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Horsemeat scandal – Food scientists call for control measures

Posted: 9 May 2013 | Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) | No comments yet

IFST’s Consultancy group responds with its position on how to approach this issue of food fraud and authenticity…

Meat Processing

The horsemeat scandal was one of the largest to hit to food industry in recent times, resulting in one of the largest recalls in UK history

The horsemeat scandal was one of the largest to hit to food industry in recent times, resulting in one of the largest recalls in UK history. Months after, it still remains in the news as European authorities try to track down the perpetrators as the scale of the contamination continues to be unveiled.

Meat Processing

The horsemeat scandal was one of the largest to hit to food industry in recent times, resulting in one of the largest recalls in UK history

IFST members have been actively involved in reporting to the media and helping provide sound science and views behind the headlines. When the story broke, IFST commented that it is not likely to be a food safety issue but there has clearly been a breakdown in the meat supply chain. Since then, we’ve been closely monitoring the developments of the story. IFST’s position is to provide a balanced, professional viewpoint backed by scientific information on key issues in our sector. As sound science and evidence gathering doesn’t happen overnight, we’ve stayed waited and observed during the wake of the scandal so as to ensure that we give a meaningful, scientifically-backed response.

IFST’s Consultancy group has responded with a position on how to approach this issue of food fraud and authenticity. Many of those in the group are active consultants and are highly experienced at undertaking audits in food processing businesses.

Key messages

  • The activity of those involved in managing the integrity of the supply chain is largely exemplary and the IFST GMP6 is an essential tool in implementing adequate and fit for purpose control mechanisms
  • Considering the potential and temptation for fraud for commercial gain must become a key part of food safety and quality control
  • Temptation of fraud or adulteration should be included as a critical control point within HACCP
  • Wider horizon scanning activity that can register potential impacts on the product supply chain is desirable

Full statement from IFST’s Consultancy group

The horsemeat issue has raised a number of questions which have challenged the way in which the food industry and technical professionals consider traceability. Primarily those involved in supply chain management and holding responsibility for developing and undertaking audits need to incorporate suitable mechanics that can account for the likelihood of fraud. In the first instance this should include a mindset to ‘think like a criminal’ and approach the supply chain with a detailed technical knowledge in addition to considering the points within it that are susceptible to or attract the temptation to defraud. Such risk points may be complex supply chains, multi-step processing, and high value items. These aspects must be analysed in terms of commercial value as well as provenance and origin. It may, in fact, be appropriate to consider the risk of fraud, where such risk is identified as high, within the context of HACCP. Positioning such risk and temptation within HACCP is productive in that it can force the implementation of structured plan of action to mitigate the perceived risk.

In addition to the inclusion of ‘temptation of fraud or adulteration’ as a critical control point, it is also important to consider the impact of external regulatory, environmental and social changes that could impact on the product supply chain. This can only be achieved by a wider horizon scanning activity such as commercial intelligence, knowledge of supply chain shortages and the consideration of downstream impact. Such external events should be recognized as ‘red flags’ and trigger an appropriate HACCP review to account for and risk assess the perceived risk and where necessary implement control measures. The control measures may include enhanced auditing and testing schedules in line with a strong Quality Assurance and GMP philosophy.

The activity of those involved in managing the integrity of the supply chain is largely exemplary and the IFST GMP6 is an essential tool in implementing adequate and fit for purpose control mechanisms, such as those reflected in paragraph 6.12 and chapter 10. However it is difficult to say whether the horsemeat scandal could have been avoided or predicted by application of even more robust auditing protocols. As with all issues, safety, adulteration or otherwise the existing processes need to be reviewed and additional controls implemented where necessary. It is now evident that considering the potential and temptation for fraud for commercial gain must become a key part of food safety and quality control.

This statement was prepared by Steve Osborn B.Sc.(Hons), M.Phil. MIFST, in cooperation with IFST’s Consultancy group.

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