Mark Woolfe's Posts (357)

Kona coffee is regarded as a high value coffee. Hawaiin farmers in the Kona District produce just over 1.2 million kg of coffee beans each year, yet they have estimated that around 9 million kg of coffee beans are sold under the name "Kona". Hence the farmers have launched a lawsuit against some of largest retailers and producers in the country, which pack and sell 19 brands of Kona coffee. The farmers are accusing these companies of selling coffee with a “false designation of origin,” labelling the coffee as Kona despite containing little to no Kona beans at all. Modern isotopic techniques have been applied to confirm coffee origin in the Kona District. Blends of Kona coffee are also common. There is a law in the Kona District that requires that the name Kona can only be used if there is a minimum of 10% Kona coffee in the blend, and the percentage of Kona is declared. Although this law does not apply in other parts of the country, labelling of blends should not be misleading as to the coffee content. There is also another lawsuit filed on behalf of the consumers who have been missold Kona coffee. 

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The FDA has issued its second installment of how companies should take measures and mitigation strategies to protect themselves against intentional adulteration (IA rule), which is a requirement of the recent Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The draft document is out for consultation, which closes on 5 July 2019. The IA rule applies to the owner, operator, or agent in charge of a domestic or foreign food facility that manufactures/processes, packs, or holds food for consumption in the USA. There are some exceptions including farms, except farms producing milk. Companies are required to develop/implement a food defence plan identifying vulnerabilities, and how to deal with them, and ensure they are working. The FSMA covers attacks intended to cause wide scale public health harm to humans including acts of terrorism focused on the food supply, and these are ranked as the highest risk. There is also intentional adulteration for economic gain with or without any safety implications; acts of disgruntled employees, consumers, or competitors. The IA rule is focused on addressing only acts causing wide scale public health harm, and not acts of disgruntled employees, consumers, or competitors, or acts of economic gain without public health implications. 

Read the article and the FDA draft guidance

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Black pepper is one of the most valued spices in the world, and hence is susceptible to adulteration. A common adulterant is black papaya seeds. Researchers in Peru and Brazil have investigated the potential of near infrared hyperspectral imaging (NIR-HSI) combined with multivariate analysis to identify black pepper adulterated with papaya seeds. SIMCA (soft independent modelling of class analogy) allowed classification with 100% sensitivity between berry black pepper and berry papaya seeds. A PLS (partial least squares) reduced model based on 7 wavelengths presented higher predictive capability, and the maps from this model successfully showed the distribution of ground papaya seeds in ground black pepper.

 Read the abstract here

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Bad weather, frost and disease have crippled the Italian olive oil industry in recent months, causing a 57% drop in production over 2018 and costing the sector almost Euros1 billion. This drop means that Italian farmers only have enough olive oil for four months of the year, and may be forced to import olive oil. Freak rains and early cold temperatures affected output, along with the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa that infected trees throughout the southern region of Puglia, where ancient olive groves produce 65 percent of the national output.

In contrast, the Spanish olive crop has had a good year, and as reported in the Olive Oil Times, ‘Spanish olive oil production is expected to reach 1.76 million tons in the 2018/19 season, up from 1.39 million tons the preceding season’. Hence overall EU production of olive oil is set to remain at a similar level to last year, with Spain making up the Italian olive deficit. Outside the EU, countries such asTurkey and Tunisia are expected to have a fall in the production of olive oil, but with Morocco increasing its production by around 50 percent.

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Researchers have reported the development of a sensitive and reliable method of pork adulteration in beef and chicken products based on PCR–Enzyme Linked Oligonucleotide Assay (ELONA). The asssay uses species-specific tailed primers for duplex amplification, and simple dilution of the PCR reactions for direct colorimetric detection via hybridisation, eliminating the need for any other post-amplification steps. It was validated using DNA add-mixtures as well as DNA extracted from raw meat mixtures, and 0.5–1% w/w pork could be easily detected when mixed with beef or chicken. 

 Read the abstract here

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Italy Uncovers Fake Balsamic Vinegar Fraud

Balsamic vinegar of Modena is a protected PGI name and must be made from certain grape varieties grown in the Italian provinces of Modena and Reggio Emelia. Italian investigators carrying out "Operation Global Wine" have uncovered a fraudulent use of table grapes, which are then processed and passed of as authentic balsamic vinegar. They have seized Euros15million worth of grape must and wine products, as well as numerous documents showing how the provenance and authenticity of the vinegar was falsified.

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Buffalo milk commands a premium price compared to cows’ milk, and is used to make mozzarella cheese. Products labelled as “buffalo mozzarella” must be made solely with buffalo milk, and not with milk from any other species. Reseachers at the Quadram Institute, Norwich have developed  a new multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) mass spectrometry (MS) assay measuring the mass of ‘marker’ peptides which, due to the amino acid sequence differences, are characteristic of either buffalo or cow in αs1-casein. The markers can also be used to give relative quantitation for mixtures of bovine and buffalo milk or cheese, based upon ratios of transition peak areas.

The method was used to conduct a pilot survey of retail mozzarella products. Eight samples of supermarket cheeses specifically labelled as buffalo were all found to be 100% buffalo. Five other samples, simply labelled mozzarella, were all 100% cow. These samples showed no signs of adulteration. However, when 17 other products such as pizzas were examined, two thirds of these samples from supermarket pizzas, restaurant pizzas and other restaurant dishes that claimed to be buffalo mozzarella contained at least some cows’ milk. In some cases, the mozzarella was 100% derived from cow.

 Read the Press Release and the full journal paper.

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The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has called for stronger deterrents for food fraud after news of an egg trader in the Netherlands was convicted and fined €30,000 for fraudulently selling eggs contaminated fipronil, and battery eggs as free range. These eggs were stamped with fake registration numbers, making it impossible to track their origins. Also, inspectors from the Dutch Food Safety Board (NVWA) found 280,000 unstamped eggs at the trader’s warehouse in June 2018, as well as ‘free range’ eggs from a farm which said it had never done business with the trader. The BEIC has called for stronger deterrents to be in place in the UK to discourage food fraud, and recommended UK food businesses to look for the "Lion" stamp as the scheme ensures the highest standards of food safety and has a number of stringent processes in place to ensure full traceability.

 Read the statement by BEIC and news of the prosecution

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FSAI has worked with a commercial laboratory (Identigen) over the past two years to adapt NGS (next generation sequencing), so that it can be used as a DNA screening tool to check that the composition of the food matches what is stated on the product’s labelling or descripion. FSAI screened 45 plant-based foods and food supplements from Irish health food shops and supermarkets. It looked for the presence of all plant species in the selected products and identified 14 food products for further investigation that may contain undeclared plant species. Of these 14 products, one was confirmed to contain undeclared mustard at significant levels, which is an allergen that should be declared. Another product (oregano) was found to contain DNA from two undeclared plant species, one at significant levels. A third product was found to have no DNA from the plant species declared on the label, but instead rice DNA was identified. All three products are under further investigation. FSAI will apply the same technology for the screening of meat, poultry and fish products.

 Read the FSAI Press Release and the full report

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The US Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is offering an online course on “Intentional Adulteration (IA) Identification and Explanation of Mitigation Strategies”. The FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act requires that individuals identifying and explaining fraud mitigation strategies “have successfully completed training for the specific function at least equivalent to that received under a standardised curriculum recognised as adequate by FDA or be otherwise qualified through job experience to conduct the activities”. This online course is the “standardised curriculum” recognised by FDA, and successfully completing this course is one way to meet this training requirement.

Links to the availability of the course from FSPCA or FDA's website can be found here

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Researchers from the University of Guelph in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have found high levels of fish mislabelling in the supply chain starting from imports and increasing as the supply moves along the chain to retail. The research team examined 203 samples from 12 key targeted species collected from various importers (23% of samples), processing plants (5.5%) and retailers (69.5%) in Ontario. The species of fish was identified in the samples using DNA barcoding. The results revealed that overall 32% of the 203 samples were mislabelled, with 17.6 % mislabelling at the import stage, 27.3% at processing plants and 38.1% at retailers. The authors commented that the higher mislabelling rate in samples collected from retailers, compared to that for samples collected from importers, indicates the role of distribution and repackaging in seafood mislabeling. Also, there is a lack of harmonisation in the regulatory framework between for example, Canada and the US, where there is a lack of equivalence in the commercial names given to fish species. This would be improved by giving the scientific name as well. 

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A Crown Court found that Enhanced Athlete had marketed and sold DNP (2,4-Dinitrophenol), a fat-burning chemical unsafe for human consumption. On 7 February 2019, the company was handed a £100,000 fine, and its former director was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence, community service and corporate restriction. During the trial, prosecutors stated that while DNP can burn fat, the chemical is “toxic to humans, causing serious harmful side effects and, in fact, fatalities”. Enhanced Athlete’s facilities in an industrial area of Wigton had been raided in 2017, and several kilos of DNP powder, tablets and related manufacturing machinery had been confiscated.This raid was a combined operation by FSA's National Food Crime Unit, The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, and Allerdale Borough Council.

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Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (MBC) is a PDO cheese produced from whole buffalo milk in specific regions of southern Italy. Due to the high price and the limited amount of buffalo milk, MBC is potentially subject to mislabelling, substitution or fraud. Italian researchers have used elemental and isotopic profiles of authentic samples of buffalo milk and the corresponding MBC samples collected in the reference area in winter and summer in an initial exploratory study. A model was developed to classify product categories for this cheese by merging MBC-PDO samples with non-PDO samples of buffalo mozzarella produced both inside and outside the reference area. Despite differences caused during processing, along with differences in the season and production area, the model was effective in distinguishing PDO and non-PDO mozzarella, particularly when non-PDO cheeses were made outside the MBC reference area.

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The EU Project FoodIntegrity has produced a short video to indicate the challenges associated with moving from targeted to non-targeted systems in food fraud testing, such as a lack of guidelines and legislation. It provides helpful recommendations to address some of these common difficulties. 

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Dutch researchers used a new handheld hyperspectral imaging system to obtain information about nutmeg powder samples in the wavelength region of 400–1000 nm. The samples used to develop the method were 15 authentic samples, seven adulterant materials (i.e. 1 pericarp, 1 shell, and 5 spent samples) and 31 retail samples. Furthermore, another set of adulterated nutmeg samples were artificially prepared by mixing authentic material with spent powder (5–60%). Principal Component Analysis (PCA), Partial Least Squares-Discriminant Analysis (PLS-DA) and Artificial Neural Network (ANN) models were applied to the spectral data to construct the models, and authenticate the retail samples. The PCA showed successful spatial separation of authentic samples from adulterant materials. The ANN model predicted and showed the ability to detect adulteration at levels as low as 5% of added product-own material, which was more accurate than the PLS-DA model. Microscopic analysis was applied for comparison with hyperspectral imaging and to verify possible sample modification. It was concluded that method has good potential for the development of a visual quality control procedure for nutmeg powder authentication.

 Read the abstract here

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Many shark populations are in decline, primarily due to overexploitation. In response, conservation measures have been applied at differing scales, often severely restricting sales of declining species. Between February 2016 and November 2017, scientists at the University of Exeter analysed a total of 117 samples of shark meat products  collected from 90 different caterers/retailers.  Seventy eight of these were battered and fried originating from fish and chip takeaways, and 39 were either fresh or frozen and collected from fishmongers. In addition, 10 fins collected from an Asian food wholesaler, as well as 30 fins seized by the UK Border Force on their way from Mozambique to Asia were also analysed. Using  multiple extraction techniques and DNA barcoding, the species of shark in the samples were identified. As regards the fish and chip takeaways, the majority of samples were identified as spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), which is critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic and landings have been prohibited. The fin samples included scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini), which are endangered globally and subject to trade restrictions, and other threatened sharks such as shortfin mako and smalleye hammerhead sharks.

 Read the Press Release and the full research paper.

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Professor Chris Elliott, who is chairing New Food's Food Fraud 2019 Conference on 28 February in London, is interviewed about what to expect at this year's event as the scope covers not just food fraud but food integrity as well. FoodAuthenticity members can receive a 20% discount to attend the conference. 

Watch the video here

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Fish and meat are highly perishable foods, requiring both proper technologies for quality preservation and rapid methods for analysis. In this review, the most commonly applied techniques to preserve the quality of fish and meat products are first presented. The main methods used to assess both quality and authenticity of such products are then discussed. A special focus is placed on the fluorescence spectroscopy as a rapid, non-destructive, highly sensitive and selective technique, which can indicate the effect of different presevation methods on quality and authenticity.

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This week, four people have gone on trial in France to answer allegations they were knowingly involved in the fraud of supplying horsemeat, which subsequently went in to burgers and other meat products in 2013. During the investigation of the supply of horsemeat, it traced the source of the meat back to French supplier Spanghero and specifically a production facility in the Aude. The investigation also revealed a complex supply chain with Spanghero buying the meat from abattoirs in Romania and other countries – via a trading firm (Draap) operating in the Netherlands, but owned by firms in Cyprus and the Virgin Islands ("Draap" is "paard" backwards and Dutch for "horse"). The French prosecution claims that Spanghero knew it was buying horsemeat and deliberately changed the labelling on the shipment to hide its identity.

The French authorities claim that Spanghero sold more than 538 tonnes of mislabelled horsemeat to Tavola, a ready-meal producer in the Comigel group, and made around €500,000 from the fraud. On trial are former Spanghero director Jacques Poujol and ex-plant director Patrice Monguillon, plus Dutch meat traders Hendricus Windmeijer and Johannes Fasen. They have been charged with conspiracy to defraud and could face up to 10 years in prison plus fines of up to €1m. Fasen has previously been convicted of fraud in other countries in relation to the supply of horsemeat.

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Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera honeybees in Europe. Depending on the country/region, the A. mellifera subspecies native to Europe belong to three different lineages: A (A. m. iberiensis), M (A. m. iberiensis and A. m. mellifera) and C (A. m. ligustica and A. m. carnica). Portugese researchers have developed two assays based on mitochondrial markers to identify the different sub-species. A cytb specific PCR assay was proposed to identify A-lineage honeybees, while a second method based on real-time PCR coupled to high resolution melting analysis targeting the COI gene, was developed to differentiate C- and M-lineages honeybees. The assays were validated on authentic honeys from known origin, and then applied to 20 commercial samples from different Euroean countries. The results highlight the predominance of honeys from C-lineage honeybees in Europe, except in Iberian Peninsula countries where honey from A-lineage honeybees predominates.

 Read the abstract here

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