Issue #87 | Meet the Food Fraud Perpetrators | Good Mould versus Bad Mould | Child Labour in Food | Cotton Candy in the Shower |
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Good versus Bad – What Makes Mould (Mold) Edible?
Meet the food fraud perpetrators
News and Resources Roundup (they are doing what with sesame allergens?!!!)
Child labour violations in food supply chains
Food fraud news, incidents and updates
Welcome to Issue 87 of The Rotten Apple, where we imagine eating fairy floss (cotton candy) in the shower.
Yup. Also this week, how do we tell which moulds are edible and which ones are not? Plus a look into the world of food fraud and the people who organise it and fast-moving statistics about child labour law violations in the food supply chain.
This week’s food safety news round-up has a link to a Washington Post story about food companies which have started to deliberately add allergens to their products to side-step new sesame allergen laws in the US. Say what?🤔. And this week’s food fraud news has unusual oil trading patterns.
Have a great week!
Cover image: Adrian Lange on Unsplash
Good Mould (Mold) versus Bad Mould – What Makes Mould Edible?
Mouldy food is spoiled food, right? And definitely not safe to eat.
Except for a few cheeses, they’re okay to eat with mould. Oh, and salami, which has fine white mould on its outer casing.
But definitely no other foods are safe to eat if they have mould, right?
Except for soy sauce, which is the juice of mouldy soybeans and Indonesian soy bean cake tempeh, which owes its texture and taste to the presence of mould filaments…..
Turns out there are many foods that are safe to eat when mould-affected or are actually created using ‘good’ moulds.
Mould belongs to the fungi kingdom of living organisms, along with mushrooms and yeasts, which are also important to human foods…. Bread, wine and beer are made with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, while Japanese rice wine (sake) and Chinese liquors are produced using moulds including Aspergillus oryzae and Mucor indicus. Mushrooms such as shitake, morels and truffles are valued for their flavour, aroma, texture and nutritional qualities in many cultures.
Moulds are properly known as hyphomycetes, so called because they have filamentous hyphae (strands or strings of material). Moulds reproduce with airborne spores or with conidia (propagation ‘lumps’). Mushrooms are fungi with fruiting bodies that are visible to the naked eye and which function to disperse spores. Yeasts are single-celled fungi that are only visible with a microscope and which can also reproduce with spores, or by budding (splitting off). (source)
Some moulds are okay to eat, like Penicillium roqueforti, which is responsible for the blue veins in blue cheese; Penicillium camemberti and Geotrichum candidum, the white moulds on camembert and brie and Rhizopus oligosporus or Rhizopus oryzae in tempeh. Why then are most other moulds considered to be hazards to food safety?
The key is in a mould’s ability to produce mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are toxins - harmful chemicals - produced by moulds. Mycotoxins are chemical hazards in foods such as grains and milk, and they are of increasing concern to food safety experts because they are becoming more prevalent in certain areas due to climate change.
Mycotoxins from different moulds are dissimilar to each other in both their chemistry and their toxicity. They are typically low-molecular-weight natural chemicals (small molecules), but otherwise only grouped together because they are all made by filamentous fungi (moulds).
Mycotoxin-producing moulds are mostly found on grains and nuts, but also appear on fruits and vegetables including apples, dates and figs (source). Animal foods like dairy, meat and fish, can also be contaminated with mycotoxins if the animals from which they were sourced have eaten mould-affected foods.
Mycotoxin consumption can have acute, deadly consequences. For example, the disease alimentary toxic aleukia, caused by eating food made from grain colonized with certain Fusarium moulds, affected a large number of people in the former Soviet Union during World War II. More than 100,000 young turkeys died after eating feed containing peanut meal from mouldy peanuts in 1962. The mould was Aspergillus flavus and the mycotoxins were aflatoxins.
Mycotoxins can cause acute illnesses, however, the effects of mycotoxin ingestion are usually subtle. Aflatoxin B1, for example, is a carcinogen most commonly linked to chronic rather than acute disease. Aflatoxin B1 is the most potent natural carcinogen known.
Aflatoxins are produced by Aspergillus flavus, a mould that attacks grain crops, as well as other Aspergillus species. Chronic exposure to low levels of aflatoxins causes cancer, immune suppression, and other chronic conditions in animal feeding studies and are classified as potent human carcinogens.
Good moulds, are not generally known to be mycotoxin producers* and have a long history of safe human consumption. These moulds are deliberately added to food, or encouraged to grow during food production. The white mould on the surface of dry-cured salamis (Penicillium nalgiovense), for example, is deliberately applied to the surface – inoculated – to discourage the growth of other, less desirable moulds and yeasts.
Mycologists refer to the desirable ‘good’ moulds used in food production as being ‘domesticated’, the same way that cows are domesticated animals. Some species of edible moulds are not just domesticated but owe their entire existence to humans. For example, Penicillium camemberti is a human-created species, created by selective breeding in the late 19th century by cheese-makers who valued its soft texture and bright white colour. As a man-made organism, P. camemberti does not occur naturally in nature. It is found only in cheese environments and is deliberately added to camembert and brie during their manufacture.
Unlike P. camemberti, which occurs only in cheese making, the blue cheese mould, P. roqueforti, can be found in many places in nature, so I suppose we could call it a wild mould. While it is desirable in Roquefort cheese, P. roqueforti causes undesirable spoilage in other foods including meat and wheat, making it both ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
In short: 🍏 Moulds that are deliberately added to food for their desirable properties have a long history of safe* use by humans and are considered edible 🍏 Moulds not purposefully added to food could be producing mycotoxins which are dangerous to ingest, and are, in the context of food safety, ‘bad’ moulds 🍏 Some moulds are desirable in certain foods but cause spoilage in other foods 🍏
*Two of the desirable and ‘safe’ cheese moulds associated with cheese production, Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium camemberti actually produce toxic chemicals including penicillin acid, roquefortine and cyclopiazonic acid, however, they do not seem to cause significant health effects (or more research is needed).
Meet the Food Fraud Perpetrators
Criminals, con-men, fraudsters… whatever we might like to call them, it’s a fair bet that many people who are responsible for food fraud don’t see themselves as ‘proper’ criminals. And it’s timely to remember that, although we often talk about food fraud using abstract concepts like ‘supply chain’, and ‘grey market’, the real story behind food fraud is men and women conducting illegal activities.
So who are the people responsible for food fraud? Although research specific to food-related fraud is scarce, within the broader world of ‘white collar crime’, fraud is overwhelmingly committed by men rather than women. People involved in food fraud can be classified into two types;
· Opportunistic fraudsters; and,
· Organised fraudsters.
Opportunistic criminals are those who are ‘in the right place at the right time’. They are most likely to be an employee or owner of a business within the food supply chain who has identified an opportunity to make a profit. Unfortunately, it appears that within this group there are many who feel compelled to commit fraud after finding their business in difficult circumstances. Commonly, the fraud will be committed to meet supply contracts or expectations of customers or to prevent bankruptcy.
Organised food fraud criminals have different motivations and often work in groups that actively seek out opportunities to make money without regard for laws and regulations. Often, these criminals will operate within other industries in addition to the food industry. Their frauds tend to be larger, more complicated and continue for longer periods of time than opportunistic frauds.
The people behind these crimes are less likely to be legitimate employees of the food industry but will know people inside the industry whom they use to gain access to the supply chain. Compared to opportunistic fraudsters, the activities of organised criminals usually involve more people and the fraud is more likely to have a broader effect along and across supply chains.
Combined with the fact that organised criminals are very likely to repeat their crimes if they prove to be profitable this means the frauds perpetrated by organised criminals can have a very large impact.
Table 1. Opportunistic versus organised food fraud perpetrators
Food fraud perpetrators from around the globe
Yakub Moosa Yusuf was once described as Britain’s most notorious food fraud criminal and has been jailed twice over fraudulent meat trading, including selling meat that was falsely declared to be halal.
In Asia, a Taiwanese seafood company allegedly found itself with an oversupply of expensive frozen shrimp after sales were affected by a downturn in the number of tourists from China. Rather than discard the shrimp and face financial losses, the owner and his son are alleged to have tampered with the expiry dates and sold the stock, saving their business and reportedly making a tidy sum of US$22m in the process.
North America’s Mucci Farms attracted plenty of negative media attention and a $1.5m fine after a three-year investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that the business had been misrepresenting the country of origin of produce, including cucumbers and peppers, to meet the demand for locally-grown food.
Inspectors first became suspicious when they noticed that the outside of some cardboard cartons appeared to have had stickers peeled off and replaced with stickers that said “Product of Canada”, while stickers on the inside of the cartons “Product of Mexico.” Court documents described one scenario in which Mucci needed to supply Canadian-grown mini-cucumbers but could not find local sources.
In Europe, one French olive supplier sold cheaper Spanish olives to local olive oil producers, misrepresenting their provenance, after having problems sourcing French olives due to harvests being affected by the olive fruit fly pest.
And finally, a cab driver from Chester, in England endangered the lives of his customers by selling fake vodka containing toxic chemicals. He was found with illegal tobacco and alcohol worth £1,700.
🍏 Next week: Part 2 of Meet the Perpetrators 🍏
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News and Resources
This week’s news includes some absolutely insane new silliness in allergen management practices in the USA.
Child Labour – An Ethical Supply Chain Problem in Unexpected Places
Child labour violations pose major challenges in the ethical sourcing of food. But we usually imagine that child exploitation is only a problem in developing countries.
Unfortunately, even the wealthiest countries have child labour problems. And in one wealthy country, the size of the problem is growing terrifyingly fast. In the USA, child labour violations have increased by almost seventy percent in the past five years.
The industry with the most (US) child labour violations is the food industry.
Child labour violations range from children in Idaho who miss school to harvest potatoes to youngsters performing hazardous tasks at slaughterhouses, to hospitality workers staying late at work on a school night. A recent investigation found more than 100 children were working overnight shifts in meat processing facilities where they cleaned dangerous equipment such as brisket saws and suffered chemical burns (source).
The US Department of Labor has documented thousands of cases like this from their investigations. In February 2023 they stated that child-related violations in federal labour laws had increased by 69% since 2018.
Overwhelmingly, the companies that are breaching the laws are from the food industry, according to an analysis of the figures by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) (source). Of the sixteen thousand violations committed between January 2018 and November 2022, twelve thousand of them were perpetrated by companies in the food industry, including farms, meat processing plants, restaurants and supermarkets.
Child labour is work by underaged people that is forced or is mentally or physically dangerous for children, or that interferes with their schooling, according to the United Nations.
In the USA, children of school age are not supposed to work more than three hours per day on school days, and may not do early or late shifts (source). Children under 18 are not allowed to operate hazardous machinery like meat saws or grinders.
As a food professional, if your job includes supply chain mapping for environmental, social governance (ESG) sourcing policies, it is worth knowing that unethical workplace activities can take place within even the wealthiest countries. There are no easy answers to child labour challenges, but customers such as supermarkets and food ingredient purchasers can make a commitment to avoid turning a blind eye to unethical practices in their supply chains, especially when it comes to the youngest and most vulnerable workers.
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Eating Cotton Candy / Fairy Floss in the Shower – Just for Fun
Don’t ask me how I found out about the Shower Food Reviews published by Gaz (@gazpachomachine) on Twitter 😊. They are kind of unique…
Review number 37 is for cotton candy/cotton floss, which I just found is called ‘girls hair’ in some countries. Gaz’s verdict on cotton candy as a shower food: better than Pringles.
What you missed in last week’s email
AMR in Food Systems (is it really that bad?)
Herbicide Skullduggery (Monsanto again?!)
Updates on nanoparticle safety, ethylene glycol adulteration response, bisphenol A safety (BPA)
Hazard vs Risk
Do Pickles Bounce?
Food fraud news, incidents and updates, including updated requirements for FSSC 22000.
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news, incident reports, and emerging issues, plus 🎧 an audio version 🎧 for busy professionals
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
Unexpected patterns in the trading of waste palm oil and used cooking oil have led to suspicions that large-scale fraud could be affecting
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