Furthermore, the rising use of social media is putting increasing amounts of knowledge into consumers’ hands, said Professor John O’Brien.
He was speaking at Food Manufacture’s food safety conference in London last month, sponsored by Appetite Learning, Glass Technology Services, Sealed Air, Testo and the University of Greenwich.
It is, therefore, critical for manufacturers to anticipate potential problems and have resilient systems in place to deal with them, said O’Brien. “I don’t recall any incidents of a food fraud case where the quality was excellent,” he added.
“So, when people are messing up, they are messing up everywhere. Dedicated quality professionals will, by definition, be looking out for food fraud.”
O’Brien said firms should be routinely monitoring food quality and conducting surveillance. And, when “red flags” were raised, the reasons needed to be identified.
Consumer health, trust and confidence should be their main priorities, he said. “One of the key drivers impacting on that is change in science and technology,” he said.
“We’ve got unprecedented scientific advances and we’ve got changes in the knowledge of risk.”
O’Brien added: “You’ve got consumer electronic items that you can put in your pocket and they talk to your iPhone.
“They either use infrared or near-infrared technology to scan your food. The claims may be exaggerated, but it is putting in the hands of consumers a technology that was only formerly in the lab.”
One piece of kit he mentioned was the Tellspec food sensor. On the company’s web site this is described as a pocket-sized spectrometer, combined with a cloud-based analysis engine and a mobile app that work together to scan foods, identify calories, macronutrients, contaminants and also provide relevant information such as food fraud, food adulteration or food quality.
Because of these sorts of developments and the increasing complexity of food supply chains, it is critical for manufacturers to stay ahead of the game, said O’Brien.
“Unless we actually manage that complexity we are going to continue to be vulnerable to the risks of food fraud,” he said. “We get on top of that by thinking more in terms of systems. Systems thinking is going to be absolutely essential.”