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12645838668?profile=RESIZE_400xIs fraud the result of a single rogue actor (the “bad apple”) or is it the natural consequence of system failures and poor oversight?  Or is it the result of a complex matrix of different drivers?

In this thought-provoking article (open access) the author reviews and considers how the “bad apple” vs “bad barrel” vs “rotten orchard” mindset that is used in the financial fraud literature could be applied to the food industry.  (i.e. considering the individual fraudster, the mendacious organisation the fraudster works within, and the stressed, dysfunctional or corrupt system).  She recommends a systematic assessment of all three viewpoints in order to mitigate fraud risk.  Too often, the food industry only considers the “bad apple” perspective.

Photo by Alex Lvrs on Unsplash

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Please see the discussion and links kindly shared by our member Christopher Bear

✅Do you have experience of developing policy/regulation that impacts on the food system?

✅Do you have experience of implementing policy/regulation that impacts on the food system?

✅Does your work aim to influence policy/regulation that impacts on the food system?


❗If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, we would like to hear from you!

 🌍The Horizon Europe-funded TITAN project is conducting a survey on how policy and regulation can promote and enable more transparent food systems that promote greater sustainability, food safety, and improved health and nutrition.

 ⏭️A key output from the project will be a policy roadmap, proposing actions and measures that build food system transparency. This will be presented to the European Commission and shared widely with national governments and agencies. Your participation in this survey will ensure the relevance and currency of the policy roadmap.

 🔗The survey should take around 5 minutes to complete.  The survey will remain open until 31st July.

Participate in the survey here!

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The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission have published their monthly collation of food fraud reports here.  Thanks to FAN member Bruno Sechet who has again collated these as an infographic.  The original infographic is on Bruno's LinkedIn feed.

The JRC collation uses global media reports, and this always gives a slightly different picture than collating official reports.  FAN's recent report gives a high-level annual overview for 2023.  But, whatever source of information, food businesses should always remember that there are limitations to such general collations and league-tables of "most fraudulent foods".  They are only the first part of the risk assessment evidence.  The more pertinent question is the specific risks in your own supply chain; the companies and ingredient sources that you purchase from.

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Spink's Food (Fraud) for Thought - Part IV

Food Fraud Prevention – Risk and Vulnerability

Welcome! In support of the Food Authenticity Network (FAN) activity, this blog series reviews key topics related to food fraud prevention. Watch here for updates that explore the definitions of food fraud terms and concepts.


This blog post builds on our previous review of the definition of food fraud, including the types of fraud plus the types of products to consider. This post shifts to the fundamental concepts of risk and vulnerability, and a later focus will be on mitigation and prevention.

Frederick Accum first defined the general food fraud concept in the 1820 publication of ‘A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons.’ It was almost 200 years until there was a holistic and all-encompassing approach to not just detection but prevention of food fraud. Over those years, one group (food scientists) completed their task of identifying and detecting the problem. The missing link was the interdisciplinary approach needed to shift from focusing on microbes and chemical contaminants to the human adversary (Social Science and Criminology). There were two paradigm shifts:

  • “The need to assess a food fraud event shifts the focus from the traditional internal process controls and human health risk assessment to prevention and vulnerability reduction.” (Reference 1)
  • “The goal is not to catch food fraud but to prevent the event from ever occurring -- food fraud prevention.” (Reference 1)

This study uses the ISO 31000 Risk Management based term “event.” The terms are reviewed in more detail, including “incident,” “threat,” and “hazard.” This does not conflict with other laws, regulations, standards, and certifications.


Event, Incident, Hazard, Crisis, and Threat

Words and concepts are situational and based on past use and related activities. While there are many casual or informal uses of these terms, it is best to use the terms as they are specifically defined to avoid confusion.

  • Event: is essentially “something” that occurs (Table 1) (ISO, 2002; CNSSI, 2010; Merriam-Webster, 2004). There is no evaluation yet of the change in the consequence.
  • Incident: a type of event that has occurred and is evaluated and could have a negative consequence (DHS, 2008; ANSI, 2009; CNSSI, 2010).
  • Hazard: an event that has not occurred and could cause harm if not addressed (ISO, 2007b; PAS 96, 2014, NRC, 1996; 21 CFR, Merriam-Webster, 2004) -- this includes damaging potential (ISO, 2007b).
  • Crisis: an event that has occurred e or is occurring -- that has confirmed harm (ANSI, 2009), and this includes imminent hazard (21 CFR), attack, emergency (ISO, 2007b; 21 CFR, FDA. 2016), disaster, etc.
  • Threat: the cause of an unwanted event that includes generally known variables or attributes of the source of the negative consequence (“threat source”) (ISO, 2012; ISO 2002; 21 CFR 121, ANSI, 2009; PAS 96, 2014, FSMA, 2016; NIST, 2002; CNSSI, 2010; UNODC, 2010; DHS, 2013) e this includes incident, hazard, damaging potential, etc.


Risk and Vulnerability

During the early food fraud prevention research, it was fascinating to find that risk and vulnerability had been formally defined as separate concepts in formal publications such as by the International Standards Organization (ISO) or the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). They are related topics but explicitly and implicitly different.

  • Risk: an uncertainty of an outcome that is assessed in terms of likelihood and consequence (ISO, 2007a; NIST, 2002; CNSSI, 2010; DHS, 2013). Often, the consequence is subdivided into other factors such as onset, severity, or other. Risk is based on factors such as the threat's probability and vulnerability susceptibility (NRC, 2009). In other applications, it is an unwanted outcome (DHS, 2008; Codex Alimentarius, 2014, 21 CFR 50 (A) (.3)(k), Merriam-Webster, 2004).
  • Vulnerability: a weakness or flaw that creates opportunities for undesirable events related to the system (“system design”) (ISO, 2007a; ISO 2002; ISO, 2012; DHS, 2013; NIST, 2011; CNSSI, 2010; NRC, 2009; COSO 2014; Merriam-Webster, 2004).

The expansion from just risk to vulnerability was key in the early development of the food fraud standards – including the landmark work by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI, and the related standards from BRC/BRCGS, IFS, SQF, FSSC 22000, and others). This expanded focus on vulnerability was key to enabling the early adoption of the programs. It was also efficient to focus on the root causes.

Watch out for the next blog, which will review the application of quality management and risk management to expand the focus from mitigation to prevention,

If you have any questions on this blog, we’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.



  1. Spink, John, Ortega, David, Chen, Chen, and Wu, Felicia (2017). Food Fraud Prevention Shifts Food Risk Focus to Vulnerability, Trends in Food Science and Technology Journal, Volume 62, Number 2, Pages 215-220, URL:
  2. Spink, J, and Moyer, DC, (2011) Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud, Journal of Food Science, Volume 75 (Number 9), p. 57-63, URL:
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Many analytical approaches use markers as indicators of food authenticity.  These markers can stem from various systems biology approaches, including elements, metabolites, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids.

This article (purchase required), written by some of the global thought-leaders in authenticity analysis, starts with the premise that there is a pressing need to adopt a harmonized approach for validating these markers.  The authors make recommendations for harmonized terminologies and general definitions related to food authenticity markers. They propose the terms “primary” and “secondary” markers to distinguish between direct and indirect authentication. The terms “single” and “dual” authenticity markers, and authentic “profiles” and “fingerprints” are suggested to distinguish between the number of analytical targets used. They also recommend that the terms: “threshold”, “binary”, and “interval” markers are applied depending on how they discriminate authentic from non-authentic samples.

Secondly, they advocate for harmonization in marker discovery approaches. They provide a summary of the main analytical techniques, published guidelines, data repositories, and data analysis approaches for various marker classes while also stating their applicability and limitations.

Finally, they propose guidelines concerning marker validation. They recommend that the validation of the authentication method should include the following steps: 1) applicability statement; 2) experimental design; 3) marker selection and analysis; 4) analytical method validation; 5) method release; 6) method monitoring. They conclude that implementing these approaches will represent a significant step towards establishing a wide range of fully validated and accredited methodologies that can be applied effectively in food authenticity monitoring and control programs..

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12637230300?profile=RESIZE_400xThis review (open access) covers reported incidents of counterfeit spirits over the past 20 years.  It includes estimates of the economic cost as well as fatalities and serious injuries.

Estimations of counterfeit spirits range from 25% to 40% of total alcoholic spirits consumed globally. Including knock-on effects, these products cost the EU alone 23,400 lost jobs and at least €3B in lost revenue per year. Annually there is at least €1.2B in lost government revenue. Counterfeit products decrease legitimate sales, both by replacement sales, and by the erosion of consumer product trust and satisfaction of legitimate goods and decrease legitimate manufacturing jobs. The authors review the worldwide problem, scope, and scale of the spirits counterfeiting problem including specific health issues, and the international plight of reduced labour available resulting directly from production and sale of counterfeited liquor.

The authors also review, at a high level, the methods and technologies that have been published to analytically detect chemically adulterated or substituted products that have been published.  The categorise the analytical technologies into four functional areas highlighting economy, generality, and utility. Finally, the authors discuss approaches to prevention.

Photo by Devin Berko on Unsplash

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12433103090?profile=RESIZE_400xThis study (purchase required) reports the analysis, using LC-MS, of 252 commercially available spices in the Singapore market for 14 synthetic dyes. In 18 out of these (7.1%) at least 1 illegal dye was detected at concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 114 mg/kg. Besides potential health risks, presence of these adulterants also reflects the economic motivations behind their fraudulent use. The authors conclude that their findings in emphasise the need for increased public awareness, stricter enforcement, and continuous monitoring of illegal synthetic dyes in spices to ensure Singapore’s food safety.

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12397736262?profile=RESIZE_400xThis study (purchase required) aims to use an untargeted strategy to process SPME-GC-MS data coupled with chemometrics to identify volatile compounds (VOCs) as possible markers to discriminate Arabica coffee and its main adulterants (corn, barley, soybean, rice, coffee husks, and Robusta coffee). Reference samples were produced from roasted beans (both Aribica and Robusta) sourced directly from a large commercial coffee manufacturing site and then ground and adulterated in the researchers’ laboratory.  Principal Component Analysis (PCA) showed the difference between roasted ground coffee and adulterants, while the Hierarchical Clustering of Principal Components (HCPC) and heat map showed a trend of adulterants separation. The partial Least-Squares Discriminant Analysis (PLS-DA) approach confirmed the PCA results. 24 VOCs were putatively identified, and 11 VOCs are candidates for potential markers to detect coffee fraud, found exclusively in one type of adulterant: coffee husks, soybean, and rice. The authors concluded that these markers may be suitable for evaluating the authenticity of ground-roasted coffee, thus acting as a coffee fraud control and prevention tool.

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12633554080?profile=RESIZE_400xDetecting undeclared porcine components in processed food is a particular analytical challenge.  This is because there is a large demographic of consumers who choose to avoid pork derivatives at even small concentrations in their food (e.g. for religious regions) but the act of processing often means there is little intact DNA to measure.  For ingredients such as stocks and gelatines, tests are usually based on proteins rather than DNA.  Two review articles have recently been published.

In this review (purchase required) aims to thoroughly assess methods for detecting proteins derived from pork and innovative biosensor technologies designed for identifying porcine DNA in food products. The authors aim to go beyond merely listing methods and technologies. They take the extra step of critically evaluating the strengths and limitations of each approach.

The article delves into the prevalent problem of detecting porcine DNA in food products within the international food processing sector. It provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of various techniques for detecting pork-based proteins. These techniques encompass electrophoresis, immunoassay, chromatography, and spectroscopy. Additionally, it explores the potential of cutting-edge biosensor technologies in identifying porcine DNA in food products. Various biosensors, including electrochemical, optical, luminescence, and colorimetric, are scrutinized for their potential impact on the industry. Finally, future trends in detection technologies related to pork derivatives are discussed.  The authors conclude that incorporating micro/nanofiber and artificial intelligence into biosensors can enhance their sensitivity, accuracy, and capacity to detect and identify pork proteins in food.

In this 2nd review (purchase required, but free to IFST members) focusses on recent advances in rapid biosensors for detecting porcine DNA or proteins in gelatine.  The authors discuss and evaluate biosensor methods, comparing them with various analytical methods in terms of their popularity and precision. They highlight new biosensor methods and identify a reference for a rapid, accurate, portable and simple method for gelatine detection with a low detection limit and high specificity.

Photo by Dmitry Dreyer on Unsplash

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12629972255?profile=RESIZE_710x The aim of these reports is to:

  1. Assist EU Member States' authorities to identify and combat fraudulent and deceptive practices along the agri-food chain.
  2. Provide valuable but selected information to stakeholders of the agri-food sector to perform adequate vulnerability assessments and identify new emerging risks.

The monthly report covers food, feedingstuff, material and articles intended to come into contact, directly or indrirectly, with food, animal welfare issues for farmed animals, plant protection products, veterinary medicianal products and other inputs that may end in the form of residues and contaminants in food and feed.

Read the April report.

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Seafood fraud is commonly reported on food fraud databases and deceptive practices are highlighted by numerous studies, with impacts on the economy, health and marine conservation.

Food fraud assessments are a widely accepted fraud mitigation and prevention activity undertaken to identify possible points of deception within a supply chain.

This study aims to understand the food fraud vulnerability of post-harvest seafood supply chains in the UK and determine if there are differences according to commodity, supply chain node, business size and certification status.

The SSAFE food fraud vulnerability assessment tool was used to assess 48 fraud factors relating to opportunities, motivations and controls. The analysis found seafood supply chains to have a medium vulnerability to food fraud, with the highest perceived vulnerability in technical opportunities.

Certification status was a stronger determinant of vulnerability than any other factor, particularly in the level of controls, a factor that also indicated a higher perceived level of vulnerability in smaller companies and the food service industry. This paper also reviews historic food fraud trends in the sector to provide additional insights and the analysis indicates that certain areas of the supply chain, including uncertified prawn supply chains, salmon supply chains and food service companies, may be at higher risk of food fraud. This study conducts an in-depth examination of food fraud vulnerability relating to the UK and for seafood supply chains and contributes to a growing body of literature identifying areas of vulnerability and resilience to food related criminality within the global food system.

Read full paper: 

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12624888856?profile=RESIZE_584xThe World Trade Organization has published its first report on illicit trade in food and food fraud. It includes contributions from participants in the WTO’s Annual Agriculture Symposium, held on 11 and 12 December 2023, which explored this topic.


  • International trade has helped to reduce
    global hunger, but food fraud is a growing
  • Illicit trade in food and food fraud inflict
    considerable damage to international trade
    and public health
  • Illicit trade in food undermines global food
    security and agri-food value chains
  • The WTO rulebook brings a legal framework
    to international trade in food, helping to
    combat illicit trade
  • Reducing import and export restrictions could
    diminish incentives for smuggling and illicit
    trade in food
  • Modern food safety legislation can minimize
    the potential for fraudsters to exploit gaps in
    the food supply chain
  • Timely, thorough investigations can disrupt
    illicit trade in food and food fraud
  • Public–private collaboration and international
    cooperation can help to combat illicit trade
    in food.

Read full report.

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12546419091?profile=RESIZE_400x“Maçã de Alcobaça” Portuguese apples have a Protected Geograpic Indication (PGI).  The PGI encompasses the cultivars Casa Nova, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Reineta and Pink produced in the defined geographically delimited area and characterised by elevated consistency and crispness, a high percentage of sugar and high acidity, which gives them a bittersweet taste and intense aroma

For authentication analysis, reference databases based upon multivariate elemental composition have been proposed.  There was concern that the databases might be invalidated by permissible changes in the fertilisation regimen.  Such changes are likely, as there is a market demand for high productivity.

In this paper (open access) the authors verified that, in the case of royal gala, the PGI origin could still be verified despite variation between three common fertilisation regimens. Three different soil NPK fertilisation schemes were applied to experimental orchards within the PGI area (1 x mineral NPK proposed for integrated production, an intermediate strategy that included organic granular amendment and 2 x mineral NPK), and the elemental profiles of the apple pulps were analysed and compared.

The researchers found that some mineral elements improved their concentration in the apple pulps with fertilisation due to interactions of these elements with the fertiliser components (namely, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) or to potential changes in the bioavailability of the elements in the soil due to fertilisation application. This gave subtle differences in the nutritional profile of the apples.  However, they found that this variation did not impede the ability of discriminating PGI from non-PGI (from North Portugal and Italy) equivalents using previously-developed models. This reinforces the edaphic characteristics of the cultivation area's prevalent role over the effect of fertilisation practices or physiological trait changes, in shaping the elemental signature of the fruits. This was found to be mostly due to the high influence of geologically linked elements (such as Rb, Pb and Y) in the discrimination of the sample provenance.

They concluded that the previously-developed classification models for “Maçã de Alcobaça” PGI authenticity analysis remained robust even if fertilisation practices are applied to fight less favourable cultivation conditions.

Photo by Matheus Cenali on Unsplash

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The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission have published their monthly collation of food fraud reports here.  Thanks to FAN member Bruno Sechet who has again collated these as an infographic.  The original infographic is on Bruno's LinkedIn feed.

The JRC collation uses global media reports, and this always gives a slightly different picture than collating official reports.  FAN's recent report gives a high-level annual overview for 2023.  But, whatever source of information, food businesses should always remember that there are limitations to such general collations and league-tables of "most fraudulent foods".  They are only the first part of the risk assessment evidence.  The more pertinent question is the specific risks in your own supply chain; the companies and ingredient sources that you purchase from.

Read more…

12544091058?profile=RESIZE_584xIn this study (purchase required), near-infrared spectroscopy coupled with chemometrics was validated to authenticate oat flour (from different forms of oat; oat groats, steel-cut and rolled oats) and distinguish it from common adulterants including wheat, farro, triticale, barley, rye, and ryegrass. Both unsupervised and supervised chemometric methodologies (PCA, SIMCA, and OPLS-DA) were applied. The authors reported that both SIMCA and OPLS-DA models displayed 100% sensitivity, enabling reliable identification of oat flour and detection of potential adulteration with specificity of 97.78% and 100%, respectively. Using SIMCA, samples of oat groat flour with low levels (1% and 2%) adulteration were incorrectly classified as unadulterated, but successful discrimination was achieved through the OPLS-DA model. They reported that PLS regression analysis could quantify the levels of these adulterants.

The authors validated their models using over 200 in-house test samples prepared from cereals grown at an agricultural research station.  The technique was fast, non-invasive, relatively cheap and suitable for in-line use. 

Graphical abstract from the paper.

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12212937491?profile=RESIZE_400xThere are many options for analytical techniques to authenticate edible oils.  One which is less frequently reported is Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC).  DSC measures the thermal properties of a sample as it is heated or cooled through phase transitions, and so is an indirect reflection of its fat composition.  Although crude in comparison to some analytical techniques, and unsuitable for complex mixtures, DSC has the advantage of being relatively cheap, rugged, and routinely available in laboratories that are not specialist in food authenticity testing.

This paper (open access) reviews recent applications of DSC for edible oil authentication, both with and without the use of chemometrics.  Most publications cited could detect the addition at 10% and above of cheaper oils to “premium” oils such as avocado or sesame.  There were also publications that could differentiate between cultivars (and, hence, origin) of extra virgin olive oil.  The authors concluded that DSC is a valuable weapon in the authenticity testing armoury.

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One of the most difficult challenges in authenticity analysis is verifying the species of an ingredient or component in processed products where little or no intact DNA might remain.  Verifying tuna species in processed products (e.g. canned tuna) has been a perennial problem.

This paper (purchase require) sets out to address the problem by discovering and validating species-specific peptides for distinguishing three commercial tropical tuna species. The peptides derived from trypsin digestion were separated and detected using ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography-quadrupole-time of flight mass spectrometry (UPLC-Q-TOF/MS) in data-dependent acquisition (DDA) mode. Venn analysis showed that there were differences in peptide composition among the three tested tuna species. Screening through the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (NCBI BLAST) revealed 93 candidate peptides. Finally, the detection specificity of species-specific peptides of raw meats and processed products was carried out by multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mode based on a Q-Trap mass spectrometer. The results showed that three, one and two peptides of Katsuwonus pelamis, Thunnus obesus and Thunnus albacores, respectively could serve as species markers.

Graphical abstract from the paper

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12538899685?profile=RESIZE_180x18012538900256?profile=RESIZE_400xWe are pleased to acknowledge the expertise of two more specialist authenticity testing laboratories and add them to our Centres of Expertise network. 



  • University of East Anglia
  • Chelab (Tentamus TCF2) GmbH

As well as providing incident-response support to the UK government and facilitating a laboratory network to share analytical best practice, we hope that our CoE listings help our (non-analyst) members to navigate to laboratories that could help with specific issues.  Recognition as a CoE is not an endorsement by FAN, and the list is not an exclusive or exhaustive guide to commercial laboratory capabilities, but it is an acknowledgment of existing expertise and capability in highly specialist areas.

If you are a laboratory interested in applying then look out for ther 2024 call in our Newsletter later this month.

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12537617273?profile=RESIZE_400xIn this paper (open access), researchers used analysis of the stable-isotope nitrogen ratio (SIRA) within specific compounds, as a refinement of the total nitrogen stable-isotope measurement technique, to differentiate products made from wheat grown in organic fertiliser compared to conventional fertiliser.  They used paired samples to demonstrate the concept (control samples, where the only difference between each pair is the wheat fertiliser regime) and have not tried the technique on market samples.  They found that δ15N analysis of specific compounds (particularly leucine and proline) gave better discrimination in processed products than total δ15N analysis, although the absolute isotope ratios were significantly impacted by the processing.

The authors added a further weight of evidence by analysing the paired samples for mycotoxins (organic wheat in general has more mycotoxin contamination than conventional, and some mycotoxins are stable to processing) and pesticide residues analysis.

For FAN’s explainer of SIRA principles, see here.

Photo by Vyshnavi Bisani on Unsplash

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