What’s new in food fraud and food fraud prevention? Food Fraud Advisors’ Principal, Karen Constable provides an update.
Alarming Results from the Beverage Sector (97% of businesses affected by Food Fraud)
Food fraud is rife in the beverage sector, with alcoholic beverages most at risk. Counterfeiting and smuggling are thought to be the most prevalent types of food fraud for alcoholic drinks, however the activity with the most serious public health impact is illicit manufacture of beverages. Incorrect methods of fermentation can result in methanol, rather than ethanol, being present in the finished drink. Methanol may also be added deliberately to illicitly-manufactured products. Methanol is poisonous. Each year a significant number of deaths are recorded from the consumption of bootleg alcoholic drinks.
Operation OPSON is an annual Interpol-Europol operation against food and beverage fraud. Alcoholic beverages are usually targeted in the operation, because of the threats fraud activities pose to public health and to public revenue. Interestingly, though, energy drinks and soda pop were a focus of enforcement activity by authorities in Africa and the Middle East during the OPSON IX operation in Dec 2019 – June 2020. Non-alcoholic drinks worth almost USD 350,000 were seized by authorities. During the same operation, 1,613 tonnes of counterfeit and substandard alcoholic drinks were seized, including wine, vodka and whiskey.
The beverage sector is well aware of the risks posed to their consumers and their brands from food fraud activities. A survey by Lloyds Register of 100 senior executives from the beverage sector found that almost all of their businesses (97%) had been affected by food fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey. Food fraud is a growing concern for 80% of beverage businesses and only 22% of beverage manufacturers are very confident that their suppliers meet food safety standards. Get access to the survey report here.
The COVID Pandemic and Food Fraud
More than one year since the COVID pandemic began, its impact on food fraud is still unquantified. A number of commentators (including me) predicted that the pandemic would increase the international food industry’s vulnerability to food fraud. Interestingly, Decernis, the publisher of the most comprehensive and well-respected food fraud database, reported that the actual number of verified incidents of food fraud had not increased during the pandemic. This was unexpected. But we may now have an answer.
Last week, Europol and Interpol jointly published a report on their most recent annual operation targeting fake and substandard food and beverages, Operation OPSON IX. The report describes operations carried out between December 2019 and June 2020; which included the first few months of the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, the results for this iteration of OPSON were atypical compared to previous operations. This is due in part to the reduction in flow of goods at national and international levels during that period, as well as the impacts of personnel movement restrictions on local enforcement activities. The authors also suggest that organized crime groups may have switched their focus from food and beverage to medicines and medical devices. They report there was an increase in organized crime activity in the medical sector and hypothesize that is the reason for a significantly lower number of organized crime groups being associated with food crime in the 2019 – 2020 operation compared to previous operations.
It’s disappointing to find out that other sectors are being targeted by criminals, but it does at least go some way towards explaining why we didn’t see an increase in reported incidents of food fraud in 2020 compared to 2019.
Operation OPSON IX focused on wine, alcohol, milk, dairy products and horses’ passports. Alcoholic beverages, meat, cheese and olive oil were the foods and drinks most often targeted by criminal organizations. As in previous years there were problems with the traceability of horses, and smuggling of alcoholic beverages from Eastern European countries into the European Union. Notable and unusual results include an increase in seizures of expired food. Seizures of fruit, vegetables and legumes were also high compared to previous years. Saffron worth USD350,000 was seized in Spain and Belgium. The saffron seized in Spain was mixed with other types of plant material. Apricot kernels, which are poisonous but were being sold as cancer treatment for high prices, were seized in the USA. This operation also included notable seizures of raw animal feed, mostly in Portugal. The Operation OPSON IX report is available here.
Food Fraud Resilience Tool
The National Food Crime Unit of United Kingdom has launched a food fraud self assessment tool for food businesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The tool helps businesses to identify the risks from food crime and outlines steps that they can take to mitigate the risks. Access the tool here.
SQF and FSSC Standards Updated
Food Safety Management Systems Standards published by SQF and FSSC have both been updated. SQF Edition 9 is in force from May 2021 and FSSC 22000 Scheme Version 5.1 was published in November 2020. The food fraud-related requirements have not changed significantly, in terms of what needs to be done by food businesses. Both still require food fraud vulnerability assessments and food fraud mitigation plans. However, both standards have new wording and slightly different clause numbers so internal audit checklists will need updating.
The most notable change is that SQF Edition 9 explicitly refers to training of personnel for food fraud mitigation-related activities. It has also dropped stolen goods from the list of susceptibilities that need to be considered in a vulnerability assessment.
Need advice? Looking for someone to update your food fraud prevention program? Karen can help. Contact Us to arrange a no-obligation, free introductory consultation.