Marketing Food Safety Tests and Food Fraud
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA) was the biggest update to U.S. food safety laws since the 1930s, and basically placed the onus of compliance with federal regulations on the shoulders of food producers. The Final Rule for Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration details specific guidelines to prevent economic adulteration.
A food defense plan is used to assess vulnerabilities and lays out mitigation strategies. One of the tools for prevention is assessment packages which will help manufacturers conduct risk assessment and develop mitigation strategies. Analytical testing, either on-premises or through contract testing labs, can be an integral part of a complete plan. A good strategy for test producers is marketing food safety tests to combat food fraud.
A Bit of Background
Everybody assumes their food is safe to eat, whether it’s coming from a restaurant, purchased as prepared food from a store, or made from scratch at home. We trust the manufacturer that the ingredients are exactly as described on the label. For the most part, this trust is well-placed, and there are many safeguards installed to ensure conformance and purity of the ingredients. Having said this, food ingredients are expensive commodities, and wherever there is the possibility to make a profit, you will find criminals who seek to adulterate food ingredients for economic gain. It is estimated that worldwide, food fraud accounts for more than $50B USD annually, with the U.S. portion totaling an estimated $10-15B each year.
The most common deliberately adulterated food products found in the U.S. are olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, and orange juice. Globally, fish and seafood, meat, honey, oils, and alcohol have been most frequently fraudulently misrepresented or adulterated. In these cases, ingredients are occasionally substituted with a lower-quality product of the same type, but sometimes substitutions are adulterated with toxic chemicals such as melamine. Or, they may contain unknown food allergens, in which case, consumption of chemicals or food allergens can cause illness or death. Some of the easiest products to misrepresent are “Organic” (when they’re not), or Halal (when they’re not), because these are certifications, and the products are not “altered” in the fraud.
Tools for Prevention and Detection
When a food processor or importer accepts a shipment of an ingredient, it will have a Certificate of Conformity certifying that the ingredient is what the label says it is, and is what the customer is expecting. Typically, the purchaser will either test the shipment themselves or have it tested by an independent third-party laboratory for purity and conformance. Even organic-labelled products can be tested for pesticide residues to insure their organic status. One of the most important tools in preventing food fraud and economic adulteration is validating the security of the supply chain through software tools, so manufacturers can audit their suppliers to ensure that their trust in them is appropriate. (Trust but verify.)
What Instruments and Tests Have Food Fraud Applications?
Near-infrared (NIR) detection is the most commonly used approach. NIR detection is used to compare known spectra to samples to determine authenticity. Targeted and non-targeted screening methods using instruments from basic analysis to LC/GC-Mass Spec can be used to find chemical contaminants and to identify ingredients. Next-gen sequencing can also be used to verify authenticity. Institutions such as NSF, USP and others offer training, resources, assessment programs, and standards. Decernis manages a food fraud database which is a great resource in this field. What’s important when marketing analytical testing products is that they are backed by proven methods, applications, and reference spectra or data, so that the customer has a degree of confidence in your solution’s ability to address their specific need.
Key Opinion Leader Marketing
Economically motivated adulteration knows no boundaries. It is a global problem, and while we’ve focused on the U.S., it is important to recognize that it threatens importers, exporters, distributors, manufacturers and end-users. INTERPOL, the international intergovernmental policing organization, tracks and uncovers food fraud and economically motivated adulteration as part of its charter. They recently published an article titled “Food fraud in times of COVID,” and it offers insight into the magnitude of the problem.
In the U.S., Michigan State University’s Dr. John Spink is a top expert in this area, and offers classes and training for the prevention of food fraud. Food Safety Tech sponsors a Food Fraud Resource Center, offering connections to various resources addressing this issue. Aligning your marketing efforts with key opinion leaders in this area will help you build credibility for your products and services.
Before the COVID pandemic, there were a number of conferences around the world addressing food fraud and economically motivated adulteration. Currently, many food fraud detection industry events have gone virtual. There are also partnering opportunities with food fraud detection industry organizations through podcasts or webinars.
Marketing Your Products and Services
It’s important to understand the regulatory and workflow challenges facing food producers if you are marketing food fraud applications. While there is a lot of information available, the threat of economically motivated adulteration has to be addressed — before an ingredient is accepted into a production facility. In terms of methods of detection, it’s important that reference materials be available for proper analysis so it’s a result being marketed, not just an instrument.
Like most testing products sold into food safety or food security applications, the performance expectations are high, including services and support materials. By understanding the regulatory questions, technical performance, and workflow questions your food fraud audience might have, you can tailor your marketing program accordingly.
- FDA Final Rule for Intentional Adulteration https://www.fda.gov/food/food-safety-modernization-act-fsma/fsma-final-rule-mitigation-strategies-protect-food-against-intentional-adulteration
- PWC Assessment Strategies https://www.pwc.com/sg/en/industries/assets/food-fraud-vulnerability-assessment.pdf
- NGS Food Screening – ThermoFisher https://www.thermofisher.com/us/en/home/industrial/food-beverage/food-authenticity-labeling/ngs-food-screening-species-identification.html
- NSF Food Fraud https://www.nsf.org/consulting/food/food-fraud
- USP Food Fraud Mitigation https://www.usp.org/sites/default/files/usp/document/our-work/Foods/food-fraud-mitigation-guidance.pdf
- Decernis Food Fraud Database https://decernis.com/solutions/food-fraud-database/
- INTERPOL https://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-Events/News/2020/Food-fraud-in-times-of-COVID-19
- Michigan State University – Dr. John Spink https://research.msu.edu/msu-leads-the-worlds-efforts-to-prevent-food-fraud/
- Food Safety Tech – Food Fraud Resource Center https://foodsafetytech.com/food-fraud-resource-center/
If you need help with marketing food safety products or services to prevent food fraud and deliberate adulteration, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.