Tools to Fight Food Fraud

Economically motivated adulteration of food ingredients and dietary supplements shows no end in sight, but new tools point to progress in detection.

"Food fraud" has sparked renewed interest in consumer media. Numerous studies and reports by consumer agencies point to products in the marketplace that are more vulnerable to intentional adulteration. The practice of replacing a high-cost specialty ingredient with an inexpensive alternative for financial gain may not be a novel concept, but the good news is that this activity is being increasingly exposed, thanks to new monitoring tools and consumer advocacy.

Whether it is olive oil diluted with cheaper oils, pomegranate juice diluted with other fruit juices, inexpensive fish mislabeled as their more expensive cousins, or the presence of horse meat in products labeled 100% beef, food adulteration continues to be a serious issue, with few details on where and how it happens. And it is a growing problem, given the globalization of the food industry and the complex supply chains down which today’s ingredients travel until final products reach the marketplace.

Added to food fraud is a growing trend in dietary supplements-the illegal adulteration of widely used supplements products masquerading as dietary supplements with pharmaceuticals, representing an alarming emerging risk to public health. These products are sold in health and food stores and via the Internet, with little quality oversight.

FDA has alerted consumers about adulterated products (www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm236774.htm). Among the most commonly adulterated dietary supplements products masquerading as dietary supplements are weight loss, male enhancement, and bodybuilding products. These are used by a large number of consumers, increasing the magnitude of public health concern.

The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a nonprofit scientific organization that sets standards for the identity, quality, and purity of pharmaceuticals, food ingredients, and dietary supplements, is working to strengthen tools to help prevent and detect adulteration. USP publishes quality standards for food ingredients in the Food Chemicals Codex and for dietary supplements in the Dietary Supplements Compendium. Manufacturers and regulators can use these standards to ensure a product’s authenticity.

So far, USP has compiled and analyzed public records and scientific reports on food adulteration in its Food Fraud Database (www.foodfraud.org), first published in April 2012 and described in detail in the Journal of Food Science.1 The database was recently updated to include more than 2,000 total records.

USP is forming a new Expert Panel on Intentional Adulteration of Dietary Supplements with Drugs, which joins USP’s existing Expert Panel on Intentional Adulteration of Food Ingredients. The new supplements panel will focus on developing screening methods for detecting drug substances as adulterants in dietary supplements. 

This fall, USP will hold its third workshop on adulteration of food ingredients and dietary supplements. Participants representing all stages of the supply chain, the scientific community, and other stakeholders are invited to a public forum on new trends and research to help prevent the adulteration of food ingredients and dietary supplements. It is an opportunity to exchange information on the breadth of adulteration of food ingredients and dietary supplements, including in-depth discussions on specific types of adulterants (e.g., adulteration of the protein fraction of foods, or weight-loss drugs in dietary supplements). It will also cover analysis methods and techniques to detect adulteration.

This exchange is critical for USP and its stakeholders to ensure the coordination of all resources available to help prevent adulteration of food ingredients and dietary supplements. USP intends to utilize the outcome of this workshop to help guide its future work in order to increase the value of USP’s products in the fight against fraud.

For more information and to register to attend the workshop, visit http://uspgo.to/food-ds-workshop.

References

1. Moore JC et al., "Development and application of a database of food ingredient fraud and economically motivated adulteration from 1980 to 2010," Journal of Food Science, vol. 77, no. 4 (April 2012): R118-R126.