Europe’s high food standards are being compromised due to incidences of fraud and counterfeiting in the food industry. The EU-funded FOODINTEGRITY (Ensuring the Integrity of the European food chain) project is encouraging food transparency and proposing better standards to minimise food fraud and ensure the integrity of the supply chain. “We’re exploiting advanced techniques such as NMR spectroscopy, high-resolution Mass Spectrometry and Next Generation Sequencing coupled with advanced big data analysis to achieve the project’s aims,” says James Donarski, Head of Food Authenticity at Fera Science Ltd, the UK company that’s coordinating the project. High-tech strategies to identify food fraud Researchers are employing tools such as forensic accounting and paper audit trails to identify fraud issues, as well as social science to determine the impact of food fraud on consumers. It is studying food authenticity practices to determine where further work needs to be commissioned. “We are improving data sharing related to food fraud by supplying methods and tools that will address both enforcement and industry needs,” states Dr Donarski. The project is providing state-of-the-art capabilities to detect fraud and establishing a body of experts to inform high-level stakeholder platforms on food fraud issues. “We’ve developed verification methods and systems for three food commodities that are significantly affected by adulteration and fraud, namely olive oil, spirits and seafood,” reveals Donarski. Nipping fraudulent activity in the bud The consortium is currently developing several early warning systems that can detect fraud in a cost-effective proactive way. “These systems can alert food suppliers and retailers about developing issues worldwide and help them introduce mitigation procedures before a crisis develops,” explains Dr Donarski. One such system detects anomalies such as sudden price changes, socioeconomic issues and/or climatic changes that provide lucrative opportunities for fraudsters. “A retrospective study of the horsemeat scandal, for instance, showed that the system would have picked up anomalies in trade and meat prices three to seven months prior to the scandal being uncovered,” highlights Dr Donarski. Other developed systems can monitor weblogs, news and medical journals in over 60 different languages and identify emerging issues worldwide. Another system is trained to predict the type of food fraud based on historical records. “With key information such as commodity type and country of origin, we can reliably predict what type of fraud we should expect,” adds Dr Donarski. An array of new tools and resources FOODINTEGRITY is now finalising a user‐friendly open source knowledge base on authenticity/fraud detection methods. This includes the assessment of rapid methods for application within industry based on XRF, hyperspectral imaging, laser induced breakdown spectroscopy, NIRS and Raman. The project is also conducting cutting-edge research such as authenticating complex foods using protein signatures, employing microsensors and ICT platforms to ensure onsite authentication of high-end foodstuffs, and using smartphones to detect substitutions. The project has also produced a study of Chinese consumers on how they perceive and purchase European food products, along with recommendations for European industry marketing products to Chinese consumers. FOODINTEGRITY will no doubt enhance food industry competitiveness and consumer confidence. It will contribute to a more responsible food system with respect to being ethical, transparent and accountable. It will put methods, systems and processes in place that will assure the quality, authenticity and safety of the food chain, which will strengthen the European agri-food sector altogether.
FOODINTEGRITY, food fraud, food transparency, mislabelled fish, olive oil