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Whistleblow in confidence

With increased awareness of fraudulent food practices that affect businesses and consumers to varying degrees, comes a need to tackle them before they cause serious harm. New Food hears from two experts about new industry measures that aim to encourage whistleblowers to report without fear of consequence.

Not a year passes without there being a victim of food crime; it takes place all over the world and sometimes is so severe that it reaches the global press.

There are several types of food crime, the most common of which are those that intentionally mislead customers, industries or consumers for profit. Although this type of crime may be harmful to human health, they are usually incentivised by long-term profit making and so causing harm is not in their interests.

A slightly more serious class of food crime involves the addition of illegal chemicals to prevent food from microbial spoilage. Usually, the chemicals used are those that were previously allowed but have since been found to present health risks. Generally, these crimes do not have a serious effect on health unless the consumption of the adulterated product is high.
A third type of food crime is a form of terrorism: the addition of toxic substances or objects to extort money from food manufacturers or retailers.

Crimes with potential to inflict serious harm often go unnoticed until there are victims. Examples of chemical cases include lead oxide in paprika, lead chromate in turmeric, diethylene glycol in wines, melamine in milk powder; and a well-known microbiological case is Salmonella in peanut butter. What all these cases have in common is that people were aware of the crime but did not alert anybody. There can be various reasons for this. One might be ignorance: those who know about the crime do not understand the health consequences. In other cases, individuals may have doubts which they express to their superior(s), to be told that they need not worry and should just continue with their job. Worse are those cases where some people know and are told to keep their mouth shut at the risk of losing their job and for that reason they comply.











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