REVIEW: “Ten Years Later – Defining Food Fraud and Envisioning the Future”

This is a review of our recent article in Food Safety Magazine and the follow-up interview for their Food Safety Matters Podcast. How much has – or hasn’t – been accomplished in the ten years since food fraud was first formally defined? Even though the food industry has created a world-class response, there still remain simple steps that have been overlooked.

It was interesting to work with the editors and hosts to reflect on the last ten years of food fraud research. In some ways, the “science and sciences of food fraud prevention” have moved at a lightning pace, and in other ways, it seems like the implementation has been treading water.

Food Fraud was Defined as a “Thing”:

A first key milestone in food fraud prevention was that the first formal definition of food fraud was published in our 2001 article “Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud” in the Journal of Food Science (access to the full article is now free.) This was the first research published about the definition and scope of food fraud. The definition in this article is now the most widely adopted definition of food fraud and is usually cited as the foundation of new or modified definitions. In other words, food fraud was now defined as a concept separate from food safety or food defense – food fraud was now an individual “thing.”

Standardized Industry Requirement – addressing all types of food fraud was NOT optional:

The next key milestone in food fraud prevention was that food industry-wide requirements established the 2017 Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) Food Fraud Position Paper (access to the full report is free.) This was a statement by the GFSI Board of Directors that food fraud had become a compliance requirement in the GFSI Food Safety Management Systems. GFSI is based on widely adopted International Standards Organization (ISO) such as quality management and risk management, so the underlying practices were already understood and implemented. (For those of you who aren’t familiar, GFSI is the foundation for the food industry’s food safety management systems. GSFI is a foundation for most of the world’s food safety certifications, such as FSSC 22000, IFS, SQF, BRC, etc. GFSI members reportedly cover 65+% of the global food trade and a higher percentage of companies and retailers at the end of the chain. So, GFSI compliance is basically a requirement for food commerce.) In other words, there was nearly universal agreement on the scope of a competent food fraud prevention strategy and an industry requirement to act.

Regulatory and International Standards Development:

With few exceptions, all types of food fraud have been illegal under one law or another since the beginning of commerce or food laws. What was missing was a clear statement or consolidation of those requirements in one place and under one lead agency. Some countries, such as the UK, created entities such as the National Food Crime Unit, and others such as Trinidad & Tobago created Parliamentary decree that outlines the responsibilities.

In parallel, the food fraud prevention activities evolved and grew to the point that they were included in international standards (ISO 12931:2012 Performance Criteria for Authentication Solutions defined “product fraud” and later ISO 22000: 2018 Food Safety Management Systems added the term “food fraud”). In 2017, the WHO and UN-led Codex Alimentarius (the world food code often adopted by countries as law) created a Food Fraud Working Group that is still refining its definition and guidance.

Specialty Area Application – Organic Trade Association and USDA National Organic Program:

After the concepts are defined, common industry-wide practices have started, and there are certification requirements, it is natural that the ideas are applied to specialty areas. For example, the Organic Trade Association’s membership worked together to create a common approach (link to the overview.) The Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program (OFPS) builds upon the GFSI and ISO concepts to create an opportunity for benchmarking and sharing of best practices. Also, in parallel, the USDA National Organic Program expanded their Organic Integrity Learning Center (OILC) course offerings to include two organic product fraud prevention video courses (these are available free to the public – link here.) The two USDA courses are NOP-100 Organic Fraud and the Criminal Mind, and NOP-110 Preventing the Organic Fraud Opportunity.

Evolution of a Food Fraud Prevention Management System:

The next logical step in the maturity of food fraud prevention is formalizing the activities in a formal management system. This natural evolution is taking place in conjunction with other concepts, such as quality management or workplace safety, but has temporarily slowed down since the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020.  

The article and podcast summarized here are good foundations for companies and countries to review the evolution of food fraud prevention. This insight will help you appreciate how far we have come and understand the next logical steps in implementing a food fraud prevention management system.

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