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Types of Food Fraud

Food fraud can be broadly categorised as: adulteration, tampering, product overrun, theft, diversion, simulation and counterfeiting.
Cartoon picture of a thief looking at a page
© QUB

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.

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.

Signs of Potential Fraud

The key motivation for fraud is financial gain. Therefore the key signs that an ingredient or product may be fraudulent is if it is offered at a price that is lower than the market value, and/or if the product appears or smells different from ‘the norm’

If a company has a suspicion they should always verify that documents and specifications are correct. The following are potential questions to ask in order to help identify signs of fraud:

  • What is the product? Is it of high value? Is it in short supply?
  • Is the price to good to be true?
  • Does its appearance, smell and other characteristics appear within specification (e.g. no off flavours etc.)?
  • Do you have a trusted relationships (with the suppliers, distributors, customers)?

What we would like you to do

Please share your experiences in the comments section below:

  • Have you ever thought a food product was ‘too good to be true’?
  • Do you trust the food system in your country?
© QUB
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