Food fraud – a real problem for everybody

While there has been much hype in recent months about fake news, a growing concern in the food industry is food fraud or fake food.

Food fraud involves deception of consumers using foods, ingredients and packaging for economic gain. It includes substitution, unapproved enhancements, misbranding, and counterfeiting of name brands. There is total disdain for the safety of consumers and it has been the scourge of the food industry for decades, and it isn’t going away.

Food fraud is prevalent because our food supply chain has evolved to be global, dynamic and extremely complex. This is in part due to rising consumer demand for exotic foods, niche foods (organic, fair trade, or sustainably sourced), and for seasonal foods all year round.

Examples of food fraud include fake organic, halal, and kosher foods; fake fish (substitution of lesser value species); fake olive oil and recycled oil; fake wines and spirits; and more.

The dairy industry is not immune. Fraudulent practices include selling skimmed milk and semi-skimmed milk as whole milk; the addition of milk products (caseins and caseinate, milk protein concentrate, and whey proteins) to liquid milk; milk dilution; and the mixing of higher-value milk (e.g. buffalo, sheep, and goat milk) with cows’ milk. There is also the fake branding of products e.g. product of Australia. These practices have commercial, ethical, and potentially health consequences.

The challenge is how can foods with specific attributes, location or credence claims be protected from food fraud?

The vulnerability usually occurs beyond conventional processing, labelling, and distribution systems. Hence control requires identification of when, where and how to mitigate fraudulent activity. This is addressed through monitoring, testing, origin verification, specification management, supplier audits and anti-counterfeit technologies.

It has never been more important to assure consumers about the safety of food. Food fraud undermines confidence in the food supply, and combatting it requires greater transparency and oversight across the entire food supply chain.

In May 2017 the meeting of the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS) in Mexico approved work to address the different concepts and notions related to fraudulent practices in the international trade of food products.