Food Fraud: Challenges of the 21st century consumer

Unfortunately, food fraud has been of relevance even in today’s time. Food frauds usually go unnoticed as they don’t seem to have apparent effects on human health.

You never know, when you may fall prey to food fraud. As consumers we need to be extremely cautious and be sure of the products we consume on daily basis.

What is Food Fraud?

The deliberate act of modifying ingredients within a processed product for instance the universal adulteration of milk by addition of water, or misrepresentation, mislabeling, addition of contaminants into food on purpose along the supply chain.

Food Fraud is the collective term encompassing the intentional substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food/feed, food/feed ingredients or food/feed packaging, labeling, product information or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain that could impact consumer health. (Defined by GFSI Position paper issued in 2014).

food fraud

Food Fraud can occur in any length along the supply chain, either in farm or by processors while addition of raw materials, packaging material, mislabeling, tampering by the retailer.

Mitigation to fraudulent practices in food systems existed in the ancient civilizations in prehistoric times people were aware of the benefits of consuming safe foods hence, strict laws were enforced to punish people involved in adulteration. Great economist from India, Chanakya in 375 BC mentioned in his writings about punishing traders involved in adulteration of food. Stringent laws were also put forth during the reign of 13th century King John of England for fighting food frauds. FDA has been working since the 19th century to combat food frauds around the globe. Many countries over the world have their laws enforced to stop food frauds.

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What drives manufacturers to Food fraud

  1. Economic Motivation – This is the foremost reason by manufacturers and processors to involve in fraud, by altering raw materials, faulty packaging materials, manhandling ingredients, usage of contaminated ingredients (physical, chemical, biological). This drives both the raw material supplier and the processor.
  2. Difficulty in detection of altered ingredients In case of processed foods like sausages and meats; consumers may not be able to detect the fraud. Fillets, Patty, Sausages may not contain 100% meat, perhaps may contain filler agents like Soy (most consumers are unaware of). In 2013, some manufacturers used horse-meat and pork in beef burgers.

Foods that are most susceptible to trickery

  • Milk
  • Honey
  • Spices- Pepper, Turmeric, Chilly
  • Tea
  • Ghee (Clarified Butter)
  • Saffron
  • Fish
  • Olive oil

Olive oil is usually contaminated using peanut oil, people suffering from peanut allergy may have serious consequences on consuming adulterated olive oil. Most food frauds don’t end up in life threatening symptoms like adulteration of milk with water, but that doesn’t imply that food frauds should be left unchecked.

Food Frauds around the world

  1. 2018: Adulteration of milk with Ammonium sulfate in India.
  2. 2015: Addition of Palm Oil in Milk in Russia.
  3. 2013: Addition of Horse meat and Pork in Beef Burger in England.
  4. 2009 – till date: Salmonella contamination in peanut, honey abuse, meat from undeclared species in USA.

Ending note: Food Frauds may not be just limited to end table consumers, even processors and manufacturers possibly be victim to food frauds. Hence, it is extremely important to screen the raw materials by periodic quality checks at each steps, following the laws put forth by the federal bodies. Each and every one of us are equally responsible in the food ecosystem to ensure safety of food, right from farm to manufacturer to employees in processing to supply chains to consumers. The consumer may ask questions about the product and the supply chain is liable to answer them. This is a serious threat to the ecosystem, we all need to be united to fight this.


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