Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) of Food: Common Characteristics of EMA Incidents

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Abstract:

Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) of food, also known as food fraud, is the intentional adulteration of food for financial advantage. A common form of EMA, undeclared substitution with alternative ingredients, is usually a health concern because of allergen labeling requirements. As demonstrated by the nearly 300,000 illnesses in China from melamine adulteration of infant formula, EMA also has the potential to result in serious public health consequences. Furthermore, EMA incidents reveal gaps in quality assurance testing methodologies that could be exploited for intentional harm. In contrast to foodborne disease outbreaks, EMA incidents present a particular challenge to the food industry and regulators because they are deliberate acts that are intended to evade detection. Large-scale EMA incidents have been described in the scientific literature, but smaller incidents have been documented only in media sources. We reviewed journal articles and media reports of EMA since 1980. We identified 137 unique incidents in 11 food categories: fish and seafood (24 incidents), dairy products (15), fruit juices (12), oils and fats (12), grain products (11), honey and other natural sweeteners (10), spices and extracts (8), wine and other alcoholic beverages (7), infant formula (5), plant-based proteins (5), and other food products (28). We identified common characteristics among the incidents that may help us better evaluate and reduce the risk of EMA. These characteristics reflect the ways in which existing regulatory systems or testing methodologies were inadequate for detecting EMA and how novel detection methods and other deterrence strategies can be deployed. Prevention and detection of EMA cannot depend on traditional food safety strategies. Comprehensive food protection, as outlined by the Food Safety Modernization Act, will require innovative methods for detecting EMA and for targeting crucial resources toward the riskiest food products.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-12-399

Affiliations: 1: National Center for Food Protection and Defense, University of Minnesota, 120 LES Building, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA. ever0152@umn.edu 2: Michigan State University, 655 Auditorium Drive, 436 Baker Hall, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA 3: National Center for Food Protection and Defense, University of Minnesota, 120 LES Building, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2013

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    First published in 1937, the Journal of Food Protection®, is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection® is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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