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Jurica, K.; Brčić Karačonji, I.; Lasić, D.; Bursać Kovačević, D.; Putnik, P. Food Fraud. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 26 May 2024).
Jurica K, Brčić Karačonji I, Lasić D, Bursać Kovačević D, Putnik P. Food Fraud. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 26, 2024.
Jurica, Karlo, Irena Brčić Karačonji, Dario Lasić, Danijela Bursać Kovačević, Predrag Putnik. "Food Fraud" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 26, 2024).
Jurica, K., Brčić Karačonji, I., Lasić, D., Bursać Kovačević, D., & Putnik, P. (2024, May 12). Food Fraud. In Encyclopedia.
Jurica, Karlo, et al. "Food Fraud." Encyclopedia. Web. 12 May, 2024.
Food Fraud

Food fraud is an increasingly problematic phenomenon, whose presence may be significantly reduced by FBOs, by implementing a food quality management system and food defence principles within production (FSCC 22000, BRC Food Standard 8, PAS 96, IFS Food Version 6.1, SQF Quality Code), in order for manufacturers that have an interest to retain the quality of the final food product, as well as consumers’ trust.

food authenticity criminal offense unauthorized food manipulation food defence mitigation strategy

1. Introduction

Even in ancient times, food traders sought to make greater profits by manipulating the quality of food, disguising the origin of the product, or concealing the expiration date for consumption. Our everyday life is stocked full of numerous cases of adulteration, counterfeiting, and dilution, as well as substitution of ingredients in ready-to-eat dietary products. According to general food legislation, a food is defined in Reg. 2002/178/EC as: “ any substance or product whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans ” [1].

Food business operators (FBOs) have a legal obligation to comply with food hygiene requirements, and to establish and maintain traceability and quality (of food for human and animal consumption, as well as ingredients used in food) at all stages of production, processing, and distribution. They are also responsible for developing a reliable food supply system, with the ultimate goal of providing consumers with a safe food product. The implementation and certification of basic food safety standards (HACCP, ISO 22000), as well as extended standards (FSSC 22000, IFS, BRC) at FBOs, makes this possible. Therefore, the food safety approach should protect the food supply chain from unintentional contamination, while food defence protects the food supply chain from intentional adulteration that can cause harm [2], as well as from unauthorized food manipulation (UFM).

A crime is an illegal act or offense punishable by law (i.e., unlawful; contrary to law; act directly prohibited by law). Food crime is an activity with the motivation to deceive or to harm consumers, organized by individuals or groups [3][4]. Spink et al. [5] defined food crime as any type of food fraud that is conducted on a large scale and with serious potential repercussions for public safety or with a significant financial loss for consumers or businesses.

Regarding food fraud in the United States (US), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has legally defined food adulteration and mislabelling (misbranding) as criminal offenses [6]. The terms food fraud and economically motivated adulteration (EMA) are synonyms according to the available literature [1][7]. Some US authors have subdivided EMAs into individual acts that include adulteration, tampering, theft, diversion, simulation, counterfeiting, and misleading information. However, regardless of the definitions used, both sides point to the same problem, which is fraud against consumers to gain an economic advantage. Croatian national criminal legislation (there is no European general criminal law) defines certain general terms such as fraud, processing and marketing of food harmful to human health, or endangering life and property by generally dangerous acts or media [8].

2. Laboratory Techniques for Food Fraud Detection

The development and implementation of food authentication is strenuous multidisciplinary work involving analytical methods combined with informatics, mathematics, and statistics [9].

The large number of substances that can be used for food fraud and the inability to evaluate them make conventional analytical methods inadequate for this purpose. New highly sensitive methods are capable of detecting illicit substances even if they are present only in trace amounts. The development of such methods is moving in the direction of implementing faster and more reliable analytical methods. The specificity of the methods is one of the basic requirements. The melamine incident, for example, occurred because the analytical method for determining protein content was not specific enough to distinguish protein from non-protein nitrogen [10].

Qualitative methods can be classified using a variety of criteria, but in all cases, they are used for questions that require binary responses (e.g., yes/no answers). When the answer is obtained from multiple non-specific signals, a multivariate classification strategy is required, also known as non-targeted screening [11]. This resource provides an overview of multivariate qualitative methods for food fraud detection, with examples and samples of adulterated foods. Some state-of-the-art methods and techniques, such as isotope-ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS), stable isotope analysis, genomics, and proteomics, should definitely be included in the methods to successfully confirm/or reject food authenticity. The application of these analytical methods provides insight into the accuracy and veracity of information about a product, primarily considering its chemical composition, origin, or production technology [9].

Since the detection and discrimination of cereal contamination in gluten-free foods is essential for celiac disease patients, some ELISA methods have been established for the specific discrimination of wheat, rye, barley, and oats in gluten-free food (apart from more expensive and less user-friendly methods with real-time PCR and quantitative competitive (QC)-PCR) [12][13]. Recently, food fraud in cereal food products derived from a ready-to-eat powder (e.g., Sunsik) has been a great concern for regulatory authorities and consumers, especially the mislabelling or incorrect labelling of allergenic constituents in Korea. Thus, specific primers for each species have been developed based on sequence polymorphisms in chloroplast rpoC2m, and multiplex PCR can detect components of commercial flow-mixed products [14].

3. Preventive Measures

In food processing, introducing fraudulent raw materials into food (e.g., through adulteration or counterfeiting or intellectual property theft), or to use those raw materials in an inferior quality, affects the product itself. In addition, in poorly controlled production facilities, especially with institutionalized food (e.g., hotels, restaurants, nursing homes), falsifying packaging (e.g., through tampering or simulation) during distribution or prior to purchase of a final food product can occur [15]. Dilution of the product with water, mixing it with cheaper raw materials, or using illicit additives and chemical agents to improve sensory properties can occur at any point in the food supply chain. Food products may contain residues of pesticides and antibiotics, exceeding MRL levels at any part of the production or at any stage of the food chain (from farm to fork).

The widespread and fragmented food supply chain of today is increasingly vulnerable to fraud, which can occur anytime and in every part of food supply chain [16]. Since food production ingredients nowadays come from all over the world, food fraud could happen in one country if fraudulent ingredients were added in another country. Food ingredients can be adulterated at any stage of the food chain, whether they are the basic ingredient or merely raw material. They can occur during cultivation, harvest, slaughter, processing, storage, or transportation. Therefore, to prevent malicious food contamination, criminal and UFM, food protection principles should be considered in every part of the supply chain or processing [17].

The answer to preventing food fraud with ingredients required for the food ’s production is in quality management (QM) that contains food defence systems (FSCC 22000, BRC Food Standard 8, PAS 96, IFS Food Version 6.1, SQF Quality Code) in FBO facilities, as well as food defence certification on packaging or during the determination of traceability. Food safety guidance has also been issued by the FDA to all food manufacturers, food processors, and transporters, importers, bottlers, grocery stores, and restaurants, as well as dairy and cosmetic processors and transporters [18].

The mitigation strategy is a practice that FBOs must implement with the goal of significantly reducing or eliminating the critical control points previously identified in the vulnerability assessment. It can be implemented throughout the food production process, farming and livestock, through food processing, distribution, storage, and retail. The general and focused mitigation strategy protects against unwanted criminal food manipulation or intentional food contamination. There is software available for developing a mitigation strategy for consequences of an attack on the food supply chain, which was also developed by the FDA.

4. Response to Food Accidents and Difficulties in Controlling Fraud

The response plan should contain contact information (the police, the state inspectorate, ministry of agriculture, ministry for health) in case of a fraudulent incident or intentional contamination in the food supply chain.

The left part of the picture shows some of the most important steps within which every FBO should internally ensure high-quality traceability, to later facilitate official supervisors’ insight into the business, from raw material procurement to the marketing of the finished product. The left picture reveals a complex institutional structure that needs to provide effective support as well as inspection of FBOs and food in warehouses and retail. It is evident that the key to preventing food fraud in the market is good cooperation and well-coordinated activities between all official institutions that need to communicate frequently and effectively. It is necessary to employ state-of-the-art analytical techniques to ensure adequate completion of official controls, as well as adequate sampling that must be representative and sufficiently frequent. Considering that it is most important that there is no food on the market that could endanger the health of consumers, methods for the presence of food contaminants should be implemented: for example, hidden pharmacological substances, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The food quality parameters related to each food category, on the other side, should detect deceptions that are not dangerous to the health of the consumer but that diminish its nutritional value (e.g., by replacing olive oil with cheaper substitutions by adding chlorophyll, adding water or apple juice to red berry juices, sugar syrups to honey, etc.). In order to successfully detect these food frauds, official laboratories need to have data from the sampling site, but more than that, modern analytical techniques, applicable for food fraud detection. Unfortunately, many of them are very expensive and require special knowledge and education, while some require the creation of their own databases, which is a very time consuming and expensive process (e.g., isotope ratio mass spectrometry; IRMS).

State institutions should have procedures for food emergency cases. For instance, Article 19 within the EU General Food Law (Reg (EC) 178/2002) [1] listed all responsibilities for FBOs, and when food should be withdrawn from the market. Some of the most important highlights are set in several bullet-points, such as:

“1. If a FBO considers or has reason to believe that a food which it has imported, produced, processed, manufactured or distributed is not in compliance with the food safety requirements, it shall immediately initiate procedures to withdraw the food in question from the market where the food has left the immediate control of that initial food business operator and inform the competent authorities thereof. Where the product may have reached the consumer, the operator shall effectively and accurately inform the consumers of the reason for its withdrawal, and if necessary, recall from consumers products already supplied to them when other measures are not sufficient to achieve a high level of health protection.

2. FBOs responsible for retail or distribution activities which do not affect the packaging, labelling, safety or integrity of the food shall, within the limits of its respective activities, initiate procedures to withdraw from the market products not in compliance with the food-safety requirements and shall participate in contributing to the safety of the food by passing on relevant information necessary to trace a food, cooperating in the action taken by producers, processors, manufacturers and/or the competent authorities.

3. The FBO shall immediately inform the competent authorities if it considers or has reason to believe that a food which it has placed on the market may be injurious to human health. Operators shall inform the competent authorities of the action taken to prevent risks to the final consumer and shall not prevent or discourage any person from cooperating, in accordance with national law and legal practice, with the competent authorities, where this may prevent, reduce or eliminate a risk arising from a food.

4. The FBO shall collaborate with the competent authorities on action taken to avoid or reduce risks posed by a food which they supply or have supplied (Reg (EC) 178/2002).”

After the incident, FBOs should restart food manufacturing and gain consumers’ confidence that their products are not adulterated, which is a very demanding process, but still possible with time. The question is whether this will be profitable after economic losses and possible human casualties (major poisonings). Therefore, the food system recoverability (time for system recovery) could be scored in the food defence plan evaluation in this criteria: > 1 year, 9–10; 6 months to 1 year, 7–8; 3–6 months, 5–6; 1–3 months, 3–4; <1 month, 1–2 [19].


  1. EC Regulation No 2002/178/EC. The General Principles and Requirements of Food Law, Establishing the European Food Safety Authority and Laying Down Procedures in Matters of Food Safety. Available online: (accessed on 14 February 2021).
  2. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety and Food Defense—Information for In-Commerce Firms. May 2014 USDA. Available online: (accessed on 14 February 2021).
  3. Manning, L.; Soon, J.M. Food safety, food fraud, and food defense: A fast evolving literature. J. Food Sci. 2016, 81, R823–R834.
  4. Jurica, K. Food Terror and Food Defence; Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia, Police Academy: Zagreb, Croatia, 2021.
  5. Spink, J.; Bedard, B.; Keogh, J.; Moyer, D.C.; Scimeca, J.; Vasan, A. International survey of food fraud and related terminology: Preliminary results and discussion. J. Food Sci. 2019, 84, 2705–2718.
  6. Robson, K.; Dean, M.; Haughey, S.; Elliott, C. A comprehensive review of food fraud terminologies and food fraud mitigation guides. Food Control 2021, 120, 107516.
  7. Everstine, K.; Spink, J.; Kennedy, S. Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) of food: Common characteristics of EMA incidents. J. Food Prot. 2013, 76, 723–735.
  8. OG Kazneni Zakon . Official Gazette 56/2013. 2013. Available online: (accessed on 22 October 2021).
  9. Gvozdanović, K.; Margeta, P.; Margeta, V. Application of analytical methods for food authentification. Stočarstvo 2017, 71, 29–38.
  10. Gossner, C.M.E.; Schlundt, J.; Embarek Ben, P.; Hird, S.; Lo-Fo-Wong, D.; Beltran, J.J.O.; Teoh, K.N.; Tritscher, A. The melamine incident: Implications for international food and feed safety. Environ. Health Perspect. 2009, 117, 1803–1808.
  11. Callao, M.P.; Ruisánchez, I. An overview of multivariate qualitative methods for food fraud detection. Food Control 2018, 86, 283–293.
  12. Sandberg, M.; Lundberg, L.; Ferm, M.; Malmheden Yman, I. Real Time PCR for the detection and discrimination of cereal contamination in gluten free foods. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 2003, 217, 344–349.
  13. Dahinden, I.; Von Büren, M.; Lüthy, J. A quantitative competitive PCR system to detect contamination of wheat, barley or rye in gluten-free food for coeliac patients. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 2001, 212, 228–233.
  14. Moon, J.C.; Kim, J.H.; Jang, C.S. Development of multiplex PCR for species-specific identification of the Poaceae family based on chloroplast gene, rpoC2. Appl. Biol. Chem. 2016, 59, 201–207.
  15. Jurica, K. Food Fraud and Food Defence, 1st ed.; Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia, Police Academy: Zagreb, Croatia, 2021.
  16. Wang, C.S.; van Fleet, D.D.; Mishra, A.K. Food integrity: A market-based solution. Br. Food J. 2017, 119, 7–19.
  17. Puhač Bogadi, N.; Banović, M.; Babić, I. Food defence system in food industry: Perspective of the EU countries. J. Fur Verbrauch. Und Leb. 2016, 11, 217–226.
  18. FDA Food Defense. Available online: (accessed on 14 February 2021).
  19. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Carver+Shock Software. Available online: (accessed on 14 February 2021).
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