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Food allergens in the food fraud chain

18 August 2016  •  Author(s): Valerie Tear, Food Safety Consultant

Food fraud is a challenge, both to food businesses and consumers, and is a growing concern worldwide. Couple this with the introduction of allergens into the food fraud supply chain and the results can have devastating consequences. The impact of food allergens entering foods undetected through food fraud can be life-threatening, or even fatal.

Food allergens in the food fraud chain

In a recent ground-breaking trial, a takeaway restaurant switched almond powder for a cheaper ground nut mix containing peanuts in a curry sauce in order to save costs, resulting in the death of a 38 year-old who was allergic to peanuts. Several weeks prior to this, the restaurant ignored warnings from enforcement officers when another customer with a peanut allergy had a reaction requiring hospital care. The restaurant owner was found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and received a six-year jail sentence, setting a precedent for the food safety industry1 .

What is food fraud?

Cutting a substance with a cheaper product is well known in the drug trade, as is adding cheaper additives to petrol and oil . Food and drink have moved into the fraud arena as a target by not only small to medium enterprises, but by organised crime syndicates as well – it is estimated that 1/3 of what we put into our shopping trolley is not what it claims to be – it’s all about the money2.

Incidents of food fraud occur for a number of reasons, mostly that of economic gain. Deliberate and intentional acts include substitution, addition, dilution, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or packaging. Making misleading statements about a food product is also considered food fraud.

Some incidents are unintentional and in Canada fall under ‘regulatory offenses,’ which impose penalties for mistakes that are unintentional. Recently fined $1.5 million on these grounds was a vegetable grower in Ontario that mislabelled Mexican produce as Canadian-grown3.

The leading cause of food recalls in the UK is non-declared food allergens on packaged food: 96 products were recalled in 2015, and 60 products in 2014 due to unreported allergens on pre-packed food labels. Whether or not the omission of allergen ingredients is intentional or unintentional, it is considered food fraud.

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