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The continued depletion of wild fish stocks is leading to increased strain on the aquaculture sector in terms of sustaining the supply of fish and seafood to global markets. This article examines how digital transformation can help support and meet expansion needs of the fisheries/aquaculture industries that includes exploiting and harnessing ICT (information and communications technology), IoT (internet of things), Cloud-edge computing, AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, immersive technologies and blockchain. Digital technologies can bring significant operational benefits for the global food chain, improving efficiencies and productivity, reducing waste, contamination and food fraud.
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Seafood is one of the foods which suffers a high prevalence of food fraud. This review examines reported seafood fraud incidents from the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, Decernis's Food Fraud Database, HorizonScan, and LexisNexis databases between January 01, 2010 and December 31, 2020. It provides a global comparison, and assesses food fraud trends across 80 countries and 72 seafood species. It also provides an analysis of the types of fraud that exist within the seafood supply chain and the supply chain nodes that are more vulnerable to criminality.
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The production of “smokies” involves the illegal slaughter of sheep, which have their fleece retained on the carcasses, and burnt with blow torches to impart a smoked flavour to the meat. The illegal trade in “smokies” is a serious public health risk, as the meat is often infected with diseases and parasites that could pass to those people who eat the meat. The animals are also killed inhumanely with no regard to their welfare, hence this process is illegal in the UK and many European countries.
Robert Thomas was found to be part of an organised crime group (OCG), who were involved in running an illegal meat operation, where “smokies” were being prepared for human consumption. Mr Thomas was initially prosecuted in 2015, but lied about his assets. He was extradited from Ireland in February 2022 and prosecuted in June 2022 for perjury. However, it appears that Mr Thomas will be subject to further legal proceedings.
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Photo by W. Grover, UCR
Prof. Grover at the University of California, Riverside has developed a coating technique called CandyCode, which could prevent counterfeiting of food and pharmaceuticals. The technique was developed by coating pills with coloured "hundreds and thousands". The unique pattern of colours created on the pills acts as an "edible barcode". In assessing how unique the coated pills were, and how many variations would be possible, a computer simulation was used of even larger CandyCode libraries, Prof Glover found that a company could produce 41 million pills enough for each person on earth, and still be able to uniquely identify each CandyCoded pill. A pharmaceutical producer could cover each pill it produced in the tiny coloured candies, then uploaded a photo of it into its system, and consumers would be able to guarantee that a pill is genuine by scanning their drugs using a smartphone app. The technique can be applied to other mediums such as bottle caps for fraud protection of wine, olive oil etc..
Italian authorities supported by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Technical Department of the Financial Police, have completed one of the country’s most extensive operations against the sale of mislabelled olive oil, by investigating 183 companies involved in olive oil imports and commercialisation. Products worth more than €170,000 were seized by the police, which resulted in a total of €10 million in administrative fines. Of the samples analysed, more than 27% failed the tests governing extra virgin olive. The authorities claim that they have prevented 2.3 million litres of virgin and refined olive oils labelled as extra virgin olive oil from entering the market.
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In response to many questions posted in the chat of the Webinar on the Global Honey Supply Chain that took place on 19 January 2022, the page on the Government Chemist website has been updated with work in progress on honey authenticity:
"This webinar and the consequent e-seminar is part of a suite of activities Defra, FSA, FSS and the Government Chemist are jointly working on to address some of the underpinning scientific issues that have emerged on the subject of honey testing and a number of workstreams are in progress.
Two further e-seminars, which will assist in disseminating information on honey authenticity testing, are in production. These cover using NMR testing for the determination of exogenous sugars in honey and best practice in establishing and curating databases for food authenticity. Work is also underway to develop guidance on applying a weight of evidence approach for food authenticity analysis, to pilot accreditation of non-targeted authenticity testing methods, to improve consistency and confidence in testing and reporting and to explore a data trust framework to share information on the honey supply chain and testing between interested communities. This will be followed by activity to standardise a protocol for the collection of authentic honey samples and to establish a framework for the scrutiny of authenticity databases. We are collaborating with key stakeholders on all these initiatives to secure the best outcome for all.
FSA’s blog on the complexities of honey authenticity, includes links to the recently published Government Chemist independent review of methods for honey authenticity testing and of the analytical reports underpinning recent allegations of honey fraud."
This e-seminar, by Cathal Henigan, Purchasing Director at Valeo Foods UK, will provide an introduction to the subject of the global honey supply chain.
Topics covered in this short presentation include an overview of the role of beekeeping, honey extraction and honey processing. In addition, key aspects of relevant legislation are described, such as the control of pests and diseases, honey composition, and control of the export and sale of honey. Details of the global market for honey are also described as well as an assessment of the risk to the supply chain through criminal activities such as food fraud.
The e-seminar is intended for individuals currently working within the food testing arena, the food industry, and those involved with the UK official control system.
The production of this e-seminar was co-funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, via the Government Chemist, under the Joint Knowledge Transfer Framework for Food Standards and Food Safety Analysis.
This e-seminar has also been added to the Food Authenticity Network's Training section.
The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published its March 2022 Food Fraud Monthly Summary reporting food fraud incidents and investigations from around the world.
Food fraud cases reported involved:
- alcoholic beverages
- milk and milk products
- meat products
- olive oil
- soft drinks
- pet food
You can download the March 2022 Summary here.
Spanish police have made 11 arrests in 3 businesses for fraudulently selling powdered gardenia extract as saffron. This was regarded as a sophisticated fraud as the fraudsters managed to reduce the concentration of the authenticity marker for gardenia (geniposide) to very low levels, so that it was undetectable. The fraudster were thought have made at least Euros 3 million from the substituted saffron.
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Dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt etc) form an important part of the diet, and are a significant part of national and international trade of most countries. This review by Brazilian researchers outlines the frequent forms of food fraud in dairy products and the application of traditional techniques for their detection, highlighting the gaps and disadvantages of these techniques. It then describes the application of NIR (near-infrared) spectroscopy and HSI (hyperspectral imaging) for the detection of food fraud mainly in cheese, butter, and yogurt. In conclusion, NIR spectroscopy and HSI are rapid non-destructive techniques, which also require chemometric models for their interpretation, but have been successfully applied to the authentication of dairy products.
Read the full open access paper here
A new FAO publication Thinking about the future of food safety – A foresight report, was released on Monday 7 March, outlining how major global drivers and trends will shape food safety in tomorrow’s world.
All food needs to be safe for human consumption; thus, appropriate food safety measures must form the core of food production in our agrifood systems. As agrifood systems are transformed to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is need to develop and maintain a deep understanding of the future opportunities, threats and challenges ahead of us.
This foresight report explores the impact of major global drivers and trends on food safety, including climate change, changing consumer behaviour and food consumption patterns, new food sources and food production systems, technological advances, microbiome science, circular economy and food fraud:
Climate change: Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, unpredictable and severe extreme weather events, and others, are disrupting both food and nutrition security. This chapter of the publication describes the multi-faceted impacts of climate change on food safety by affecting the severity and occurrence of various food safety hazards – e.g., mycotoxins, algal blooms, foodborne pathogens. The chapter draws in information from published FAO reports on the topic – Climate change: Unpacking the burden on food safety (2020) and Climate change: Implications for food safety (2008).
Changing consumer preferences and food consumption patterns: Today’s consumers change their purchasing behaviours in response to a multitude of factors – from environmental sustainability and climate change to socioeconomic factors, as well as concerns regarding their own health and animal welfare. Changes in consumer diets also trigger changes in dietary risks arising from potential contaminants found in food. To continue to stay relevant and adequately protect consumer health, food safety risk assessment processes need to keep up with the changing consumer consumption patterns.
New food sources and food production systems are increasingly being explored with the goal of achieving improved environmental sustainability and/or nutritional benefits. “New food” here is meant to cover food that has been historically consumed in specific regions of the world but has recently materialized in the global retail space. “New food production systems” include recently discovered techniques and materials in the food sector. In this regard, the various food safety implications for edible insects, seaweed, jellyfish, plant-based alternatives, and cell-based food production are discussed under this topic.
Agriculture within urban spaces: Rapid urbanization, expansion of global cities and food security concerns are drawing attention to growing food within urban areas. While urban agriculture includes food grown both around and within urban spaces, in this publication the focus is on the latter or intra-urban agriculture. This form of farming comes in various forms, from backyard gardens and community farms to innovative indoor vertical farming approaches (hydroponic, aeroponic, aquaponic). Some key food safety concerns associated with intra-urban agriculture, arising from soils used, water sources, air pollution, and various other chemical hazards are discussed as well as the importance of establishing adequate regulatory frameworks specific to urban food systems.
Exploring circular economy through plastic recycling: Increased attention to environmental sustainability and depletion of natural resources have put emphasis on the concept of circular economy, which is being explored in various sectors of the agrifood systems. The topic of circular economy and the various food safety considerations are explored in this publication through the example of recycling and reuse of plastics, in particular those that are in contact with food, such as food packaging.
Microbiome science: Microbiomes (includes all microorganisms – bacteria, viruses and fungi – that live within the human gut and around us) in agrifood systems and along the food chain are not isolated and can interact with each other. The human gut microbiome sits at the end of the food chain and therefore, is exposed to both biological and chemical contaminants present in the diet. Emerging and still evolving technologies have enabled the study of microbiomes and the interactions with their ecosystems, thereby offering opportunities to utilize this knowledge for improving food safety risk assessments and subsequently consumer health.
Technological innovations and scientific advances: Emerging technologies in food production, processing, distribution and at the retail level are providing better tools for increased food safety along food chains by improving traceability, greater detection of contaminants in food, better outbreak investigations, and reduced vulnerabilities for food fraud. A few such emerging technologies – nanotechnology, intelligent packaging, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing of food, among others – are outlined in the publication while discussing both opportunities and challenges that come with them.
Food fraud: The issue of food fraud tends to evoke a strong response among consumers with current narrative focusing on the widespread and ever-increasing prevalence of the issue. However, food fraud is a complex area and the publication highlights this complexity and attempts to shift the narrative to discuss the concept of trust built into food control systems.
Access the publication here
The Global Harmonization Initiative's (GHI) Whistleblower Food Safety Incident Report Site is now available in over 30 languages at: https://whistle.globalharmonization.net to anyone, in any country, who works in the food and beverage industry.
Until now, there has never been a global reporting system for food safety concerns that is really anonymous. As a deterrent to unscrupulous food suppliers, the GHI first launched the Whistleblower Food Safety Incident Report site in August 2021 in English, and it is now available in over 30 languages.
GHI ask people to report if they are aware of anything that is wrong with food to the extent that consumption may cause serious harm and they see no other way to prevent such harm. GHI will then evaluate the incident and act upon it in the most appropriate way. The facts provided will be checked to judge if the incident:
- is real and can indeed do serious harm to people's health
- is intended to defame a company or individuals
- is intended to take revenge
- is due to misplaced humour.
Anyone who chooses to report an incident can be assured that their report is anonymous – in fact, even GHI does not know who has submitted a report. This is to protect the identity of whistleblowers.
This is Tenet's quarterly publication helping in house counsel and those from a science background assessing food safety keep up to date with current and emerging fraud related risks.
If you work in the food and drinks industry and take an interest in fraud and financial crime impact in the sector, please take a look at the 3rd issue of The Secret Ingredient.
In this article, applications of several analytical techniques such as DNA-based techniques, spectrometric techniques, spectroscopic techniques, chromatographic techniques, lateral flow immunoassays, and neutron and proton based nuclear analytical techniques for forensic food analysis are discussed. These techniques are capable of analysing food samples rapidly, and permit the identification of authenticity markers, which are essential in uncovering food fraud. In addition, authenticity analyses of dyes in food, seafood, plant-based food, beverages, and forensic analysis of postmortem viscera are reviewed.
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Seven meat companies have been investigated by the Guardia Civil in 5 areas of Spain. The investigation began after an inspection of a food shop revealed anomolies mainly in the labelling of Iberian ham, some of which was not fit for human consumption. After widening the investigation, some 29,000 meat products, including 19,600 Iberian hams, and ham shoulders, with a total value over Euros 1 million were impounded by the Guardia Civil.
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A paper has been published, which reviews eight major #foodfraud #incidents and developed a framework to recognise the stages and nuances of a food-fraud 'scandal' narrative.
While the thousands of tons of seized fraudulent product get the headlines, the most crucial result of Operation OPSON is the insight on the shifting food fraud vulnerability. The report has both general information and detailed case studies (and amazing crime scene pictures).
INTERPOL/ EUROPOL Operation OPSON IX was conducted from December 2019 and extended beyond the expected end date of April 2020 to June 2020. The next OPSON X debrief occurred in November 2021 (a future blog post will review that private meeting, and our presentation on “Food Fraud Prevention – Priority Setting to Reduce the Overall Fraud Opportunity”.) The final Operation Opson IX – Analysis Report was published in January 2021.
Read the full review here.
This article outlines some of the food fraud incidents in Ghana in particular, and West Africa. These include the addition of Sudan IV to crude palm oil (a popular cooking oil in W. Africa), meat and fish treated with formaldehyde to falsify its freshness, rice chaff packaged as high-grade rice, and milk powder with no trace of milk in it. It appears that fraud is on the increase in W Afica.
To combat this an Africa Centre for Food Fraud and Safety (AfriFoodinTegrity) has been established by University of Cape Coast, Ghana and collaborates with IGFS-QUB (Queens University Belfast). Rapid, onsite and non‑destructive fingerprinting tests have been developed for palm oil quality and rice.
Research is being conducted into new methods to assess palm oil safety and quality, to authenticate the origin of cocoa beans using handheld near infrared (NIR) spectrometers, to determine egg freshness using spectral fingerprinting, and to classify cocoa bean quality using portable NIR spectroscopy.
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Fake wines and spirits costs the global drinks industry Euros 2.7bn in sales across the EU according to figures from the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Food Standards Scotland -Food Crime and Incidents Unit have warned that there is a large scale national trade in counterfeit drinks, which targets the low to medium priced market leading brands of vodka and wine. This trade damages legitimate beverage businesses and retailers, and is often linked to organised crime outside of Scotland. In addition, counterfeit spirits may also present a risk to health.
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