historical adulterants in a wide array of foods and whether those adulterants are hazardous. 

Food Quality, Food Fraud are Top Priorities

The cost of food fraud can be massive for businesses and individuals alike. Food manufacturers risk losing sales, creating brand reputation problems and losing consumer trust. But these pale in comparison to the potential public health impact. Food fraud can have serious, potentially life-threatening consequences. USP’s Food Chemicals Codex, reference materials, Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance and Food Fraud Database are critical resources for the food industry and regulators to help ensure that food products are of the quality that consumers expect.