Economic benefit is a strong driving force behind food fraud. This is not a new concept. For many years water was used to dilute milk, increasing a farmer’s yield. Gelatin was mixed with food coloring and grass seed - then sold as strawberry jam. Berry pickers would put dirt at the bottom of their baskets to get a faster payout. While fraud strategies have evolved, so has our ability to detect and prevent them. Try integrating these basic, common sense strategies into your existing programs to prevent becoming a victim of food fraud.
- Robust specifications and contracts. The tighter the agreement is up front, the less wiggle room there is down the road. For example, stipulate that your product must be manufactured at the suppliers’ primary location as opposed to a contracted location. Also, you can require that a certain high-risk ingredient be supplied from a specific geographic region.
- Analytical testing – trust but verify. Analytical tests can detect impurities and anomalies in foods. Testing can be conducted in house, by external laboratories and in some cases by research centers such as universities. There are limitations, such as was found with the melamine issue. Melamine was added to dairy products in order to fool the kjeldahl nitrogen tests, giving false high readings for protein. However, once melamine was suspected of being added, a specific test targeting melamine and similar components was used. Food fraud is not only due to the addition of foreign substances, it can also be due to removing desired components. For example, the removal of cream from milk used to be a more common practice prior to the Babcock (fat) test. Shake up your testing regimen once in a while – don’t conduct the exact same tests year after year.
- Supplier audits and assessments. There are many benefits to be had by simply visiting your supplier and getting to know their operations. If resources are slim, sometimes a pre-written questionnaire or assessment can be used. Knowing which suppliers to physically audit can be determined by the pre-written assessments.
- Arming oneself with knowledge. Get to know the business you’re in, and become familiar with recent issues that have affected your competitors and your suppliers’ competitors. Often, the answer to “What could happen?” has already been answered by what has happed in the past. Knowing what to look for can go a long way in detecting and preventing issues.
- Maintain an approved suppliers list. Once a supplier has proven themselves to be reputable and trustworthy, keep using them. They may seem a little more expensive than their competitors, but food fraud related recalls can be even more costly. If brokers are used, make sure they only purchase raw materials from your approved suppliers.
The strategies listed should be combined and interconnected into a single functional program. Make sure the program is reviewed regularly, and is continuously evolving. The responsibility for detecting and preventing fraud does not belong to one department or entity. Conduct training on the program with all departments: supply chain, purchasing, production, etc. Engaging all departments will help ensure your program is successful.