Media-monitoring service finds food fraud trends

Researchers in the Netherlands and the UK have found that an early warning system for food fraud, based on monitoring of media outlets from around the world, is an effective tool.

The food fraud system – called MedISys-FF – reveals trends that may help food authorities and industry focus their control and enforcement activities, but may also pick up emerging threats before they become widespread, according to the researchers.

For example, the system predicted a link between COVID-19 and illicit alcohol that seemed to stem from misleading publications in social media that alcohol may prevent/or cure coronavirus infections.

In 2020, methanol-adulterated alcohol was consumed leading to almost 300 people dying in Iran, which has been attributed to the misleading messages.

Other early warning systems exist, including iRASFF, EMA, HorizonScan, and AAC-FF databases, but currently only MedISys-FF is publicly online available, according to the researchers.

Between 2015 and 2020, the system collected 4,375 articles on food fraud incidents from 164 countries in 41 different languages. Analysis of the content showed that meat product fraud was most frequently reported, followed by dairy, cereal/bakery and fish.

Expiration date-related fraud was the most common type of activity, followed by tampering and mislabelling of the country of origin.

"These findings demonstrate that MedISys-FF can be useful for regulators and the food industry to detect trends and potentially food fraud incidents occurring anywhere in the world and thereby may supports timely measures to articulate, analyse and amplify communication around food fraud incidents," conclude the researchers.

The study is published in the journal Food Control.

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