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Food Quality, Safety, Fraud and Defence

The food integrity matrix is made up of four key elements: food quality, food safety, food fraud and food defence. These must be monitored and controlled to ensure the integrity of our food chain.

1. Food Quality: The delivery of attributes that influence a product’s value to consumers (including nutrition and the welfare of animals, people and the environment)

2. Food Safety: Unintentional food safety hazards which can cause harm to the consumer (i.e. biological, chemical and physical hazards)

3. Food Fraud: Intentional adulteration carried out for economic gain

4. Food Defence: Intentional threats carried out in the hope to cause harm

The Food Integrity Matrix

The Food Integrity Matrix (Fox et al., 2018)

The Food Integrity Matrix

Food integrity is threatened by four elements; unintentional food quality and safety issues and intentional food defense and fraud incidents. These are stand-alone entities by definition but interlink as they create uncertainties to each of the other elements.

Food Quality

Food quality is the quality characteristics of a food that are acceptable to the consumer, including external factors such as appearance (size, shape, colour, gloss and consistency), texture and flavour; internal factors such as its nutritional content; and that it meets the standards set out in legislation and product specifications. Other characteristics related to ethical and sustainable production are becoming increasingly important with regards to the consumers acceptability of the quality of food (i.e. animal, environmental and human welfare).

The food sector implements standards and procedures to ensure food products are produced within specification. There are times when food can fall outside of specification e.g. the raw materials were slightly outside of the target value (but within specification) with an impact on the consistency of the final product. These are unintentional food quality issues that have an economic impact on the business. If they are intentional, this is known as food fraud.

Food Safety

A food hazard is defined as a biological, chemical or physical agent which could cause illness or injury in the absence of control. Food safety hazards are unintentionally in food and we can use research and previous data in order to help carry out risk assessments and assign suitable mitigation measures. Food hazards can be classified as a biological, chemical or physical hazard.

  • Biological Hazard

Biological hazards are organisms or substances produced by organisms that pose a threat to human health. They are a major concern in the food sector because they cause foodborne illness outbreaks. These organisms can affect human health including infection, intoxication and even death. The effect can vary in the degree of severity. Examples include Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium botulinum (Table 1).

Table 1: Examples of Biological Hazards

Biological Hazards Examples of food
Salmonella Eggs, poultry, meat
Norovirus Shellfish, ready to eat foods
Campylobacter Raw and undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk
E. coli Undercooked meat, raw fruits and vegetables
Listeria Ready to eat deli meats, unpasteurized milk or juice
Clostridium perfringens Beef, poultry, gravies
  • Chemical Hazards

A chemical food hazard is any chemical agent that has the potential to cause illness or injury. Chemical hazards in food can be classified into chemicals that occur naturally, chemicals that may be used in the formulation of your finished product, or chemicals that are unintentionally or incidentally present in your finished product. Chemical hazards include undesirable substances like polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, pesticides, heavy metals, allergens, among others.

Table 2: Examples of Chemical Hazards

Chemical Hazard Example
Mycotoxins Produced by fungi and can be toxic to humans and animals. They are formed by moulds which grow on crops and foods under certain conditions
Natural Toxins Biochemical compounds produced by plants in response to certain conditions or stressors
Marine Toxins Decomposition or microscopic marine algae accumulated in fish and shellfish
Environmental contaminants Accidentally enter from the environment
Food additives Any chemical substance that is added to food during preparation or storage
Processing-induced chemicals Undesired chemicals can be formed in certain foods during processing as a result of reactions between compounds that are natural components of the food
Pesticides / agricultural products Used to control, destroy or repel a pest or to mitigate the effects of a pest
Veterinary drug Used in food producing animals to control and/or prevent illness to the animal
  • Physical Hazards

A physical hazard is any extraneous object or foreign matter in a food item which may cause illness or injury to a person consuming the product. These foreign objects include, but are not limited to: bone or bone chips, glass, wood, faeces, plastic, sewages, waste, sand, gravel, soil, packaging, metal or any foreign material not normally present in food products. Sources for such contaminants include raw materials, badly maintained facilities and equipment, improper production procedures, and poor employee practices.

Table 3: Examples of Physical Hazards

Physical Hazard Example
Unnatural Insects, hair, metal fragments, pieces of plastic, wood chips and glass
Natural Stems in blueberries, microscopic airborne debris, dirt on potatoes, or minute insect fragments in figs

Food Fraud

Food fraud is an intentional act for economic gain. Food fraud can be broadly categorised as: adulteration, tampering, product overrun, theft, diversion, simulation and counterfeiting, for the purpose of financial gain by increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production. We will explore food fraud in more detail next week.

The following table (adapted from Spink and Moyer, 2011) presents the different types of fraud which can occur in the food chain.

Table 4: Types of Food Fraud

Type of Food Fraud Description Example
Adulteration A component of the finished product is fraudulent Melamine in milk
Overrun Legitimate product is made in excess of production agreements Under-reporting of production
Theft Legitimate product is stolen and passed off as legitimately procured Stolen products are co-mingled with legitimate products
Diversion The sale of distribution of legitimate products outside of the intended markets Relief food redirected to markets where aid is not required
Simulation Illegitimated product is designed to look like but not exactly copy the legitimate product ‘Knock-offs’ of popular foods not produced with the same food safety assurances
Counterfeiting Intellectual property rights infringement, which could include all aspects of the fraudulent product and packaging being fully replicated Copies of popular foods not produced with same food safety assurances
Tampering Legitimate product and packaging are used in a fraudulent way Changed expiry information, product up-labelling etc.

The prevalence of fraud can be explained by the complex nature of our globalised food and feed supply chains and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products.

The modern day food supply chain allows ingredients and products to be sourced and transported among a range of countries and supply chain players for raw materials, processing and retailer. Each aggregator, shipper or wholesaler who collects, blends or repackages can change the identity, purity and authenticity of the ingredient.

Complex supply chains create opportunities for fraudulent activity arising from difficulties in sufficient surveillance. Coupled with rising prices, scarcity of raw ingredients, the competitive nature of the feed industry, the constant drive to reduce costs and maximize profits and the customers desire for variety and access at low cost means illegal, fraudulent activities and/or products tempt and are sometimes necessary for players in the supply chain in order to sustain their market.

Food Defence

Food defence counteracts activities which are carried out to intentionally inflict pain, damage or danger; and/or as a tool for terrorism (i.e. for malicious purposes). These threats can be internal or external and involve the use of biological, chemical, physical, or radiological agents.

Food terrorism includes threats such as malicious contamination with toxic materials which cause disease and even death, sabotage of supply chain which leads to lack of food, abuses of food for terrorist or criminal purposes. The motivation of these malicious attacks on the food industry can range from economic damage to a specific company, brand or sector, to political, i.e. making a statement, influencing the outcome of an election or an act of war.

Threat assessment, traceability coupled with analytical detection and fingerprinting of food components can be applied effectively to prevent and mitigate the effects of these threats.

Current Status

In this section we have explored some of the potential food quality, safety, fraud and defence issues which can occur in our food chain. However, it is important to note that the EU food chain has been described as one of the safest in the world.

The food industry, government and academia are all aware of these concerns and have implemented methods and procedures in order to ensure food integrity. We will explore these in more detail in the next section of the course.

We have also included some extra reading in the See Also section below if you would like to know more about these food quality, safety, fraud and defence issues; and the mitigation measures in place.

What we would we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts in the integrity of the food chain:

  • Did you ever get sick from eating food?
  • If so, what did you eat and why do you think you were sick?

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Food Supply Chains in a Time of Crisis

EIT Food