Issue #72 | Cybersecurity Checklist | Sweet and Tasty Anti-counterfeit Tech | 7 Types of Food Crime | A Decade of Progress |
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7 Types of Food Crime Explained
Cybersecurity Action List for Food Companies
News and Resources Roundup - with three weird recalls
Ten Years After Horsegate - a Decade to Celebrate
Strange and Tasty Authenticity Tech
Food fraud incidents, updates and emerging issues
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Happy lunar new year 🏮 to you all, and welcome to Issue 72 of The Rotten Apple, a weekly newsletter for food professionals, policy-makers and purveyors. If you just became a paying subscriber, thank you, your subscription helps me to keep providing ad-free, high-quality information every week.
This week’s issue is a food crime smorgasbord. Firstly, I summarise the new categories of food crime recently published by the UK’s Food Crime Unit. Then we have a cybersecurity checklist - email compromise scams are occurring more frequently and legitimate food companies are being defrauded by fake “customers”. This checklist will help.
Also this week, we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of “horsegate”, the Europe-wide horsemeat-in-beef scandal that ushered in a new age of food fraud awareness in the food safety community. Plus, just for fun, a radical, simple and sweet way to add authenticity markers to products to prevent counterfeiting.
As always, food fraud incidents and news of emerging issues can be found at the end of this email, under the paywall. If you haven’t had a peek behind the paywall, why not take a look with our 7-day trial offer?
Enjoy your week,
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Cover image: Foto de Alexander Grey en Unsplash
Seven Types of Food Crime
There are seven types of food crime, according to the United Kingdom’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU).
This is a new set of classifications and is different from older classifications of food fraud, such as those you might have seen in the past, so I thought it was worth sharing them.
Food crime. Don’t support it. Report it.
Here are the seven types of food crime, as described by the NFCU, with examples provided by me.
1 Unlawful processing
Processing food using unauthorised methods or premises. For example, slaughtering meat in unlicensed premises or selling meat from a car wash
Incorrectly declaring a product’s quality, origin or safety. For example, selling eggs that are falsely claimed to be ‘free range’.
3 Waste diversion
Diverting food waste or food manufacturing by-products that should be disposed of back to the food chain.
Substituting food products, ingredients or constituents with materials of lesser value without declaring such on the label or to the purchaser. For example, replacing olive oil with sunflower oil.
5 Document fraud
Using false or forged documents to sell fraudulent or substandard products. For example, submitting false import certificates for meat importation.
Stealing or dishonestly obtaining food products for personal gain. Note that the re-selling of stolen or dishonestly obtained food is considered to be food fraud by some experts, but not others (read about this in Issue 64).
The addition of undeclared ingredients to a food to lower costs or boost the food’s apparent value. For example, adding lead-chromate powder (yellow colour) to turmeric powder to make it appear fresher and of higher quality.
Cybersecurity Action List
Food businesses are being warned about cybercrimes in which fraudsters impersonate the email addresses of legitimate companies to order shipments of food products and ingredients worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These shipments are sent to the fraud perpetrator who receives the food but never pays the invoice(s). The criminals then re-sell the food products or ingredients to manufacturers, retailers or directly to consumers. The (US) FBI says this might be done in a way that compromises food safety, such as by disregarding hygiene practices, or by omitting necessary information about ingredients, allergens, or expiration dates on product labels.
An example of one such crime was reported in August 2022. Seafood worth $1.3 million was allegedly stolen from a USA importer by men pretending to be buyers for a large supermarket.
Sadly, this email-perpetrated crime is yet another type of fraud to be on the lookout for, in addition to the cybercrime vulnerabilities we discussed in Issue #53, and in addition to traditional financial fraud that featured in last week’s news and resources roundup.
Cybersecurity action checklist for food professionals
Here are some of the actions you can take to help protect your food business from cybercrime.
Encourage all levels of the business to be aware of the risks posed by cyber-attacks, which can be direct financial risks and indirect risks like loss of business or loss of trust in the brand.
Encourage your company to train employees. Cybersecurity training should include:
How to identify fraudulent email addresses such as those with similar domain names to legitimate customers – and what to do if they receive unusual emails from ‘customers’ or suppliers;
Awareness of other risky emails, especially those with hyperlinks and attachments;
How to verify the trustworthiness of a site before supplying sensitive information;
The dangers posed by using work laptops and phones on unsecured public wi-fi networks;
How to identify suspicious applications that might pop up on their computers.
Search for your company and brand names online and on social media platforms to identify fraudulent websites that may be used to impersonate your business or sell unauthorised copies of your products.
Check that your IT contractors and IT staff have implemented security protocols like spam filters, scans, malware prevention software and frequent data backups for your business.
Include security-related considerations when selecting software for digital management of food safety records and equipment like cool rooms, ovens, and batching software.
Consider food-safety risks from cyber incidents: for example, digital monitoring systems for cool rooms could create a food safety hazard if they were tampered with. If you identify a risk, ask your IT team to investigate the security protocols in the software.
Senior managers and business owners should review insurance coverage, to ensure that losses from cyberattacks are covered.
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News and Resources
No algorithm, just dedication… a carefully handcrafted selection from around the globe, expertly curated and free from filler, fluff and promotional junk.
This week’s news includes a mistake with a recall, high levels of PFASs in juice and a comprehensive science resource for kombucha production.
Click the preview box below to access it.
Ten Years on From Horsegate - A Decade to Celebrate
The horsemeat scandal of 2013 prompted action from the food industry and (some) governments against food fraud. Ten years later, have we made progress? Yes!
The United Kingdom created the Food Industry Intelligence Network, the Food Authenticity Network, which is now global, and the National Food Crime Unit (UK) on the recommendations of Prof Chris Elliott in his review of the crisis, which was commissioned by the UK government.
Chris recently wrote about the progress we have made on food fraud in the past decade in New Food Magazine. He is positive about the gains we have made since 2013.
“The response from industry and government to defend the nation against fraudsters and indeed organised crime in the food sector has been enormously beneficial and makes life far more difficult for criminals.” Chris Elliott writing in New Food Magazine
We have made great progress since 2013, but it’s easy to forget how far our industry has come in our fight against food fraud. We are now paying more attention to food fraud and we are much more aware of its potential to hurt consumers and brands. There are more tools and technologies available to food businesses to detect and deter food fraud than in 2013. Analytical test methods, equipment and expertise are (slowly) becoming cheaper and more accessible.
Back in 2013 species identification tests were not routinely performed on red meat – the horsemeat-for-beef issue was only discovered because a sharp-eyed food inspector in Ireland noticed discrepancies on the labels and cartons of frozen “beef” at a small import-export business. At the time, the head of the Irish Food Safety Authority (FSAI) was “astounded” and thought there had been a mistake in the testing when the first sets of results were received, which showed almost 30 percent horsemeat in the “beef”.
These days it’s easy to have meat tested to determine its species and there are cost-effective test kits available for both raw and cooked meat.
However, the ‘bad guys’, as Prof Elliott says, won’t stop trying to make money from food fraud. It can be very profitable and it carries a low risk of prosecution and punishment compared to other nefarious activities like smuggling drugs across international borders. One commentator estimated that it is three times more profitable to make and sell ‘fake’ olive oil than to smuggle cocaine (source).
In recent years there have been frequent claims in the media that food fraud is getting worse or is an increasing problem, but there is no evidence to support those claims. Food fraud is, by its nature, difficult to measure. As an industry, we are certainly talking about food fraud more, and there are more frequent reports about food fraud, but this doesn’t mean it is more prevalent.
We do need to remain vigilant, of course, because food fraud is not going away. One risk is that as big food companies and wealthy countries pay more attention to food fraud, the fraudsters will increasingly target commodities, companies and regions where there is less oversight – the “low-hanging fruit”. These are the areas that are increasingly at risk as well-resourced companies increase scrutiny of their supply chains.
In some regions, where consumers and businesses are experiencing economic hardship, there is increasing motivation for previously legitimate food businesses to “cut corners” and for consumers to accept food from questionable sources and this also increases the risks.
As an industry, we are more aware of food fraud than before the horsemeat scandal, and we now have better tools and systems for keeping our consumers and our brands safe.
However, with well-resourced food companies working harder to deter and prevent food fraud in their supply chains, other businesses in the food sector will become more attractive targets for bad actors.
Don’t let your food company be the “low-hanging fruit” for food fraud perpetrators; keep being vigilant about the risk of food fraud in your supply chain and within your own company.
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A Strange (and Tasty!) Anti-counterfeit Technology
Chocolate drops coated with coloured nonpareils (“hundreds and thousands”) have inspired new technology for medicine fraud prevention.
Counterfeit or substandard medicines are a huge problem. They cost an estimated $200bn per year globally and endanger millions of lives. The World Health Organization estimates that one in 10 medical products in the developing world is fake.
Nonpareil-coated chocolate drops (in Australia we call them “freckles”) each carry about 92 nonpareils in eight different colours, says the designer of this new tech. This means there are an almost infinite number of potential patterns – every chocolate drop is unique. Adding the coloured sprinkles to a medicine tablet and then keeping a record of the pattern provides a means to verify the authenticity of the tablets. It’s like a serial number but harder to imitate.
The technology is simple, the coloured sprinkles are applied at random and require only simple processes to adhere them to the items, which are then photographed. The resulting coloured coating is easy to achieve but very difficult to copy. Consumers only need a smartphone with a camera to check if the product is authentic.
The finished products have been tested and found to be robust enough to survive the loss of some of the sprinkles during transport processes. The tech works by converting the pattern of colours on each product to a digital string of text, which is stored by the brand owner. The digital information is retrieved when consumers want to check if their product is genuine.
(I’ve written about this ‘just for fun’ because the tech is not currently available as an off-the-shelf solution)
What you missed in last week’s email
· Sustainable food production - 3 short notes
· Allergen precautionary labelling - FAO’s recommendations
· How to Make Diamonds with Peanut Butter (Just for Fun)
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, incident reports, and emerging issues, plus 🎧 audio 🎧 so you can catch up while on the go
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