Food Fraud

Molly Colbert

November 17, 2021

What is a food crime?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that food fraud occurs when “a food supplier intentionally deceives its customer about the quality and contents of the food they are purchasing”.

Apart from the obvious public health impact of food fraud, it plays a major role in having a negative impact on customers’ trust in food industries and government agencies.

There are food safety professionals around the world who are dedicated to ensuring that all food is safe. Unfortunately, there are some blind spots in food supply chains where opportunities are presented for individuals and businesses to conduct food fraud.

When there is a successful crime of food fraud, it increases the fraudsters urge to take more risks with food, and therefore putting the safety and integrity of supply chains in danger.

Examples of food fraud

• Theft

• Illegal processing - in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques

• Waste diversion - illegally diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain

• Adulteration - adding a foreign substance that is not on the product’s label to lower costs or fake a higher quality

• Substitution - replacing food or ingredient with another substance that is similar

• Misrepresentation - marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin, or freshness

• Document fraud - making, using, or possessing false documents with the intent to sell or market a fraudulent or substandard product

What are the challenges?

There are several obstacles to the detection and prevention of food fraud.  

Firstly, it’s not always clear what is food fraud, therefore, a clear understanding and a legal definition are required of food fraud, which will not prevent innovation but can protect the health and trust of customers and consumers.

Secondly, the lack of specialised products/instruments or knowledge can create problems in detecting food fraud. If the product does not pose an immediate health issue, then consumers may not know (even after consumption) that they were victims of food fraud.

Finally, individuals or businesses that commit food fraud actively avoid detection. Once a method of food fraud has been uncovered, they will move on to another immediately to avoid detection for a long time and carry on participating in food fraud. This challenge is the most concerning due to products used to adulterate food (such as melamine and/or other chemicals) cannot be easily detected through standard food safety and quality tests used by the food safety authorities and law enforcement globally. Innovation of testing and procedures is required in preventing and detecting potential food fraud such as the adoption of new technologies and digital innovations for traceability.

Why does it take place?

In 2019 the FAO convened an expert meeting to discuss food fraud. Within this meeting, three elements were identified to be the underlying causes of food fraud:

• Intention – separates the crime from mistakes and/or errors

• Deception – may be through any means and at any stage of the supply chain

• Undue advantage – economic gain

How is food fraud being prevented?

Prevention of food fraud is safe and cost-effective in comparison to trying to detect it after the crime is committed. Legal frameworks tend to place all primary responsibility on business operators by implementing practices, such as traceability requirements, requirements to adhere to good agricultural practices, and good manufacturing practices to reduce food fraud.

The following legislation has been introduced to prevent food fraud:

• Regulation (EC) 178/2002 – This regulation establishes the general principles and has the objective of protecting consumer interests and the prevention of fraudulent or deceitful practices, the adulteration of foodstuffs and any practice that may lead to deception of the consumer

• Regulation (EC) 2017/625 – Has the objective of guaranteeing legal practices in the marketing of fodder and foodstuffs, and the protection of consumer interests. This is achieved by official inspections by the competent authority to verify compliance with the legislation

• Regulation (EC) 1169/2011 – Establishes the foundation of guaranteed high-level protection in relation to food information. Therefore, all food information provided must achieve a high level of protection to the health and interest of consumers

How to be vigilant

The FSA has published an article detailing their food fraud self-checker.

The Food Fraud Resilience Self-Assessment Tool allows businesses and employees to anonymously fill out a series of questions to determine the risk of food crime to their business.

Find the questionnaire here: Food fraud resilience self-assessment tool | Food Standards Agency

How can we help?

Here at NT Assure, we have a team of experienced food safety consultants who can help manage products to reduce the risk of fraudulent food contaminating supply chains.

Support can be provided through the highly qualified and experienced team, who are on-hand to advise clients on a range of expertise, such as the following:

• Food Labelling

• Compositional Standards

• Specification Writing

• Supplier Auditing

• Internal Auditing

• Food Safety/Labelling Training

• Brand Protection

To chat to with our team or to find out more information, email or ring 01933 272089 📞

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Report a food crime | Food Standards Agency