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Food fraud - food safety schemes are fighting back

By Nuno F. Soares on 16 March 2017

Some cases of food fraud have been related over the years. As discussed in the article “Management commitment: sentenced to be!”, in 2013 consumers of countries like the UK and France bought meatballs, burgers and other food products that contained horse meat. What was worrying about this case was the awareness of suppliers. They intentionally sold the products contaminated with horse meat to retailers in order to make money, not declaring it on the product labels.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case. In the same year, in China another scandal broke out related to the production of honey. According to the South China Morning Post this product was being sold containing 0% of real honey “38 buckets full of artificial honey made from water, sugar, alum powder and colouring”. Honey labelled as French has also been proven to have origin in China and Eastern Europe. This fraudulent product could represent up to 10% of the honey consumed in France according to a 2013 study.

Food Fraud can be defined as the deception of consumers using food products, ingredients and packaging for economic gain and according with a GFSI report it has been a problem with increasingly impact on organizations and global economy. In the report it is estimated that the level of food fraud could reach 10% and $30-40 billion to global food industry.


There are 4 major groups of Food Fraud:


An analysis to the RASSF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) report in the period of 01/01/2000 to 31/12/2016 for the major food categories shows that the most reported products are Nuts, nuts products and seeds, Seafood (fish and shellfish) and read meat representing 48% from the total.


In the Food Fraud Database and in a recent study produced by the National Food Crime Unit on behalf of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland it is possible to found examples of food fraud according with the product category. Below is presented some examples for red meat and fish. (A comprehensive table with examples for all categories will be sent automatically to every member from theFood Safety Books Connected List).


Red Meat

Illegal sales - Illegal slaughter in unapproved premises / Falsification of animal identity documentation

Adulteration - Replacement of lamb with beef, turkey or pork (particularly on spicy meals) 


Illegal sales - Over fishing and trade endangered species 

Adulteration - Amalgamation of small loads of fish into bigger batch (fishcakes)

Incorrect labelling - Misrepresentation of fish origin or catch method.


Food safety schemes GFSI recognized like BRC, FSSC 22000, IFS and SQF approach the theme of food fraud differently. FSSC 22000 that has been recently updated to version 4 requires organizations to “establish and maintain a documented procedure for food fraud vulnerability assessment” and to define preventive measures. In both requirements the scheme establishes guidelines to the content and procedures to put in place. It is also defined periodic reviews to procedures.

BRC focus on assessing all the raw materials for potential fraud and creating systems that minimize the risk of buying fraudulent raw materials. For this matter the organizations must create processes to access information on historical and developing threats to the supply chain. The scheme also requests organizations to “ensure that all product descriptions and claims are legal, accurate, and verified.

On IFS food fraud control is previewed by the “assessment of associated risks and on any internal or external information on products risks which may have impact on food safety and quality”. (A comprehensive table with all the requirements from each scheme considered relevant for the food fraud control will be sent automatically to every member from the Food Safety Books Connected List)



About the Author

Nuno Soares is an author, reesearcher, quality manager, trainer and food safety inspector.  He is the author of Food Safety in the Seafood Industry: A Practical Guide for ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000 Implementation and he can be reached at 

 This article was first published on LinkedIn, and is reproduced with permission from Nuno F. Soares