Let's Talk About Food Fraud

Food fraud is nothing new and the topic hasn't lost its relevance in recent years. The fact is, food fraud scandals are still making national and international headlines – and often, consumers are not even aware that the food they are consuming is fake. Let's take a closer look at food fraud and understand why it exists, how it affects consumers and how it can be combated.

Why does food fraud exist?

As in most cases of fraud, food fraud is intended to give the person responsible a financial advantage by unfair means. The European Food Fraud Network (EU FFN) of the EU member states and the European Commission has defined four criteria that to confirm food fraud is taking place:

  • Intention
  • Violation of EU food law
  • Making of profits
  • Deception of the consumer

Additionally, the European Commission identified seven types of food fraud:

  • Dilution - mixing a liquid ingredient of low value with a liquid of higher value.
  • Substitution - replacing an ingredient, or part of a product with a lower value substitute ingredient or product.
  • Concealment - hiding the low quality of food ingredients or product.
  • Mislabeling - placing a false claim on packaging for economic gain.
  • Unapproved enhancement - adding unknown and undeclared materials to food products to enhance the quality attributes.
  • Counterfeiting - copying the brand name, packaging concept, recipe, processing method, etc. of food products for economic gain.
  • Grey market production/theft/diversion - sale of excess unreported product.

Olive oil is a product that is particularly vulnerable to food fraud. Refined oil could be sold as virgin or cold pressed oil or the oil may have been blended with inferior oils. Food fraud also often occurs with meat products when undeclared types of meat are used.  

How does food fraud affect consumers?

When we buy food we want to be sure that the food contains exactly what is promised on the packaging label. However, this is not always the case. It is not easy to detect food fraud and in many cases, consumers do not even notice that they have been misled into purchasing fake products.

But sometimes, food fraud can have serious consequences for the individual. For example, undeclared allergens may be contained within the food. If someone with a severe dairy allergy unknowingly consumes a product containing traces, this could lead to life-threatening consequences. Food fraud also exists where religious dietary regulations are compromised – For example, where meat products are sold erroneously as halal or kosher. Also, dietary requirements may be compromised, for example where someone who is a vegan or vegetarian consumes something contaminated with products of animal origin.

How to combat food fraud

Food standards such as IFS, BRCGS or FSSC 22000 and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have established requirements to combat food fraud. With regard to the management of suppliers, the BRCGS requires companies to carry out a documented risk assessment for each raw material and raw material group. Systems and procedures are also required to minimize the risk of purchasing counterfeit or adulterated raw materials for food products and to ensure that all product descriptions are legal, accurate and verified.

It is now up to food manufacturers to implement the requirements of the food standards. Although there were already regulatory requirements in place in the past to fight against food fraud, only a few companies had taken steps to do so. In order to continue to meet the requirements of the standards, food producers now have to carry out a detailed risk analysis and take preventive measures.

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