Traceability in the food supply chain leads to authentic food: it’s a myth. In this third and final look at common misconceptions about traceability, I examine the links between traceability and authenticity of food.
Traceability can be difficult with a complex food, but it’s not impossible. At the simplest level it is about knowing where every ingredient in a food product has come from and being able to identify the ingredients in each batch of your product to their own individual lots. If you are a food business that has managed to achieve a transparent supply chain then in addition to basic traceability you will also know the sources of each of your suppliers and their suppliers, resulting in a ‘trail’ that leads all the way back to the farm or fishing boat.
Knowing where your ingredients have come from and being able to trace them back to your suppliers is a great start when it comes to protecting the authenticity of your finished product. Knowing more about your supplier’s suppliers can also give a food business peace of mind when assessing the risk of receiving fraudulent materials. Unfortunately, though, even within a completely transparent supply chain there can be opportunities for fraudulent adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of food materials.
Take for example a bottle of virgin olive oil on the shelves of an inner city specialty grocer; the retailer purchases from a wholesaler who has a direct relationship with the olive processor which processes olives for a collective of farmers from a small olive growing region. It’s a short supply chain and very transparent. The retailer knows exactly where the oil comes from. But that does not mean that the retailer knows what was going on at the oil processing facility. Perhaps the most recent local harvest was very poor, perhaps the processor was under financial stresses and was tempted to dilute the pure local oil with cheaper bulk oil from another region or country. Maybe the wholesaler was tempted to switch labels on some of his olive oil ranges to increase his profits… Each of these scenarios result in fraudulently adulterated, diluted or substituted product. If the retailer is selling the oil with regional provenance claims, organic claims or claims about special grades or standards of oil and the oil has been adulterated, diluted or substituted he is then unwittingly committing food fraud himself. It’s an unpleasant scenario, and one that is unfortunately common.
Transparency has many benefits to supply chain management, and can provide some assurances against food fraud but it does not automatically guarantee authentic food ingredients and food products.