The issue of food fraud has traditionally taken a backseat to wider food safety threats – but Europe’s horse meat scandal has underlined the threat it poses to food businesses, according to Danone’s corporate quality projects director Petra Wissenburg.
Speaking at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) conference in Barcelona last week, Wissenburg said food companies need to change the way they think about adulteration in order to catch fraudsters in the supply chain.
“The food supply is becoming more global and these are challenging economic times,” she said, adding that the weak economy has been a big factor in escalating food fraud concerns.
Increased pressure on food and drink makers to cut costs applies to ingredient suppliers too, and with complex supply chains comes greater risk that a product may have been adulterated at some point along the way from the farm gate to the factory.
“It is very important to know what drives a criminal,” said Wissenburg. “What are the opportunities to swap one ingredient for another? What are the expensive ingredients? And what are the opportunities for dilution?
“If you are looking for food fraud you need to come at it with a different magnifying glass. You need the one from Sherlock and not the one from a food safety expert.”
Changing the way we test
In the case of horse meat contamination of beef products, the UK’s Food Standards Agency called for nationwide testing of beef products for horse DNA – but Wissenburg says this is an outdated way of thinking about food adulteration.
“We tested for horse DNA but what if next time it was turkey? You need to think like a criminal,” she said.
“It’s very important we change the way we test. In food fraud, you don’t know what people might put in….You literally don’t know what you don’t know, so you need tests to show up any adulteration.”
She said that food companies need to start by asking about the main reasons someone might adulterate their products, such as a shortage of raw materials, and try to pinpoint any vulnerabilities in their supply chain. She added that food makers should also take a broader approach to testing.
“Rather than a targeted approach, you need an untargeted approach where you take a fingerprint of your product and take a screening approach,” she said.