Issue #89 | Would You Blow the Whistle? | TikTok Trends That Actually Blow |'Healthy' Supplements That Aren't | Failures at the Meat Plant |
Welcome to The Rotten Apple, an inside view of food integrity for professionals, policy-makers and purveyors. Subscribe for weekly insights, latest news and emerging trends in food safety, food authenticity and sustainable supply chains.
Would you know how to ‘blow the whistle’ on a food safety issue? Do the poll!
Supplement fraud - two companies share their challenges
Failures at major meat plants - it ain’t ethical but it (sort of) ain’t their fault?
TikTok trends with a food safety/food fraud twist - Just for Fun
News and Resources Roundup (including top ten BRC NCs)
Food fraud news, incidents and updates
Hello to you all!
And a 👏 very happy shoutout 👏 to everyone who has signed up or renewed your subscriptions in the past week. Thank you for your ongoing trust in me 💚and this publication, your support makes it all worthwhile.
Welcome to Issue 89 of The Rotten Apple. There’s so much going on in food fraud, food safety and sustainable/ethical supply chains this week that I don’t know where to start. I promised you an article about whistleblowing that will have to wait, because the industry survey I tried to run in a LinkedIn group didn’t get approved by the moderators (no idea why), so I don’t have the data I need.
But I would love to know about your understanding of whistleblowing for food safety problems, dear reader, so please take a moment to answer the poll question in this newsletter.
Supplement fraud is a massive problem that is consistently underestimated by consumers, and last week two popular American supplement brands went public with major failures they’ve had - including serious allergen risks - related to food fraud and counterfeiting. More on that below.
Also this week, how a famous meat processor got caught up in an ethical supply chain scandal not of its own making. Should they have been more diligent? I think so. Will this affect their reputation? Not sure…
Our food safety news this week includes a list of the top ten non-conformances in BRCGS audits in 2022, plus ethylene oxide residues are STILL being found in European imports - seriously?! 🤷
Finally, TikTok trends are causing food safety and food fraud issues. And no, it’s not home canning which I can’t even bear to think about because of the dangers posed by Clostridium botulinum (Issue 79 explains why that pathogen is so fricken dangerous to home canners).
As always we’ve got food fraud news for paying subscribers, plus an 🎧 audio version 🎧 so you can catch up while on the go (find it below the paywall).
Thanks for being here, have a lovely week,
P.S. Paid subscriptions help me deliver the best possible newsletter, keep it ad-free, and pay my lovely assistant, Jane, who helps me sift through thousands of articles from around the globe every week. If you haven’t considered a paid subscription yet, I would love for you to get on board now, if only for a month or two!
Say thanks with a monthly subscription (just $10)
Whistleblowing Poll - Do You Know How to Blow the Whistle?
Last month, (UK) Farmers Weekly, the media outlet that broke the latest food-fraud-food-safety scandal in the UK (dirty pork) reported that employees at the factory were aware of and complicit in the frauds. They claimed that they would be bullied and harassed if they spoke out about practices such as falsification of records and unsafe meat handling practices. Employees also told Farmers Weekly that they did not know who to tell about the frauds. They did not know how to ‘blow the whistle’.
"Blow the whistle" is an idiomatic phrase that means to expose or reveal wrongdoing to the public or relevant authorities.
In response, the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced they will replace multiple systems for whistleblowing with a single point of contact for whistleblowers to report their concerns about food businesses. (Source)
Farmers Weekly said the employee handbook at the meat factory told employees to report problems to the company’s human resources department, which the employees judged unlikely to be effective.
Workers at the UK meat factory where a food fraud/food safety scandal is unfolding told journalists they did not know how to report problems anonymously, or who to report them to (outside the company). The UK has a food crime hotline but they were not aware of it.
So, do you know how/where to report a serious food safety or food fraud problem that is happening at your place of employment?
Want to respond privately? Just reply to this email. I read every response.
Healthy Supplements That Aren’t
Supplements are supposed to be good for you, but two major brands in the USA have recently gone public over their challenges with counterfeits… and the counterfeits are not at all healthy.
Some of the counterfeit products contained plain rice flour instead of the labelled active ingredients. Some contained undeclared allergens like gluten and soy. One even contained traces of a scheduled pharmaceutical.
The brands NOW Foods and Fungi Perfecti recently went public about their discoveries of unauthorised copies (‘counterfeits’) of their products on Amazon, the online store platform. A third leading brand is said to also be affected.
The NOW Foods counterfeits were discovered after the brand owner received information from loyal consumers who noticed problems with products they had bought online and realised their purchases were not genuine.
One consumer reported that the product did not have the correct smell, colour or capsule size. The company has released images to educate consumers about how to identify genuine and fake versions of their products. Their vice president of global sales and marketing says the brand has experienced significant problems with counterfeits internationally for “years” and says the company is “looking into” anti-fraud measures.
Amazon reported that the fake NOW Foods products had originated in Kenya and contacted consumers who had purchased the product, telling them to throw it away and issuing refunds. Together, the brand owner, Amazon and the Department of Homeland Security plan to pursue and prosecute the supplier.
The Fungi Perfecti counterfeits were discovered by the brand owner, which continuously monitors its sales channels to protect its brand. During recent monitoring, the company discovered packages with “irregularities” in one Amazon store and went on to find 23 separate Amazon storefronts all selling counterfeit versions of its products.
Adulterants and allergens
One counterfeited NOW Foods product was labelled as a herbal supplement but turned out to be simply capsules of plain rice flour.
When Fungi Perfecti tested their ‘fake’ products they were alarmed to learn that they all contained the allergens gluten and soy, while the genuine products do not.
Amazon has notified the Fungi Perfecti (fakes) purchasers and removed the products from their site. The brand owner has published the names of the storefronts that were selling counterfeit versions of their products and issued an allergen warning on their website.
Like NOW Foods, they also published images and descriptions showing consumers how to identify counterfeits, as well as a list of authorised sellers of their genuine products.
Amazon reportedly removed 6 million counterfeit items from its online sales platform in 2022, including food, fashion and electronics.
If you’re not subscribed already, enter your email here and get this newsletter straight to your inbox each week
Meat Processor Caught up in Child Labour Violations, Despite Doing ‘Nothing Wrong’
In Issue 87, I reported that child labour violations have increased by almost seventy percent in the past five years in the USA and discussed the risk of reputational damage for food businesses.
Now, JBS Foods Group, the famously huge meat processing company that supplies McDonalds and seemingly everyone else, is being berated by the US media because children were performing dangerous cleaning tasks in its meat processing plants. The thing is, JBS did not hire the kids and did not break child labour laws.
JBS contracted a service provider to clean production areas in some of its plants. It was the service provider, PSSI – Packers Sanitation Services Incorporated - “a leading nationwide cleaning and sanitation services firm” that has been accused of the child labour law violations.
PSSI provides services to some 400 food factories, including JBS facilities in multiple locations - or at least they did, until this scandal broke.
JBS was not hiring the children. But should they have realised that their supplier was? And where does the responsibility lie?
PSSI initially denied they were hiring children after concerns were raised by school teachers who were concerned about their students. The problem turned out to be occurring at 13 different plants in eight different states with at least 100 under-age employees.
PSSI is owned by a private equity firm which said it had performed ‘extensive due diligence’ on PSSI to confirm it had “industry-leading hiring compliance” before purchasing it. No doubt JBS also checked for ‘compliance’ before engaging PSSI.
So what went wrong? The person who initially investigated the teachers’ concerns sat in her car in the car park of the local meat packing plant at night and watched as PSSI workers filed into the building for their cleaning shift, past JBS workers who were leaving for the evening. She said it was immediately obvious that some of the workers were too young to be legally working on a school night.
If the investigator could see that the kids were too young to be legally working, did JBS workers also suspect a problem? And if so, what should they have done about it?
It seems the underage workers were there by choice, with the workers faking their ages. In addition, PSSI hiring managers were allegedly ignoring a government-operated verification system that was flagging some of the staff as under 18, and hiring them anyway, because of labour shortages in the areas.
The teens were paid the same as adults, so PSSI’s alleged decision to hire them was not directly motivated by money, but rather was related to the need to “get the job done” in a very tight labour market. The hiring of underage staff is reported to have been occurring at PSSI since at least 2019.
The teens and their families had their own motivations too. One mother was accused of obtaining false documents so her child could work. Another parent was sentenced to jail for child abuse or endangerment for sending their child to work for PSSI.
Since the problems were first revealed publicly, PSSI has fired more than thirty managers in various locations.
JBS says they didn’t know children were working as cleaners on the night shift in their factories. But it has fired PSSI at more than 24 of its meat processing facilities. PSSI has paid a fine of $1.5 million, the maximum fine available.
As a food professional, you may be asked to conduct due diligence on your suppliers, including cleaning companies. If their documentation comes up squeaky clean but you suspect they use illegal work practices on your site, you should say something. Such practices are not just unethical but also pose a risk to your company’s reputation. We should all avoid turning a blind eye to unethical practices in our supply chains, especially when it comes to the youngest and most vulnerable workers.
News and Resources
Click the link below for this week’s non-boring food safety news and resources from around the globe. It’s expertly curated and free from filler, fluff and promotional junk.
TikTok Trends That Blow - Just for Fun
TikTok trends are causing food safety and food fraud issues. And no, it’s not home canning for once.
The TikTok craze of ice cream in fruit rollups caused a food fraud event.
Shortages of fruit rollups in Israel are thought to be behind the recent discovery by customs officials who found 300 kg of the food in the suitcases of two American couples who were trying to illegally import them. The demand for fruit rollups in Israel was sparked by a TikTok craze for a dessert made with ice cream and fruit rollups.
It actually looks pretty yummy!
On the food safety side, the TikTok craze for Dragon’s breath candies, which are doused in liquid nitrogen and make the consumer appear to be leaking smoke from the face, have caused injuries in Indonesia.
If you are not already subscribed, now’s the time! Enter your email below to become a free or paid subscriber. We don’t use your email address for anything else.
What you missed in last week’s issue
· Mycotoxins - Should we be worried about ochratoxin A in our food?
· Food fraud perps - repeat offenders and desperate entrepreneurs
· Learn how to be a food outbreak investigator
· The origins of Nutella and Ferrero (a good long read)
· Food fraud news, incidents and updates
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud news and incident reports, plus an 🎧 audio version 🎧 so you can catch up while on the go
📌 Food Fraud News 📌
This week’s food fraud news includes
A warning about the proliferation of bogus kosher symbols on food packs;
Good results in a fish mislabelling survey in Brazil;
Tahini (sesame paste) made with ceramic powder;
Fraud in sweet and sour sauce.
Become a paid subscriber to access The Rotten Apple’s food fraud news or sign up for a free trial by clicking the button below.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Rotten Apple to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.