By Markus Lipp, Ph.D.
Undermines Food Safety
If the authenticity of a
product’s building blocks is
fraudulently altered, existing
food safety and quality systems
can be rendered useless.
The food industry is no stranger to risk manage- ment. In the battle for consumer dollars, product recalls caused by contamination or adulteration can be catastrophic. Business, legal and moral repercussions resulting from
lapses in food safety and quality are top-of-mind issues
for all manufacturers. Significant resources are dedicated
to minimizing these risks, generally through a variety of
industry (and additionally, manufacturer- or retailer-spe-cific) quality assurance (QA) systems. As global food
sourcing and international manufacturing sites have skyrocketed, risk management is an increasingly complex
proposition, and quality and safety systems are challenged to keep pace.
Contamination and adulteration are distinct threats.
While both involve the presence of something that
should not be in a food product, contamination is unin-
tentional and generally predictable (manufacturers are
aware of potential risks that need to be controlled,
though clearly a quality lapse has occurred in a contami-
nation event). Economically motivated adulteration,
however, involves purposeful and intentional replace-
ment of the expected food substance with a cheaper
one, including simply diluting the expected substance
with a solvent such as water. An important element is
that such replacement or dilution occurs without the
knowledge of the seller. Consequently, this creates a sin-
gularity in the food safety system, insofar as nobody
(aside from the perpetrator) is able to evaluate any con-
sequences for the safety of consumers
due to the exposure to the said cheaper
adulterant. Furthermore, to ensure re-
peat business, economically motivated
adulteration is often designed to avoid
detection by standard QA testing.
Adulteration: A Long History,
Adulteration is not a new threat. Notorious examples include episodes where