Food Fraud and unwelcome headlines

Recent research reveals up to 25% of dried oregano is adulterated and wood pulp found in ‘real parmesan’

Recent research, carried out in July 2015 and led by Professor Chris Elliott of the Global Institute of Food Security, analysed 78 samples of dried oregano obtained from a range of UK stores as well as online retailers. It found that 19 samples, around 25%, were adulterated with cheaper ingredients, such as olive leaves and myrtle leaves. Some samples contained just 30% oregano, the remaining 70% made up by cheap alternatives.

It is no surprise that it is in some of the most expensive commodities where fraud seems most prevalent. This week, the US Food and Drug Administration warned that cheese labelled ‘100%l parmesan’ could be adulterated with wood pulp and inferior cheese.

This follows a recent prosecution of a business in Pennsylvania, USA, which intended on supplying some of the country’s largest supermarket chains. The company is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges later this month with an expected fine in excess of $100,000 and the potential for a year’s imprisonment for the guilty parties.

The true cost of food fraud

A report by PwC estimates that food fraud costs the food industry $40bn per annum. Although the most common consequence of fraud is economic loss, there are more disturbing potential outcomes, including public health risks, the negative effect on legitimate producers and an erosion of trust by consumers.

Foremost among those health risks is the inclusion of undeclared allergens in adulterated commoditiees. For instance, in 2015, the FDA sent out an advisory warning on products containing ground cumin that may have been contaminated with undeclared peanuts.

Preventative measures

Whilst intentional fraud is always going to be difficult to detect, producers can take a number of steps to help identify where unscrupulous practices are possible. The global nature of the supply chain (Authenticate regularly tracks processed products on sale in the UK with ingredients coming from more than 4 continents) means that a good understanding of the provenance of all the components is a first step in measuring where the risks may lie.

Risk assessment becomes more complex the longer the supply chain. Supplier relationships are key and whilst an effective audit strategy is key, this does not necessarily mean more and more audits are the answer. Food producers are already overwhelmed by the number of audits imposed on them. Part of the answer lies in better collaboration to eliminate the criminals.

One thing is for sure. Media coverage of food fraud will continue to spiral. It is easy headlines and all too tempting to name and shame household names. Every business in the industry which cannot vouch for the provenance of its products stands to be the next singled out for unwelcome headlines.

Can you give categorical assurance that your products are free from adulteration?

A report by PwC estimates that food fraud costs the food industry £40bn per annum.

Posted by: Authenticate 08/02/2016