Food fraud does not only occur globally. The often highly complex international supply chains provide multiple opportunities for fraudsters. Adulteration can occur in a variety of ways, or different aspects of an item’s claim can be adulterated. For example, food adulteration may involve the composition or origin of a food product.
To address this complex challenge, the Tentamus Center for Food Fraud, or TCF², was founded. The TCF² not only bundles the various analytical capabilities of the international network of Tentamus laboratories. We also use the internal Tentamus auditor network to support our customers, for example, in identifying weak points in supply chains and introducing preventive measures.
Food adulteration is done specifically to deceive intermediaries and consumers in order to sell lower quality goods at a higher price. Adulteration can occur in several ways:
- Dilution, e.g. honey with syrup, cold pressed olive oil with inferior olive or foreign oils, soaking of juice, Robusta in Arabica coffee, olive leaves in oregano
- Substitution, e.g. safflower instead of saffron
- Increase of the quality determining parameter e.g. after dilution (melamine in milk to increase the nitrogen content)
- False declaration of origin, e.g. instead of expensive cold-pressed olive oil from Italy, cheaper olive oil from Tunisia is used or mixed in
- False declaration of the animal species, halal, kosher (horse meat scandal)
- Promotion of conventional foodstuffs as organic goods
In general, there is a certain potential for adulteration and food fraud in almost every food product. Comparatively high-priced products are particularly lucrative, where adulteration can massively increase profits.
Some examples are listed below:
- Olive oil
- Addition of or complete replacement by inferior qualities (e.g. refined oil, lampante) to extra virgin olive oil
- Addition of or complete replacement by lower-priced foreign oils, e.g., sunflower oil
- Addition of or complete replacement of a high-priced origin (e.g. Italy) by a lower-priced one, e.g. Tunisia
- Addition of sugar syrups to stretching
- Teas, herbs & spices
- Addition of or replacement with other plant material, e.g. olive leaves in oregano, safflower instead of saffron, foreign plants in (herbal) tea, replacement of natural vanillin from the pod with artificial vanillin
- Fruit juice
- Addition of cheaper foreign juices
- Watering and sugar addition
- Substitution of natural with synthetic flavors
- Agave syrup
- Addition of sugar
- Animal feed
- Wrong animal or plant species
- Meat & fish
- Wrong animal species
- Addition of water
- Addition of unacceptable substances for coloring or color preservation
- Spirits & wine
- Illegally produced alcohol
- Diethylene glycol in wine
- Geographical origin
- Grape variety
Food Fraud is a type of deception. In most cases, Food Fraud results in financial fraud: the customer is deceived and overpays his supplier for an inferior product. In most cases, however, there is no risk of harm to consumer health. Nevertheless, there are also cases where the aspect of food safety prevails. Examples include methanol in spirits, melamine in milk or harmful colorants in spices.
The control regulation VO (EU) 2017/625, which has been in force since December 14, 2019, replaces VO (EC) No. 882/2004, which was valid until then, and moves the fight against food fraud more into the focus of the control strategies. Thus, the risk-oriented control is to be oriented not only under the aspect of food safety, but also with regard to food fraud. Furthermore, the creation of reference centers at European level for the areas of authenticity and integrity of the food chain has been made possible. This will facilitate the detection of fraud and compliance with food standards and give more weight to the issue of food fraud in food legislation.
HACCP, VACCP and TACCP are control mechanisms that help monitor processes and enforce food standards in the food manufacturing process and supply chain.
HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) is a tool from the field of food safety. Consistent application and adherence to HACCP guidelines prevents potential hazards that can creep in at various points in the production process. An example of this is checking that the cold chain is maintained for perishable foods. In this way, the marketability of the food can be ensured.
Analogous to HACCP, the so-called TACCP (Threat Assessment Critical Control Points) is used in the area of product safety (food defense). TACCP aims to minimize the risk of deliberate contamination of the product.
For the area of food fraud, the Vulnerability Assessment Critical Control Points (VACCP) is used. This involves taking a close look at a product’s supply chain. The composition of a product is also examined. The raw materials from which the product is made are examined, as is the origin of the raw materials. Both the political situation in the country of origin and the weather there (weather-related crop damage) can increase the risk of food fraud. The relationship with the supplier of the respective raw material is also considered. Has this relationship existed for a long time? Have there been problems in the past? How was the problem dealt with? As part of the vulnerability analysis, many other aspects are considered and weighted in order to identify the raw materials that are at high risk of food fraud. For this purpose, a prevention strategy against food fraud is specifically developed and implemented. In addition to supplier audits, analytics in particular offer powerful options for detecting food fraud. After all, even the best supplier can become a victim of food fraud and unknowingly pass on adulterated goods.
The TCF² is available as a central contact for questions on the topic of food fraud. For this purpose we use the network of more than 80 locations worldwide. This enables us to be close to our customers without having to forego comprehensive analytical capabilities.
TCF² offers a wide range of analytical services in the field of food fraud through the laboratory network of the Tentamus Group. Our goal is to provide our customers with a neutral basis for decision-making based on valid data on the authenticity of their products. This is equally interesting for retailers as well as other actors along the value chain (suppliers, importers, exporters, etc.) to effectively fight food fraud and avert financial damage.
TCF² offers analysis with state-of-the-art measuring instruments to prove the authenticity of your products and to detect food fraud.
Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS, SIRA)
In this method, we look at the naturally occurring stable isotopes of various elements in food. Mostly isotopes of carbon (13C), nitrogen (15N), hydrogen (2H) as well as oxygen (18O) are used. Based on the proportion of these isotopes in relation to the most common isotopes in nature, e.g. 13C/12C, it is possible to infer the origin (botanical or geographical), admixtures or even production mode. Examples of application include:
- Detection of admixture of sugar from corn or sugar cane to honey using the ratio of 13C/12C.
- Differentiation of conventionally produced food, e.g. pork or also plant material, by means of the 15N/14N ratio
- Detection of watering of juice by measuring the 2H/1H and 18O/16O ratios.
Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR)
We use this technique both targeted and non-targeted for so-called fingerprint analysis. One targeted application, for example, is the detection of proportions of inexpensive Robusta coffee in expensive Arabica coffee. Analytical fingerprints, on the other hand, are used in the analysis of honey, agave syrup and also olive oil. Analytical fingerprints provide information on adulteration by admixture as well as on the origin of a sample.
High-resolution mass spectrometry
In this technique, which is still quite new in food analysis, analytical fingerprints of the measured samples are created, similar to NMR. One application is the detection of syrup admixtures to honey. By comparing the data of many different syrups with those of a large number of authentic honeys, we are able to work out adulteration markers for an admixture and detect them in unknown honey samples.
Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry
We use this technique to specifically detect known substances that can occur in the context of adulteration. This includes, for example, various dyes such as Sudan dyes.
Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)
NGS is a molecular biological method. The DNA contained in a sample is first “cut” into small pieces. A large number of copies of the DNA fragments obtained in this way are made (amplification) and finally reassembled into complete DNA strands. The DNA strands obtained in this way are then compared with data in a database that contains information on over 200,000 species. Unlike PCR (polymerase chain reaction), we can also use NGS to process mixtures of different species. One application example is the analysis of oregano for foreign plant material, e.g. olive leaves. In the field of animal feed, we analyze animal feed for meat from species other than those labeled.
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) is also a molecular biological method. In contrast to NGS, however, it is only tested with regard to a single parameter. This is useful, for example, when testing for the presence of allergens, e.g. hazelnut. It happens that e.g. nut pastes of high-quality nuts are adulterated with cheaper nuts. In this case, the food fraud aspect can quickly become a food safety case, as consumers affected by allergies can be seriously harmed by the consumption.
The Tentamus Center for Food Fraud helps your business protect itself from food fraud.
How do we do that? First, we get to know your company better! To do this, we want to know from you:
- What products are in your portfolio?
- What is your position in the supply chain?
- Are you new to the topic of authenticity or already an “old hand”?
- Are you a start-up or established and already have a system that you want to have audited?
- Or do you need an overview or even detailed information on analytical options?
We are happy to support you in the following areas
- Control points
- Prevention strategies
- IFS and other standards
- Which analyses for which product
- Limits of analytics
- Performance of analytics
IFS and other industry standards
- Development of prevention strategies