Preventing Food Fraud: How an Electronic Lab Notebook Can Help the Food and Beverage Industry

ELN, Food and Beverage

electronic lab notebook
Food fraud is the act of defrauding buyers of food for economic gain and is more common that people realize. Using electronic lab notebooks, as well as carefully devised testing standards, can decrease the number of instances.
Image Source: Flickr user Czarina Alegre

A popular saying proclaims, “You are what you eat,” but what if the food consumers choose to eat does not define them? Perhaps this question elicits a shrug; however, one should consider an alternative inquiry: what if the food consumers choose to eat could instead poison, harm or cause death to these individuals? And what if this was done intentionally? According to a Congressional Research Service report, food fraud is “the act of defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for economic gain — whether they be consumers or food manufacturers, retailers and importers,” and as stated in the report, this problem has “vexed” the food and beverage industry throughout its history.

Unfortunately, this problem extends beyond frustration. At best, food fraud deprives food buyers of the product they have chosen to purchase such as what occurs when caviar is substituted by a lower quality, less expensive alternative not from the Acipenseridae fish family. At worst, fraudulent foods could ignite a food safety crisis, thus leading to chronic health complications or even death in those who ingest tainted foods or beverages.

One should note that such food crises are not imagined events. One fraudulent company working in England created nearly perfect counterfeit labels and duty stamps for vodka bottles to be sold in corner shops around Britain. What were the actual contents? Vodka was a component, but bleach was also used to lighten its color and high-enough levels of methanol to cause blindness. In another case, British authorities noticed that engine oil was substituted for olive oil. In China, six infants died and 30,000 were sickened before authorities noticed baby formula was laced with melamine. In the U.S., a survey of 1,215 fresh-caught fish samples showed that 33 percent were mislabeled, while 84 percent of samples labeled as tuna were in fact escolar, a fish that can cause digestive problems in certain individuals.

Protect your company using a two-pronged approach: testing results maintained in an electronic lab notebook

Food fraud can affect a company at different stages of food product development; however, even one event could severely damage the reputation of an organization. In order to protect consumers and themselves, food and beverage companies should implement a “two-pronged” approach in an effort to protect their food supply by using vigorous testing standards, the results of which are recorded in a company’s electronic lab notebook system.

The importance of testing

In a New York Times article, reporter Karen Stabiner writes about Mansour Samadour who “makes his way through the supermarket like a detective working a crime scene, slow, watchful, up one aisle and down the next.” As chief executive for IEH Laboratories, Samadour is responsible for testing food items for a variety of companies, including Costco. As Stabiner states, “Suppliers, manufactures and markets depend on Mr. Samadpour’s network of labs to test food for inadvertent contamination and deliberate fraud, or to verify if a product is organic or free of genetically modified organisms. Consumers, the last link in the chain, bet their very health on responsible practices along the way.” Food-borne illnesses result in an annual cost of $14.1 billion to $16.3 billion, and thus the federal government has shifted away from reacting to unfortunate events toward understanding how to prevent such events.

Testing goes hand-in-hand with the use of an electronic lab notebook

As food items come across national borders, from countries with varying safety practices, it is essential that food and beverage companies employ their own form of testing using lab analysis techniques such as spectrophotometry. DNA analysis and sequencing is another increasingly inexpensive way of verifying the integrity of food items or to determine if food is contaminated. Using an electronic lab notebook, this information can be carefully recorded in order to track materials as they come into the laboratory for analysis and to identify certain trends (i.e. does a certain supplier tend to always have contaminated items). The use of an electronic lab notebook with comprehensive testing technology for determining the quality and identity of food items will go a long way toward quickly recognizing food fraud and ensuring the safety of food items.

Purchase your company’s electronic lab notebook today

If you choose to begin testing food items, the next decision to consider concerns the type of electronic lab notebook to purchase to support of your company’s efforts. The BIOVIA Notebook can be tailored for your company’s needs and creates a highly efficient and integrated digital environment that will manage the flow of testing information, assign tasks to lab personnel and improve personal productivity and collaboration throughout a company, all while protecting your food supply chain and resulting products. To determine more ways the BIOVIA Notebook can support the food and beverage industry, please contact us today to speak with a representative.

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