Food fraud occurs when food or drink is sold in a way that deliberately misleads or deceives consumers, usually for financial gain. For example, charging customers a premium for Italian tinned tomatoes that were actually produced in India. Food fraud has gained increasing recognition and concern since 2008 when milk and infant formulas were contaminated with melamine in China, followed by horsemeat being detected in products labelled as beef in Europe in 2013. 

Food fraud poses a serious issue for food safety and integrity, in some cases causing serious illness and death. The case of melamine in milk led to over 300,000 people becoming ill and 6 fatalities (*1). But what about the brand risks associated with food fraud? Food fraud plays a major role in negatively impacting consumers’ trust in food industries and brands. Although global food brands are dedicated to ensuring that food is safe, lack of traceability in food supply chains can provide opportunities for individuals and businesses to conduct food fraud. And what about the financial risks to businesses? It is estimated that the cost of food fraud for the global food industry is approximately EUR 30 billion every year (*2). 

According to the European Commission, these foods are the most common sources of food fraud: olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, apple juice, grape wine, vanilla extract and fish (*3). The European Commission goes on to define the types of food fraud, which can appear alone or in a combination, as;

  • Grey market production / theft / diversion
  • Substitution
  • Concealment
  • Mislabeling
  • Unapproved enhancement
  • Counterfeiting
  • Dilution

Looking at some of the more high profile cases, and the most recent global reports of food fraud, here is our list of the top 5 examples of food fraud incidents for 2022. 

Concealment of horsemeat scandal take 2 - EU

Most people are aware of the 2013 horsemeat scandal, when meat from horses entered the supply chain as beef and ended up being sold in many products in the UK in numerous well known supermarkets. In recent news, Spanish and Belgian authorities teamed up to uncover a large criminal network involved in the illegal sale of horsemeat unsuitable for human consumption. The network had been falsifying identification documents to conceal the traceability of the product. The crime ring is believed to have been operating since 2019 and may have netted more than EUR 1.5 million (*4). 41 people were arrested.

Counterfeit chocolate bars - UK / USA

In June 2022, it was widely reported when numerous Oxford Street candy stores were raided by trading standards, seizing £100,000 worth of counterfeit chocolate bars and other products.

Tina Potter, from the Food Standards Agency UK, said some of the counterfeit bars had been found to contain allergens that were not listed on the label, posing a major health risk to anyone with a food allergy. She said: "There is no way of knowing what ingredients are in these bars or what food hygiene practices are being followed by the people making or repackaging them."(*5)

A similar case occurred in the USA in November 2022, where the authorities seized almost 230,000 dollars-worth of candies and snacks with packages resembling those of well-known brands. The products also contained tetrahydrocannabinol (THC the primary psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from the cannabis (marijuana) plant (*6). 

Milk dilution - Italy

In this case, the milk had already passed its quality tests, and whilst being transported to the storage tanks of the buyers, the food fraud occurred. The transportation truck had been modified to pump water into the milk to dilute it, posing a huge health risk to consumers, as the water source origin is unknown, undocumented and untested.

Mislabeled seafood - Italy

4.5 tons of canned tuna was seized by the maritime district office of Sanremo, from a local wholesaler, who is now being investigated for fraud in the trade relating to the sale of fish products with counterfeit labels (*7). The investigation brought to light that the mislabelling of the tuna was so the product could be resold on the market for a higher price.

Another incident occurred in Italy in November 2022, where the authorities seized in total 10.6 tons of seafood illegally fished or without traceability documentation (*8). 

Unapproved enhancement of red chilli - PakistanPunjab

Food Authority (PFA) seized over half a ton of red chilli adulterated with substandard colours and other hazardous ingredients. Tests were conducted to determine the quality of the chilli and it was found that the chilli was adulterated as a non-standard colour and other items were present in it. The chilli was disposed of onsite. Mudassar Riaz Malik, Director General for social welfare, said that the adulterated spices could cause cancer of the stomach and intestines and other diseases (*9).

Mitigating food fraud risks in 2023

As we can see, food fraud poses an immense risk to food safety and integrity. It is a global issue that affects all aspects of the supply chain. With so much money to be made from food fraud, it is not an issue that will go away, in fact it is on the rise. Between December 2021 and May 2022, in the Operation OPSON XI, the authorities of 26 countries (coordinated by EUROPOL and Interpol) seized almost 27 000 tonnes of fake food and 15 million litres of alcoholic beverages (*10). 

Food and beverage retailers and brands need to be more vigilant than ever in mapping their supply chains back to source to assess if they are affected by reported food safety and integrity issues. 

Supplier Management allows you to see exactly who is in your supply chain, where they are, and what they supply you, while an integrated suite of mapping and reporting tools provides chain of custody insights, helping you understand the origins of your product. Creating security and end to end viability in a secure and centralised platform. Targeted insights enable access and trend data at scale through interactive dashboards. System-generated alerts and focused analytics tools help you spot trends over time, driving timely business decisions and immediately responding to any problems.

Download a brochure today to find out more about Supplier Management and start your journey to improve the reliability, efficiency and sustainability of your supply chain.

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