The Food Fraud Term is Solidified in the Food Industry Lexicon

The food fraud term has solidified itself in the food industry lexicon. The food fraud term is steadily growing in publications, with massive growth since 2012. Other terms that are growing at a lower rate are: food adulteration, food authenticity, food integrity, and food protection.

I recently found the Google Books Ngram Viewer application. This is a database of every book in the Google Books database since 1800. The system normalizes the use of a word by counting the percentage of use, not the total number of entries (e.g., many more books were published in 2019 than in 1819). With this, we can search and compare the use of terms that appeared in books over time.

I searched for results from 1800 to 2019 for: food fraud, food adulteration, food authenticity, food integrity, food protection, and economically motivated adulteration (Figure 1). After reviewing these results, I observed that the food fraud-related terms started to grow after 2005. Food Adulteration had a massive peak around 1800 to 1910 with the awareness and development of the first modern food laws, and then again during the start of food safety and HACCP around 1960 to 1970. Food protection also had a spike during that new HACCP period around 1960 to 1970.

all terms from 1800 to 2019
Figure 1: All terms from 1800 to 2019

Next, I focused on the modern period when food fraud became more focused (Figure 2). A wider time window is provided to see the fluctuations in food adulteration and food protection before the modern food fraud incidents. As a reminder, some of the critical food fraud incidents that raised awareness were in 2004 for the Sudan Red carcinogen colorant in paprika and other spices (adulterant-substance), 2007 for Melamine in infant formula and pet food, and 2012 for Horsemeat in beef (adulterant-substance), and then a more continuous series of events identified as ‘food fraud.’

all terms from 1990 to 2019
Figure 2: All terms from 1990 to 2019

Insight from the data:

  • Food Fraud
    • 2008 to 2010, there started to be some mentions of the term
    • 2010 to 2012 was the start of the uptick in usage
    • 2012 to 2015 had an acceleration in usage
    • From 2015 on, there has been a steady state of growth – the use of the food fraud term is continuing to grow
  • Food Adulteration, Food Authenticity, and Food Integrity
    • All three terms have been growing since 2012
    • The further use of the food fraud term possibly led to an awareness of food adulteration as a separate problem
    • Also, the more proper use of the food adulteration term may have led to more clear identification of activities that were food authenticity and food integrity
  • Food Adulteration
    • After a massive spike in the 1890s to 1900s and another trend in the 1960s to 1970s, the term was used less frequently
    • The 1890s to 1900s spikes could have been influenced by focusing on food safety and developing the modern US food laws
    • The 1960s to 1970s upward trend could have been influenced by the start of HACCP and food safety as a science
    • There has been another upward trend since 2012, which could have been influenced by the increased use of the food fraud term, as well as probably the increased focus on food safety
    • The upward trend since 2012 parallels the growth rate of the food authenticity and food integrity terms
  • Food Protection
    • There has been a steady decline from 1990 on
    • 2005 to 2010 did have a small resurgence, but then it appears that food fraud became more clearly adopted

[Note: although not included in this preliminary study, the food fraud prevention term has the same growth trajectory as food integrity.]

Takeaway Points:

  • When you are creating and communicating your projects and plans, it is vital to make sure to use the most common terms.
  • As many food fraud projects or milestones pass a 10-year mark, it is interesting to review the use of terms such as food fraud, food authenticity, food integrity, food protection, and economically motivated adulteration.
  • The concept of food fraud has become more clearly defined and more consistently applied. This has led to the clarification of other specific activities, such as food authenticity and food integrity. Food adulteration seems to now be used for its scope of problems based on food quality, food safety, food fraud, and food defense. The food protection term appears to be still trying to find its place in the mix.
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