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Impact f Food Fraud on Public Health & Importance of Risk Assessment

Due to food fraud, the public is consuming adulterated products that are not healthier.

Examples of international adulteration include:

  • Milk diluted with water
  • Milk extended with melamine
  • Wheat extended with urea
  • Turmeric extended with lead chromate, and
  • Olive oil diluted with hazelnut oil.

Dilution with water goes back many years to when milk was purchased on the basis of weight; it was easy to add the cheapest possible liquid, water, to artificially increase the value of that material. Of course, standards were developed many years ago to deal with that. Milk extended with melamine is a more modern example, resulting from the use of nonspecific technologies—Kjeldahl and other methods—that assay total nitrogen as an indicator of protein content instead of more specific methods. Wheat extended with urea hits close to home. It happened in the 1980s in Minnesota (FDA Consumer, 1990), and again resulted from using nitrogen as a surrogate for protein content. Several cases of lead-chromate extension of turmeric have been reported in India, where a lot of turmerics comes from. Recently, turmeric was recalled from US stores because of lead contamination (Terry, 2011), the possible culprit being lead chromate which has a yellow color similar to that of turmeric. This example provides a global perspective; what happens halfway around the world can impact us here. The olive oil industry has had authenticity problems due to dilution with other vegetable oils. Hazelnut oil—commonly used because its fatty acid composition is similar—contains allergens and thus raises potentially serious public-health concerns.

A free Oline Course is available on the Official Website of >PAKISTAN COUNCIL FOR FOOD SAFETY & PUBLIC HEALTH to better understand food fraud and Risk Assessment. below is an overview of this process and its importance.

Importance of Risk assessment

  • Raw material specifications

Adequacy of raw material specifications is an important preventive aspect against food fraud. Specifications established for raw materials, which are used in the purchase of these materials, must include appropriate authenticity criteria to mitigate – as much as possible – the inherent vulnerabilities identified in the self-assessment. For example, UV absorbance is specified to detect the potential adulteration of extra virgin olive oil with refined oils. Specification criteria linked to food fraud prevention must be thoroughly defined, in line with the level of complexity and variability of the ingredient’s composition. When a specific parameter needs to be measured to control the raw material authenticity, particular attention must be given to using analytical methods that are fit-for-purpose (i.e. adapted for the natural variability in the raw material).

  • Analytical surveillance

Once the adulteration risks have been characterized for a given raw material, and a set of analytical control criteria defined – a surveillance plan should be established. The surveillance plan allows to build confidence in the company’s suppliers, gain reassurance on the company’s raw material supply, and confirm that the prevention measures in place are adequate in contrast, the surveillance plan may allow the detection of food fraud issues. Raw material monitoring should be performed using appropriate analytical methods for the verification of authenticity. The methods must be selective, specific, and of appropriate sensitivity to verify that the food authenticity process is efficient.

  • Risk in Food Processing

In food processing, a hazard is a biological, chemical, allergenic, or physical substance that has the potential to harm. It may also be a condition (e.g. high humidity) that could cause harm. Not all hazards are as serious, or as immediate a threat, as others. Some situations can be more ‘hazardous’ depending on the levels, sizes, quantities, or doses of unwanted substance or conditions. When it comes to food and food processing, just how hazardous a substance or condition is may vary greatly. The level of danger can depend not only on the type of hazard but also on one who might consume a food product. There usually is a threshold level below or above which the presence of a hazard is considered tolerable, or acceptable.

  • Risk Analysis

Risk is a measure of the likelihood of a hazard doing harm and how much harm the hazard could do. Or, another way of looking at it is to consider risk an estimate of the probability of a hazard being present. All activities related to food production and handling involve some hazards. However, how we do something or what we do determines the level of risk. By understanding how to reduce or eliminate food hazards, it’s then possible to set up food safety controls. These will lower risks to consumers and these actions are an important part of risk analysis. A food safety risk analysis directs time and attention to the greatest safety concerns in a facility. Not every food safety issue will need a formal risk analysis. It may be possible to deal with many issues in a house with well-trained staff. Depending on the situation, the facility may need the knowledge or services of an outside consultant.

Risk analysis deals with:

  • Assessing the risk
  • Managing the risk; and
  • Risk communication.

Begin the risk analysis by identifying and describing any hazards, problems, or situations in the facility and its food production process. Look for anything that could be a risk to human health.

To make this list of risks, use information from:

  • Consumer feedback;
  • Audit results;
  • New scientific research; and
  • Staff comments and input.

Potential risk factors might include the food processing operation, post-preparation handling, or even food safety practices in the home of consumers. The level of risk could also relate to how retailers and distributors handle, store and process the facility’s products. Consider the cause and effect relationship between the identified substance, agent or event, and how this might affect food safety.

  • Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is a specific function within the concept of risk analysis. The entire process includes gathering information and processing it into a useful and reliable form. The fraud opportunity for food— and more generally to all product fraud—is unique and adds multiple layers of complexity. There are multiple systems that interact to increase the complexity of the problem and sophistication needed to put efficient and effective countermeasures and control systems in place. In general, the risk analysis and basic assessment concepts are essential for food fraud prevention because:

  • Foundation: There needs to be an underlying foundation to understand and evaluate the vulnerability.
  • Value of Information: Without a deeper understanding of the usefulness of the information, subsequent assessments could be misleading or false.
  • Unique Considerations: There are unique considerations that must be defined before even considering modeling. These include risk versus vulnerability and mitigation versus prevention.
  • Share Best Practices: Finally, rather than starting with a novel approach, it is best to adapt other currently implemented systems to food fraud prevention.

Risk analysis consists of four concepts including hazard identification, risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication This is a cycle that is constantly in motion and continually adjusted. A significant challenge for starting risk analysis for a new type of risk such as food, fraud is breaking from a current paradigm and standard scope and method (e.g., a traditional food safety risk assessment or a traditional crime assessment).

The first step in risk analysis is risk assessment. This helps the facility to decide on the level of risk for each hazard. Risk assessment should provide complete information to allow the risk management team to make the best possible decisions. Begin the risk assessment by answering three basic questions:

  1. What could go wrong?
  2. How likely is the event to happen?
  3. What would be the outcome or impact if this event happened?

A risk assessment is never exact. The results of the risk assessment point toward probable outcomes that describe the population risk (e.g. look into density, distribution, Disease, and/or death).

  • When to do a Risk Assessment?

Ingredients, processes, consumers, and other production factors are important in deciding if a formal risk assessment is needed. In general, do a risk assessment for products, processes, and activities that could result in an increase in a health risk. Do so for anything that could have a direct effect on food safety. Examples might include:

  • The use of new additives in the facility’s food products;
  • Facility changes that affect exposure and product safety;
  • Environmental changes at the facility that could affect product safety;
  • Changes to the process or facility that might affect the microbiological or chemical safety of food supplies or the food supply chain;
  • Assess existing facilities, procedures, processes, and policies to improve existing risk prevention.

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