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Figuring Out Food Fraud: A Look at Resources

BY: Mary Ellen Kuhn
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Olive oilAdulterating food products for financial gain—described as economically motivated adulteration (EMA) or food fraud—is a $10 billion problem for the food industry, but detailed information about incidents of EMA is lacking, according to presenters at an IFT15 session on Sunday, July 12.

“Documented incidents of EMA are likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what actually happens,” said presenter Karen Everstine of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD). Everstine introduced the topic and offered definitions for EMA and food fraud, terms that NCFPD uses interchangeably while recognizing nuances in differences between the two descriptors.

Food fraud occurs in many different ways, including dilution (partial replacement), substitution (complete replacement), mislabeling, and counterfeiting, she explained. To help those in the food industry, NCFPD operates a database on food fraud resources and categorizes EMA incidents by food product category. Fish and seafood, dairy products, and meat have the highest number of incidents. Dilution and substitution are the most common approaches followed by artificial enhancement, Everstine said.

Presenter Gale Prince, a former Kroger Co. executive, offered a historical perspective on EMA and noted that approaches to EMA have become more sophisticated over time. Industry must be vigilant in addressing the problem of economic adulteration, Prince emphasized. “No product is too cheap,” he said. “No brand is immune. Every industry is subject. It is a domestic and global problem.

“We need to be on our toes,” he continued, offering several practical tips for reducing the risk of EMA. “You need to know your supplier and know their expertise. Know their supply chain. Know their control measures.”

The next presenter, Jonathan DeVries, a recent retiree from General Mills’ Medallion Laboratories, presented an overview of a publicly available resource on EMA—United States Pharmacopeia’s free food fraud database (www.foodfraud.org), which has catalogued more than 2,000 incidents of food fraud.

“Food ingredients are the building blocks of all food,” and it is at this point in the supply chain where adulterants can most easily enter, DeVries reminded session attendees. So it’s critical to address EMA at the ingredients stage, he said. Olive oil is the product in which adulteration is most frequently detected. Other products frequently adulterated include milk, honey, orange juice, saffron, coffee, and apple juice.

The session’s final presenter, Tim Sonntag, vice-president, quality assurance, and regulatory for ingredient supplier Wixon, offered an industry perspective on the inclusion of EMA as part of the proposed FSMA rule, “Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.”

According to Sonntag, industry does have some questions, including the following: How will compliance to these regulatory requirements be determined? How will the regulations deal with or assess a facilities’ EMA program? How will FDA assess a company’s process of doing a risk assessment? How does a facility in one sector of the food industry determine historical patterns across the entire food industry?

Sonntag said that industry groups have suggested that EMA regulations should stand alone rather than being part of the proposed preventive controls rules.

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