Mark Woolfe's Posts (392)

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.

 Read the article here

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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.

 Read the abstract

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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. 

 Watch the video here

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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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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.

 Read the abstract here

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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.

 Read the article here

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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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Food safety is a high priority for the EU and affects all citizens. The EU aims to protect its citizens from hazards that may be present in food. The ECA (European Court of Auditors) checked whether the EU food safety model, specifically as regards chemical hazards, is soundly based and implemented. The ECA audited the food safety model and found that the model is soundly based, respected worldwide and that European citizens enjoy one of the highest levels of assurance on the safety of their food in the world. However, it is currently over-stretched, and faces certain challenges, and the ECA makes three sets of recommendations in its report.

1. That the legislation should be reviewed to improve complementarity between private and public control systems.

2. That the same level of assurance for both EU produced and imported food should be maintained, and 

3. That consistent application of EU food law should be facilitated.

Read the full report here

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RIKILT Wageningen University & Research and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA)'s Laboratory for Food and Feed Safety will merge into a new institute effective on 1 June 2019. The institute will be called WFSR (Wageningen Food Safety Research) and will be part of RIKILT (Wageningen University & Research). This merger will benefit knowledge in the area of food and feed safety, as well as of food fraud.  WFSR will also function as an international and European national reference laboratory.

Read RIKILT's Press Release

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In this review, Spanish researchers have summarised drivers and examples of the widespread occurrence of food fraud and the analytical methodology to detect it.  Food chain integrity policies are discussed. Future directions in research, concerned not only with food adulterers but also with food safety and climate change, may be useful for researchers in developing interdisciplinary approaches to contemporary
problems.

Read the full review here

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The assessment of egg freshness is still challenging, due to the lack of robust chemical markers.  Freshness is a crucial parameter for ensuring the production of safe and high‐quality foods. Italian researchers have selected 31 marker compounds based on a metabolomic approach related to the freshness of egg products used as ingredients for compound foods. They were selected from samples of egg products, which were extracted after delivery to the production plant, and after 24 and 48 hours at room temperature. The extracts were analysed by ultrahigh‐pressure liquid chromatography–high‐resolution mass spectrometry (UHPLC‐HRMS), and different chemometric models were created to select those compounds that changed during the storage period, and hence are related to freshness. Furthermore, this UHPLC‐HRMS metabolomic approach allows for the detection of a larger set of metabolites clearly related to possible microbial growth over time, which is a relevant point for also ensuring food safety.

  Read the full research paper

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Black pepper is the most used spice globally, and hence vulnerable to adulteration by cheaper bulking agents. Researchers in N. Ireland have published a feasibility study using NIR and FTIR (Near and Fourier Transform Infra-Red) Spectroscopy with chemometrics to screen ground black pepper for non-spice black pepper materials (husk, pinheads and defatted spent materials), as well as foreign plant material (papaya seeds and chili). Good separation performance between black pepper and adulterated samples could be shown.

  Read the abstract here

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