In 2012, the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) began the development of a standardized process for assessing and managing food fraud incidents, which has since been adopted across the food industry. Referencing GFSI records and firsthand experiences, a recent article has outlined the key milestones and impacts of GFSI’s food fraud prevention strategy.

The article, published in Trends in Food Science and Technology, was authored by John W. Spink, Ph.D., a founding member of GFSI’s Food Fraud Think Tank and a Food Safety Magazine contributor.

From the start of GFSI’s efforts to address food fraud as a separate food safety issue, there group took a holistic, comprehensive approach that considered food fraud as a root cause of food safety incidents, and the fundamental concepts and direction of the approach have not changed throughout the decade. GFSI compliance requirements for food fraud prevention were published in February 2017, and implementation was required by January 2018. The interdisciplinary strategy was designed to mature into fully integrated food safety management systems (FSMS), and, looking forward from present day, the next ten years are predicted to include more formal and rigorous food fraud vulnerability assessments, prevention strategies, and FSMS oversight.

The basic definition for “food fraud” is the “intentional deception for economic gain using food,” and can include activities such as adulteration, unapproved enhancements, mislabeling or misbranding, gray market production or theft, and counterfeiting. Since 2000, there have been several significant instances of food fraud, specifically, the Sudan Red carcinogen colorant in paprika and other spices, melamine in infant formula and pet food, horsemeat in beef, Brazilian beef up-labeling, Peanut Corporation of America’s knowingly selling contaminated product, smuggled honey and origin laundering for tax avoidance, stolen and resold raw poultry, ground peanut shells used to extend cumin, and other occurrences. In particular, the melamine in infant formula and pet food incident, as well as the horsemeat in beef issue, brought food fraud to the forefront of global awareness as a specific type of problem that necessitated the creation of specific methods and procedures for its prevention.

Preventing and managing instances of food fraud required a framework involving, in order, hazard identification, risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication. Such a framework was built upon existing quality and risk management principles, considering vulnerabilities from all types of food fraud and across the entire supply chain, and evaluating the human actors in food fraud incidences through a lens of social science and criminology.

GFSI’s requirements explicitly outline a way of organizing and reviewing food fraud factors through its Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points Plan (VACCP), which drew upon preceding industrywide frameworks and concepts including those produced by the International Standards Organization (ISO), Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Six Sigma, COSO Enterprise Risk Management and the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the laws and regulations of various countries (i.e., the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act, the European Commission General Food Law, and the Chinese Food Safety Law). VACCP exists under a FSMS umbrella alongside HACCP and Threat Assessment and Critical Control Points (TACCP), which, when separated into three plans (VACCP, HACCP, and TACCP for vulnerabilities/food fraud, hazards/food safety, and threats/food defense, respectively), creates greater efficiency by individually addressing different root causes of food safety incidents.

While food safety/HACCP programs have evolved into highly interconnected management systems with robust oversight and auditing, food fraud management systems are much newer and are still maturing into more formal programs. Process improvement and benchmarking are expected to expand over time, with GFSI’s food fraud requirements providing the impetus for the creation and implementation of such systems. After GFSI compliance became an industrywide standard, the development of training, education, tools, models, and other resources has increased across the food sector.

Gleaning insight from the implementations of other systems, the future will likely hold a more rigorous and thorough adoption of management systems with a continuous improvement process to refine the depth and scope of activities. Examples of this may include formalized corporate policies that define oversight responsibilities and interdisciplinary teams to cover the full spectrum of food fraud vulnerabilities, supply management by suppliers, better monitoring of contract manufacturers and technology transfer, corporate security monitoring stolen and counterfeit goods, and return logistics like returns and waste disposal.

Overall, food fraud prevention is in a state where the problem is clearly understood and procedures have been developed to specifically address the root causes, as a result of the path that has been forged by GFSI leadership and the GFSI Food Fraud Think Tank. The general efforts of GFSI have also provided a strategy for implementation that is continuously increasing in efficiency and efficacy.