Scope and Resources for an Effective and Efficient Food Fraud-Related Audit/ Inspection/ Investigation/ Prosecution

Especially with recent incidents and the pressure of supply chain challenges and inflation, there is an increased focus on food fraud in audits and inspections – and possibly for investigations and prosecutions too. Fortunately, industry processes are already in place, and audit/ auditor education and training resources are available.

The two previous blog posts covered the food fraud regulatory requirements (e.g., the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Food Drug & Cosmetics Act of 1938) and overall government priority setting. The summary of those posts is that all types of food fraud for all products are clearly illegal… and food fraud is so complex that the most efficient industry and government focus is on prevention.

In those two previous blog posts, and building upon many years of research, we started to consider what a regulatory prevention focus would look like for foods. There are also other areas beyond foods to find lessons learned, such as human public health, criminology, crime prevention, and supply chain resilience.

To look back at history, food fraud prevention evolved under the stress of highly impactful incidents (e.g., Sudan Red, melamine, and then horsemeat in beef) within the concepts of quality management (e.g., identification and reduction of root causes), crime prevention (e.g., reducing the crime opportunity in the physical ‘place’), and then Enterprise Risk Management to focus on reducing vulnerabilities and optimizing scarce resources (e.g., including application to governments such as published in the US Government Accountability Office publication on “The Green Book.” The full title is “Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government – GAO-14-704G.”

To further consider what a regulatory prevention focus would look like, a starting point is to understand what is already implemented by the food industry. So, to be efficient, future activities can build on what is already in place.

What Should a Food Auditor/ Inspector/ Investigator Expect from Food Fraud Prevention Documentation?

We frequently get a question from a company or agency about “what can we expect from food fraud prevention documentation?” Of course, the starting point is requirements spelled out in your specific law, regulation, standard, certification, or commercial requirement. That sounds good, but there are often general requirements (e.g., conduct a hazard analysis) but little guidance on what is required.

Fortunately, the food industry has been working on food fraud prevention – processes, procedures, and documentation – for over ten years. Also, fortunately, there is a central and nearly universally adopted requirement that is based on the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) activities.

As a reminder, GFSI is a benchmark for food safety management systems such as SQF, FSSC 22000, BRC/BRCGS, IFS, and others. The GFSI-related food fraud work was developed to consider and support a wide range of requirements, including ERM/COSO, ISO 31000 Risk Management, and food laws. In the food safety management system, addressing food fraud is required – NOT OPTIONAL. The requirements include gathering incident information to conduct a Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment (FFVA) and then implementing a Food Fraud Prevention Strategy (FFPS). Together, these are often referred to as VACCP (Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Point Plan – e.g., VACCP is like HACCP but for food fraud, not food safety).

So, companies that have a GFSI-benchmarked food safety management system certification have a documented vulnerability assessment (including hazard analysis for the issues that relate to public health or food safety) and have a documented management system.

Next, we have previously published information and resources to support this activity.

Defining an Audit, Inspection, Investigation, or Prosecution (from a previous blog post)

There are very different expectations from an audit, inspection, investigation, or prosecution. Each is valuable, but they are not all the same.

“There is often criticism that a food fraud prevention audit – such as for a GFSI-related food safety management system implemented by FSSC 22000, SQF, BRC, IFS, and others – is ‘just a checklist.’ While a thorough audit could be a ‘yes or no’ list of questions when a company creates its responses, many discussions and reviews often occur before the final decision is entered. Often, many formal approvals are needed for a company to answer ‘Yes, we have a management system in place’ and ‘Yes, we have the sign-off from a company officer.’”

These actions have an ever-increasing objective, resource allocation, and intensity.

“During a food safety certification audit conducted against GFSI-recognized schemes, the auditor will review the vulnerability assessment process documentation and confirm that the company has developed and implemented a comprehensive control plan outlined in the [position paper] Appendix. ”

Let’s consider the most basic starting point, such as a Webster’s Dictionary Review of the Terms:

  • Audit (verb): “(1) to perform an audit of or for [e.g., audit the company, audit the books].”
    • This could be a review of documented procedures with evidence that they have been implemented.
    • The actions for a food safety certification are an ‘audit.’
  • Inspect (verb): “(1) to view closely in critical appraisal, (2) to examine officially, (3) a checking or testing of an individual against established standards.”
    • This could be a more resource-intensive activity that expands to a ‘critical appraisal’ of the procedures and the successful application.
    • The actions for a USDA National Organic Program assessment are an ‘inspection.’
  • Investigate (verb): “(1) to observe or study by close examination and systematic inquiry, (2) to make a systematic examination, especially: to conduct an official inquiry.”
    • This could be an even more ‘close examination and systematic inquiry’ that is an ‘official inquiry.’
    • A law enforcement entity – including the FDA Office of Criminal Investigation (FDA OCI) – could assess the possibility of a criminal prosecution in an ‘investigation.’
  • Prosecute (verb): “(1) to bring legal action against for redress or punishment of a crime or violation of law, (2) to institute legal proceedings with reference to.”
    • This could be the formal ‘legal action’ that includes bringing a case to court.
    • A Prosecutor would decide if the evidence from an ‘investigation’ was enough to bring a case to the courts.

Free Training Resources: Begin with the USDA NOP Training (from a previous blog post)

USDA recently published its Organic Product Fraud Prevention training in a free, online, and public format. This is part of the training for USDA inspectors. The Organic Trade Association was funded for the content I co-developed and presented. Our two courses are: “Organic Fraud and the Criminal Mind” and “Preventing the Organic Fraud Opportunity.”

The US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program funded a project to develop organic product fraud prevention content to train their USDA Inspectors. While the project was created before the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” Final Rule was published, the insight and recommendations support that compliance.

INTERPOL/ Europol Operation Opson Supported FFSAR MOOC

This new free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) covers Advanced Criminology and builds upon the ‘Food Fraud Incident Template.’ This standardized template for incident data collection and investigation was developed during the INTERPOL/ Europol Operation OPSON meetings and our presentations in 2017 (Dublin), 2019 (Athens), 2021 (Lisbon), and 2022 (Copenhagen).

Food Fraud Prevention: Advanced Criminology is our eighth free course and the third in the “Specialized Training” category. The need for this MOOC was identified during INTERPOL/ Europol Operation OPSON meetings.

The OPSON meeting attendees – including agencies and the private sector – were consulted on the critical questions to assess suspicious activity and start an investigation. Our presentation during the November Opson meeting in Copenhagen included an opportunity for attendees to comment and recommend edits to the course content and the report template. A follow-up OPSON webinar was conducted for attendees to provide additional feedback. This group just completed a 45-day curriculum review of the MOOC.

Food Fraud Audit Guide MOOC

This content was created to help you be more prepared for an audit – it is key to understanding how the auditors are being trained. Initially, this MOOC was created in response to industry calls for help training certification body auditors as well as their internal auditors. Although the certification body auditors are usually experts on food safety, food fraud is a relatively new topic. Since company internal auditors are traditionally more trained in process compliance and accounting topics, this MOOC fills a compliance training gap.

Live Webinar of the Food Fraud Audit Guide MOOC and Supply Chain Management MOOC –  March 18 to 27

A live, interactive webinar version of our on-demand asynchronous MOOCs, led by Dr. Spink, that covers the Supply Chain Management & Procurement best practices for food fraud prevention, and then the details of the GFSI-focused aspects of the regulatory and standards-based food fraud audit requirements.

Everyone seems to be talking about ‘supply chain management’ and ‘supply chain disruptions,’ but there is rarely coverage of the full scope of the topic. There is often even less about the food fraud audit requirements. This live and interactive webinar provides this in-depth coverage, and the scheduled format helps prioritize the completion of the course. This is a live version of the on-demand MOOC programs.

Takeaway Points

  • Addressing food fraud fundamentally differs from activities related to food quality or safety concerns – conducting food fraud audits/ inspections/ investigations/ prosecution is often unfamiliar to traditional food quality or food safety experts.
  • Fortunately, food industry requirements have already been implemented for food fraud-related assessments and prevention strategies – including efforts to meet global laws and regulations.
  • If you are getting audited/ inspected/investigated – or conducting one of those activities – then there are a range of free training resources to support your work.
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