Food fraud is a significant concern for both consumers and producers. The scale of the problem is significant: 2016 research by Fera Science indicates that fraud accounts for up to 25% of all globally reported food safety incidents. Additionally, growing public demand for food authenticity means that consumers regularly pay a premium price for organic and sustainably produced goods, which is why unprincipled producers and distributors are flooding markets with adulterated, low quality, or mislabeled foodstuffs. This is not only damaging the livelihoods of legitimate businesses, but it’s also risking the health of consumers.
To make matters worse, the potential number of adulterants and the millions of different foodstuffs require a similarly wide range of test methods if food fraud is to be effectively detected and prevented. The rapid growth of global e-commerce also increasingly places food sales outside of regulatory oversight. To catch the food fraudsters, you first need to quickly and efficiently identify their handiwork, which requires special tools.
Assessing Food Authenticity
Analytical testing is an essential technology for assessing food authenticity, which is critical to protect the health of consumers, the food brand, and producer income. Testing is, therefore, a necessary part of an overall strategy to mitigate fraud risk. The techniques and reference databases used for authenticity testing are rapidly evolving, but more still needs to be done, not least in terms of consistency.
There is a lack of adequate testing and test uniformity across the globe. Additionally, many of the test methods reported in the literature either lack applicability to emerging frauds or are simply not deployed in an enforcement framework; however, in recent years, pressure has grown to improve traceability and accountability across the global supply chain, especially for the more commonly adulterated products.
Current demand for natural sweeteners is high. When consumers purchase a product, they want to be able to recognize the listed ingredients, and know that those ingredients are as natural as possible. This is one of the reasons for increased interest in honey, which has been a natural sweetener for thousands of years. Consumers want more of these natural sweeteners, so the production and sales of honey, particularly organic honey, are experiencing a hefty growth. We’re also seeing that consumers want natural product organic honey, called monofloral honey or unifloral honey, which is basically a honey that comes primarily from a specific type of flower. Consumers are willing to pay more for these products; therefore, we need to protect these consumers by making sure they get what they are paying for.
Creating a Buzz around Honey
One of the most widely adulterated products is the organic variety of honey, a high-value item prized for its unique properties. According to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention Food Fraud Database, it’s the third most targeted food for adulteration, after milk and olive oil. It’s also financially significant; a report by Grand View Research valued the global honey market at USD $9.21 billion in 2020 and expects it grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8.2%.
According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, China, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and the United States are among the major honey-producing countries, accounting for approximately 55% of world production. The most common form of adulteration involves extending or diluting honey with other, less expensive sweeteners, such as corn, cane, and beet syrups. Any form of ingredient addition or substitution that creates a food safety hazard, such as the addition of an unlabeled allergen, must be addressed in the food safety plan.
Therefore, the ability to identify these substances quickly, efficiently, and consistently is essential to tackle fraudulent practices. What the food industry needs is analytical instruments and techniques that can consistently and rapidly fingerprint food and identify trace chemicals.