Food fraud is a food safety issue according to an online poll carried out at the CIEH food safety conference on delegates earlier this week.
And deputy government chemist, and executive director of the Food Authenticity Network, Selvarani Elahi MBE, speaking at the event agreed, arguing that food fraud has serious food safety implications.
She said: “Food fraud sometimes is seen as a bit of a poor relation to food safety issues and that, ‘well, it's only a consumer choice issue. It's a nice to have but not essential or a priority for food business operators’.
“However, if you look at the last four global food fraud incidents, which were the largest ones we've seen for a while, three of those had food safety implications.”
Elahi listed the 2015 contamination of food with carcinogenic Sudan dyes, the 2008 adulteration of milk with melamine that killed six babies in China and made huge numbers ill, and the allergens in spices incident in North America.
She added: “Our view is that you can't separate the two and that food fraud prevention should be part of your overall food safety management as a business.”
However, Elahi also spoke about how jury is still out as to whether – and to what extent - the world has experienced more food fraud as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early on in the pandemic the network was alerted to counterfeiting of hand sanitisers, face masks, and the “hairs on the back of our neck stood up” as we thought this might transcribe over into food fraud.
Last summer the network became aware of a report suggesting alarming increases in food fraud and was very concerned that if the reports were true they were in “serious trouble”.
The network investigated and re-examined the data that went into the report and discovered that the absolute rises were large in terms of percentage but in the global context, and looking at the number of cases – the largest rise in cases was seven – it was not statistically significant. Elahi said a main output of the review study was that - while you could also include percentages - you needed to present the absolute data to provide context.
She added: “The true impact of COVID has not yet been seen because of the restrictions imposed because of COVID, and lockdown measures and furlough, and everything else. And that actually regulatory oversight across the world during 2020 was much decreased from previous years.
“So the advice to food business operators, is really that they should continue their good practise of protecting global food supply chains and be more vigilant than ever because we don't know the true impact and the opportunity for food fraud has increased is the general view.”
Some of the reasons Elahi outlined, as to why opportunities for food fraud have increased, were disrupted supply chains as some food business operators switched suppliers for various reasons. Lockdown restrictions have meant that there are fewer people taking food samples, and a move to online sales of food.