Dispatches from GFSI 2017 in Houston

USP partnership will help raise barriers against food fraud - Eurofins

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Eurofins and the US Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) are to combine expertise to assist the sector in combatting food fraud.

The agreement includes looking at new analytical testing methods, training and consulting to help assess the vulnerability of supply chains and services based on analytical and food fraud data to inform stakeholders of emerging issues.

Eurofins develops analytical methods for fraud detection and provides certification audits against GFSI schemes and privately owned (Non GMO Identity Preservation) standards for food safety management systems, traceability and identity preservation.

Potential of fraud

Fayçal Bellatif, head of certification business at Eurofins, said the USP database is important for all stakeholders.

“If the database is accurate and updated every time it is helpful for all the supply chain because one of the criteria to assess the vulnerability of any supply chain is the history of fraud of any ingredient or raw material involved,” he told FoodQualityNews at the Global Food Safety Conference in Houston, Texas.

“To get this information is not easy if the ingredient is coming from another country or if it is recent or adulterated already. It gives the information about the adulterant itself, the volume, dates and frequency of fraud and information about the available analytical methods to detect such an adulterant.”

Bellatif identified a number of areas where it sees benefits of the cooperation.

“The last few years, Eurofins has been developing new methods, especially non-targeted analysis, to help detect what is not expected or something the manufacturers, producers or vendors would not expect to be in their foodstuff,” he said.

“The second area is the mitigation document USP provided to the market which proposes a good strategy to help the assessment of supply chains.

“From our side, we also conduct audits so the network of auditors we have that are doing audits against GFSI-standards or those conducting supplier audits are already facing enquiries from those clients to add on vulnerability against fraud aspects for their own assessment.

“We are not assessing the audited sites themselves; we are assessing the food fraud management system they could have to avoid or raise barriers against the fraud they can be victim of.”

Bellatif said food fraud aspects are not very familiar to auditors for food safety and many of them are unsure how to follow Dr John Spink’s advice and ‘think like a criminal’.

“We do not want our auditors to be investigators like police but we would like to challenge the system in place and help food manufacturers to get aware on how to assess their own supply chains,” he said.

“We believe cooperation along the supply chain is very important to share and exchange information on where is the ingredient coming from, what kind of relationship do you have to your supplier, from where did the raw material originate, what kind of control program do you have?

“The control programs including testing are almost globally focussed on food safety or quality aspects and very little on food fraud. So we would like, using the mitigation guidance document from USP and the skills of our auditors, to promote these initiatives towards the supply chain to make more and more people add a food fraud aspect in their own assessment.”

Training and testing options

The third area of cooperation is training, said Bellatif.

“We think the quality managers on site will mostly be in charge of the food fraud aspect as well. Other departments that the company needs to train will be staff in their process of supply to take into account fraud aspects when they release their request for proposals and look for new raw materials and things like that,” he said.

“The last one is about the technical cooperation on development of new methods about testing. The combination of method and matrix is important.

“If we take the example of honey, detection thanks to profiling methods is strengthening the available information in the database. If the users of those control programs can have access to this information through a single database it would be useful for them.”

Early warning testing methodologies are there to prevent or to avoid threats, said Bellatif.

“Nobody knows exactly what kind of adulterant will happen next time. We are always aware about a fraud when it is too late,” he said.

“That is why we believe switching philosophy to try and investigate or monitor widely unexpected adulterants is something which is key. This is one of the ways we believe we can identify some potential threats in food contamination, thanks to these kind of initiatives.”

Eurofins was part of the Food Fraud Think Tank, a public-private partnership encouraged by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) which has led to recommendations to include food fraud mitigation in existing food safety management systems.

The GFSI Food Fraud Think Tank, created in 2012, also includes the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University, Danone, Royal Ahold, Walmart and Inscatech.

Bellatif said thanks to the think tank the topic features in the GFSI benchmarking requirement version 7.

“This is requiring that companies certified against a GFSI standard must have a food fraud management system. We are expecting the scheme owners to provide a set of technical criteria more precisely to be implemented by the food industry,” he said.

“So the food industry will need to understand how to meet those criteria and will need support to make sure they have appropriate control programs for a hazard there were not familiar with.

“This is where the cooperation of Eurofins and USP comes in; we would like the food manufacturers to have a choice of tools that they can use that will be efficient enough to meet and comply with those criteria.”

Changing role of quality managers

Bellatif said this was not easy due to the amount of science, expertise and information to be shared.

“We do not expect the quality managers tomorrow to be double experts in everything; this is not possible, so everybody will need help. Even the cooperation with USP will not cover all the needs of the market, there are other tools of assessment,” he said.

“This is helpful for industry to self-assess themselves and start being sensitive to this subject. The simple fact GFSI talk about this will generate a wave of information towards the market and everybody will raise a bit the barriers against fraud.

“The mindset is where we can create and set a control program adapted to food fraud, this is requiring expertise and experience and we believe we have this together with USP and the database is providing information that is a starting point for any kind of assessment.”

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