This article is posted with permission from Food Safety News.
Were it not for all the insects that other tenants of a private warehouse were pretty sure were coming from a neighboring space, phony “Heinz” ketchup might now be on its way to unsuspecting consumers. Fraudulent “Heinz” ketchup, probably intended for the world market, is but one example of “counterfeit food.” Around the world, there are plenty of people who are willing to substitute some high value brand or product with something inferior.
Some fear higher world food prices are making food counterfeiting the next big global trend. Counterfeit food is a way to steal millions and put food safety at extreme risk.
Obviously, anyone willing to rip off valued brands or products to manufacture counterfeit food outside of the regulations of any country does not give a rip about food safety.
Interpol Police have recently turned up candy bars, fish, cheese, and tomato sauce—all phony—foods that could have ended up in the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has its own police force for tackling fraudulent foods and drugs.
Counterfeit drugs get most of the attention. The World Bank says consumers pay $30 billion annually for fake drugs. Estimates for how much consumers pay for fake food are a little more fluid.
At last month’s 9th Annual Anti-Counterfeiting and Brand Protection Summit held in Midtown West, N.Y., a fact sheet from DuPont said counterfeiting cost U.S. businesses $200 billion to $250 billion annually, affecting 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Food and beverages are only a slice of that, of course, but consider that Russia has documented $3.3 billion in annual losses due just to counterfeit vodka. The total for food and beverage products would probably be staggering.
Michigan State University’s Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program has developed a national database for tracking counterfeit food by looking for such characteristics as:
- Diluted oil: 16 percent of counterfeit food cases involve olive oil.
- Diluted milk: 14 percent of counterfeit food involved watered-down milk.
- Adulterated honey: 7 percent of counterfeit food involved were adulterated sugar and corn.
MSU’s Anti-Counterfeiting program even has a top ten list for food most likely to be phony. Making the list are vanilla extract, maple syrup, grape wine, apple juice, coffee, orange juice, saffron, honey, milk, and olive oil.
Worldwide, it seems that the substitution of expensive Italian olive oil with cheaper Greek olive oil is epidemic.
Heinz, like most major American food companies, is doing all it can to help officials prosecute whoever was going into the phony ketchup business in that 7,000-square-foot warehouse space.
But when the neighbors start complaining about the flies at the fake food factory, it is probably too late.
Greg Thomas, a former senior director of procurement solutions at PepsiCo who now manages strategic sourcing strategies for BravoSolution, told Food Safety News that food companies must practice what he calls “deep visibility.”
“You must know your supplier’s supplier,” Thomas explained. From his perspective, both at PepsiCo and BravoSolution, Thomas has some fairly chilling words. “Anybody can fake anything,” he says. Thomas says food companies must know their entire supply chain, both where their products come from and where they are going. The reality is that they are at risk of counterfeiting at any stage along the road. Only then, he says, can a food company really know its “risk profile.”
Thomas says he hears about foods like olive oil or fish being more commonly counterfeited than others, but he thinks it’s more important to know your own supply chain and keep the focus on vulnerabilities.
The 12-year old company he works for provides supply management software to more than 50,000 procurement professionals and supply management services to 400 companies in 35 countries. Thomas says protecting a company’s brands or products does not come cheap, but allowing yourself to be the victims of counterfeiting is much more expensive.