Think like criminals to beat food fraud, scientists told

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, Management, Food

Food scientists need to become food detectives to beat food fraud such as the contamination of chilli with Sudan 1 dye
Food scientists need to become food detectives to beat food fraud such as the contamination of chilli with Sudan 1 dye
Food technologists should start thinking like criminals, if they are to identify illegal activities in their supply chains that could lead to serious food safety incidents, a risk management expert has suggested.

Tony Hines, head of food security and crisis management at Leatherhead Food Research (LFR), said those responsible for ensuring the integrity of their ingredient supply chains within food and drink manufacturing businesses should focus on areas offering the greatest potential rewards to criminals.

He argued that food scientists needed to get involved in this detective work because those committing some high profile incidents over recent years – such as the melamine in baby milk scandal in China or the case of Sudan 1 dye contamination of chilli – possessed technical knowledge that needed to be countered.

“Stop being a food technologist for a while and start thinking like a criminal,”​ said Hines. “How would you make most money out of what you were doing? What do you buy a lot of … what could be subject to bulking or diluting? … It needs to be very expensive because you are not going to waste your effort on something which is not going to give you a profit.”

Temptation analysis

Speaking at LFR’s food safety day yesterday [May 31] in a presentation titled ‘Temptation Analysis Critical Control Point’, Hines listed a number of major food safety incidents over recent years, which had their origins in opportunities to make money that crooks spotted in the global food supply chain.

Hines proposed adapting more conventional hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) and threat analysis critical control point (TACCP) methodologies to identify those tempted to break the law because the benefits outweighed the risks of being detected.

“It’s about how we should use HACCP to control people, because people are often the point of greatest vulnerability in the food chain when we talk about incident management,”​ said Hines.

He cited examples where the use of systems could help prevent those who sought to contaminate foods for malicious reasons or for personal financial gain. It also included spotting people fraudulently passing off cheaper products for their more expensive counterparts, he added.

Profit through fraud

“Temptation analysis is looking within the food supply chain at all your ingredients where there is a temptation and a deliberate attempt to defraud,”​ said Hines. “Where’s the weak link? That’s the key question. Where in your supply chain can someone most easily make profit through fraud?”

Hines’ comments reflected a change in approach being taken by food risk managers within the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and food safety inspectors elsewhere. Regulators now recognise they need to target their limited resources on areas where people can make easy money by breaking the law, for example, by selling meat condemned as unfit for human consumption to the public.

The FSA now uses intelligence techniques and employs a team of social scientists to help spot areas that are likely to appeal to crooks. “We have to share intelligence a lot more in terms of what is going wrong and be a lot cuter about the incentives to flout the law,” ​the FSA’s chief scientist Dr Andrew Wadge told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

“Clearly melamine and Sudan 1 are examples where there is a financial incentive to do the wrong thing,”​ he said. “If you can understand what things can go wrong and what the incentives are, then that can alert you.”

Wadge added: “There is a huge responsibility on traceability on manufacturers.”

As Britain prepares for next month’s Olympic Games, the FSA and other risk managers are known to be putting contingency plans in place to prevent a major food safety incident.

Related topics: Food Safety

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