• 4 Types of Food Fraud

Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

4 Types of Food Fraud

Jul 19 2022

From diluting premium ingredients with inferior alternatives to deliberately mislabelling products for economic gain, food fraud is an issue faced by economies around the world. In the EU alone, the European Commission estimates economically motivated food adulteration costs the economy around €8 to €12 billion every year. Not only does food fraud drain profits and damage the reputation of the industry, but it can be a major public health risk when toxic ingredients or unidentified allergens fly under the radar.  

Defining food fraud

The Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality (KC-FFQ) operated by the European Commission defines food fraud as the following:

“Any deliberate action of businesses or individuals to deceive others in regards to the integrity of food to gain undue advantage. Types of food fraud include but not limited to: adulteration, substitution, dilution, tampering, simulation, counterfeiting, and misrepresentation.”

Below, we take a closer look at the different types of food fraud.  

  • Dilution

High value ingredients are diluted with inferior alternatives. For example, 100% orange juice is diluted with water to increase yield and profits. This defies laws enforced by the European Commission, which state “nothing of lesser economic value must be added, or removed if it is of higher economic value”.

  • Substitution

High value ingredients are replaced with inferior alternatives. This is common in the seafood industry, where high value species such as cod, halibut, sea bass, snapper, sole and tuna are often substituted with cheaper alternatives.

This also meets the European Commission definition of food fraud, which states “if food is misdescribed, i.e. the information about origin, composition, etc provided to customers is not true and if this misdescription is done with the intention to deceive the customer for financial gain, food fraud - also known as economically motivated adulteration - is committed.”

  • Concealment

Underhand techniques are used to conceal the low quality of an ingredient or product. For example, poultry may be injected with antibiotics to mask disease and reduce bacterial load during quality testing. Using colouring agents to enhance the appearance of inferior fruit and vegetables is another example of food fraud concealment.

  • Mislabelling

Deliberately mislabelling products for financial gain is one of the most common examples of food fraud. The horse meat scandal of 2013 that saw products such as beef lasagne adulterated with horse meet and deliberately mislabelled, is an example of this type of food fraud.

These are just some examples of the types of food fraud faced by the industry. Foodomics, a discipline that uses advanced analytical techniques to profile samples and track crimes back to the source, plays a critical role in fighting food fraud. Find out more in ‘A Complete Guide to Food Fraud & Foodomics’.


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