First, businesses should assess the risks throughout their supply chains. Start by conducting a vulnerability assessment of critical control points to identify where someone could attempt product adulteration—with a special focus on upstream suppliers, not only direct suppliers, but suppliers to those suppliers.
Second, organizations should consider who has access to critical control points. In particular, they should pay close attention to who has access to labels to protect against counterfeiting and fraud. An unauthorized person could steal labels then place them on a substandard product for economic gain, putting both product safety and brand reputation at risk. Securing of cargo in transportation also should be a critical focus of a food fraud program, as product could be stolen, diluted, or otherwise adulterated, and then sold, again causing risk.
Organizations should then employ technology to alert appropriate individuals of heightened food fraud risks. In this phase, response time is critical. Monitor the prices of the commodities and ingredients used, and have alerts set if they spike in price. Pay particular attention to products that are highly profitable and easily or commonly adulterated. To minimize risk, have a system in place to send alerts as quickly as possible should an adulteration be detected. Every passing minute is a minute when more health risks could develop, which lead to a greater chance of negative impacts on brands and most importantly public safety.
One of the most significant impacts of food fraud that affects both consumers and food manufacturers boils down to loss of consumer trust.
Lastly, organizations should audit operational and regulatory compliance to ensure and maintain best food defense practices and provide documentation of compliance to regulators. In 2015, several of the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules will begin to be enforced and businesses will be required to document that they are following these types of practices. FSMA promotes the safety of the U.S. food supply by focusing on prevention, rather than reactive response. However, prevention is only as effective as the actual compliance processes put in place. Regular and random auditing using remote video technology can go a long way in confirming that appropriate preventative measures are in place and working.
In one of the most recent cases, Interpol, the international criminal police organization, announced that it seized
more than 2,000 tons of fake food in 47 countries in a joint operation with Europol over the course of two months in early 2015.
In the seizure, Italy had 31 tons of seafood labeled as “fresh” but had actually been previously frozen. The fraudsters doused the fish with a chemical containing citric acid and hydrogen peroxide to hide that it was rotting.
The issue is just as prominent here in the U.S. as it is abroad. In the same seizure, the FDA found that illegal dietary supplements were being sent through the mail. The crackdown, known as Operation Opson IV, is the largest effort of the agencies to target fraudulent food. All of it was seized in markets, airports seaports, and shops both in the U.S. and abroad.
Food fraud is happening all around us, and while there’s no one singular step a business can take to avoid it, it’s important to be aware of the common areas where it happens and build a plan to create as many obstacles as possible to deter the crime. In the end, this will not only help to ensure the company’s brand avoids being tarnished, but it may also end up saving lives.