ABSTRACT

Food fraud, the intentional misrepresentation of the true identity of a food product or ingredient for economic gain, is a threat to consumer confidence and public health and has received increased attention from both regulators and the food industry. Following updates to food safety certification standards and publication of new U.S. regulatory requirements, we undertook a project to (i) develop a scheme to classify food fraud–related adulterants based on their potential health hazard and (ii) apply this scheme to the adulterants in a database of 2,970 food fraud records. The classification scheme was developed by a panel of experts in food safety and toxicology from the food industry, academia, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Categories and subcategories were created through an iterative process of proposal, review, and validation using a subset of substances known to be associated with the fraudulent adulteration of foods. Once developed, the scheme was applied to the adulterants in the database. The resulting scheme included three broad categories: 1, potentially hazardous adulterants; 2, adulterants that are unlikely to be hazardous; and 3, unclassifiable adulterants. Categories 1 and 2 consisted of seven subcategories intended to further define the range of hazard potential for adulterants. Application of the scheme to the 1,294 adulterants in the database resulted in 45% of adulterants classified in category 1 (potentially hazardous). Twenty-seven percent of the 1,294 adulterants had a history of causing consumer illness or death, were associated with safety-related regulatory action, or were classified as allergens. These results reinforce the importance of including a consideration of food fraud–related adulterants in food safety systems. This classification scheme supports food fraud mitigation efforts and hazard identification as required in the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act Preventive Controls Rules.

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