The figures published in 2015 say that every year as many as 600 million, or almost 1 in 10 people in the world, fall ill after eating contaminated food. Of these, 420,000 die, including 125,000 children younger than 5 years. Considering that the number of fraudulent practices recognized is on the rise even emphasizes the gravity of the situation. This overview should raise the food scandal awareness among consumers and motivate honest producers to show their qualities, because everyone deserves to know the origin of the food.
According to the European Commission, The EU Food Fraud Network, 2019 had the highest increase number of food fraud related investigations. in the number of food frauds — requests for an investigation. The 2019 Annual report by European commission indicates that consumers should be the most careful when buying Fats & Oils, Fish & Fish products, Meat & Meat products (other than poultry), Fruit & Vegetables, Poultry meat & Poultry products, Herbs & Spices, Mixed food products, Cereal & Bakery products, Alcoholic beverages, Nut & Nut products and seeds.
It is reported that 80% of the Italian olive oil on the market (mainly in the U.S.) is fraudulent. The biggest problem is not the fact that we have been tricked, but the poor quality olive oil endangering health.
You probably have never heard of “deodorization”, right? This new method of chemical refinement allows dishonest producers to remove sensory defects found in other oils. Thus a recent study confirmed that quite a lot of the olive oil available in the USA (also in Europe) had been fraudulently cut with other oils like peanut, canola and sunflower.
Hence there is a big chance that olive oil in your kitchen marked “Italian extra virgin” is very probably fake — unless you bought it directly from a producer or a certified distributor. Either it’s low quality, falsely marked as virgin or extra-virgin — and not even from Italy (often only marked “packed in Italy”) or it’s been mixed with other oils of doubtful origin. At worst, it’s not olive oil at all but a vegetable oil camouflaged with coloring and aroma.
The extra virgin olive oil is the first cold-pressed which means the olives were processed within 24 hours of harvest.
The organic olive oil is an olive oil that was left intact without any other treatments such as adding preservatives or color enhancing materials and other treatments that prolong the oil life but can be harmful to your health.
According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), some of the most common forms of fish fraud involve species substitution, where a low-value species replace a more expensive variety for economic gain, mislabelling of fish to conceal the geographical origin of illegally harvested species; undeclared use of food additives such as water-binding agents to deceptively increase the weight of products; use of illegal food additives such as carbon monoxide to enhance the visual quality of fish products, the addition of glaze water to frozen products to increase weight; mislabelling of ingredients, such as batter or breadcrumbs, to bulk up the weight of processed products.
In 2019, Hungarian authorities identified deficiencies at 18 enterprises (mostly restaurants and fish stores), where 958 kg fish products of unknown origin were found.
The inspectors informed several traders do not label the products appropriately, especially in the case of frozen fish products, which is the most common issue nowadays.
In general, the situation in Europe is similar to that in Canada and the United States. In 2015, the European Commission organized a coordinated control program across all member states to assess the extent of mislabelling in the white fish market. A recent study of labeling non-compliance of imported fishery products carried out by Italian authorities found that 22.5 percent of products were mislabelled (2017). The highest level of mislabelling was found in products imported from China, Viet Nam and Thailand.
Although many of the fish fraud incidents discussed in this review do not pose an immediate risk to public health, some cases have resulted in actual or potential harm to consumers’ health — when fish species that are toxic are substituted for non-toxic species or when farmed species from polluted watercourses are substituted for marine fish.
The biggest scandal related to eggs was definitely the one in the Netherlands.
A Dutch court has found two companies responsible for the fipronil egg scandal (2017).
Chickfriend and Chickclean failed to fulfill agreements with poultry farmers in 2016 and 2017 for red mite control in chickens. In the 2016 and 2017 period, about 250 poultry farmers, or 20 percent of such farms in the Netherlands, had a cleaning done with Dega-16 by Chickfriend or Chickclean. Based on the evidence, the court assumed the owners knew that the Dega-16 product contained fipronil and that its use to control red mites is prohibited. Dega-16 was presented to customers as an agent consisting of eucalyptus oil and menthol (essential oils). Fipronil is authorized to be used as a veterinary medicine to combat fleas, mites and ticks in dogs and cats but forbidden for use in animals intended for the food chain, such as chickens.
Fake Chinese eggs
Another egg scandal was revealed with Chinese plastic eggs in Thailand and Uzbekistan. It was very tricky to identify the fake eggs, because at the glance they looked similar. How were they made? Protein and yolk are formed from a mixture of gelatin and calcium alginate, with the addition of pigments. Once the proper shape is achieved, an amalgamate of paraffin wax, gypsum powder and calcium carbonate makes for a credible shell. If you light up the eggshell you can smell burning plastic. Long-term use adversely affects the nervous system. Children may experience excessive mobility, while mental development is slowed down.
Did you know…there is another example of notified replacement related to the plants and vegetables sector, where significant amounts of olive leaves and myrtle are put in oregano?
In the cases of herbs, the cheating often involves blending the authentic ingredient with worthless green leaves. The long and complex nature of the herb and spice supply chain means sufficient opportunities for fraudulent activity.
As a result of a criminal investigation in Spain (2019), a total of 87kg of saffron were seized with an estimated market value of EUR 783,000. Two Spanish citizens were charged with having committed a crime against public health and food fraud. During the police operation, an unauthorized laboratory was discovered near the premises of the Spanish company that prepared the spice mixture and supplied the saffron. 23kg of adulterated saffron undergoing the drying process were found as well as various additives usually used for mixing.
In 2015, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched an investigation after traces of almonds and peanuts had been found in cumin products in Britain. The scandal caused great alarm. It was also considered to be even more serious than the horse meat scandal of 2013. After all, hidden almonds and peanuts can cause difficulties for people with nut allergies.
What should food businesses do to avoid food scandals?
Considering that the number of recognized fraudulent practices is on the rise, often involving several countries at the same time and through more sophisticated means, it becomes obvious that a single Member State cannot effectively act alone.
As reported by Juniper research, the food industry could save up to $31 billion in global fraud savings by tracking food on its way from farms to consumers via blockchain. Adoption of blockchain technology can add relevant value to the food industry’s supply chain.
Implementation of this innovative technology to the food industry should ensure that the consumer is able to trace the product supply chain and check the origin, real-time & GPS data, allergens contained. All this information is accessible only by scanning the QR code on the packaging by smartphone. The use of blockchain technology and digitalizing processes could improve the business processes as well. Thanks to automatic audit capabilities in near real-time, blockchain represents a time & cost saver.
Blockchain, via the immutable records, tracks the stages a food product goes through as it moves along the supply chain. In case a dangerous product defect is identified the information can be immediately transmitted to the retailer or the final consumer in order to avoid a future scandal. With a higher transparency, the fraudsters will have reduced opportunities to endanger consumers’ health.
Consumers, as well as companies, can no longer rely on generalized terms such as “healthy”, “bio” and “organic” in order to distinguish the authentic quality of products. These terms are not regulated enough to be trustworthy. Blockchain provides a method of bringing trust to these previously unsubstantiated claims, strengthening customer loyalty for companies who can consistently guarantee quality and increase transparency level of their processes and products.