Technology to mitigate fraud in complex supply chain

The horsemeat scandal branded ‘horsegate’, saw millions of beef burgers, ready meals and packs of mince withdrawn from supermarket shelves in 2013 when it was revealed they contained undeclared horsemeat. According to experts and many peer reviewed publications, the seafood industry could be even more susceptible to this kind of fraud than other sectors. New technology could hold a solution.

With the mislabelling of fish estimated to be as high as 60% within the industry food service sector in some parts of Europe, it is an issue with concerning consequences. Barry McCrea, Business Development Manager at AB Sustain, a consultancy specialising in sustainable supply chain solutions, has a solution against fraud in the seafood industry.

Think.Fish Scan head rapidly testing fish fillets for species and proximate analysis


Defra reviews integrity of food supply networks

The issue has come to a head with the commissioning of an official UK report investigating integrity and assurance of food supply networks, which includes fish, as well as meat products. The report resulting from ‘horsegate’ in the UK was released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in September 2014, and recommends inter alia that industry conducts sampling, testing and supervision of food supplies at all stages of the food supply chain. “There are significant implications for seafood processors, who are likely to have to become more accountable,” comments Barry Mcrea.

Young’s Seafood Ltd is the leading seafood processor in the UK. They use more than thirty species, sourced from five continents and prepare over 300 million seafood meals for the UK consumer each year. Young’s have contributed to the Defra report, citing seven types of food fraud occurring in the seafood industry. Mike Mitchell, Young’s Technical Director, explains that species substitution, species adulteration and ‘extension of product’ through additives and water retention, have been identified as the most common types of fraud. “Cod and haddock are prime value commercial species and both are expensive when compared with other species such as whiting, coley, or pangasius. It is tempting for suppliers to mislabel less popular and lower priced fish in order to pass them off as more expensive and desirable ones,” elaborates Mike Mitchell. Recognising the importance of supressing the risk in its supply chain, Young’s have adopted new technology in order to further protect the consumer, building on its previous testing regime. “It’s important to recognise that ‘horsegate’ occurred, even though food production operations were being heavily audited,” he says. “Technology which provides proof of integrity is imperative, because relying on paper based traceability systems has clearly failed the industry in the past.”
Seafood more susceptible to fraud than meat

Mike Mitchell outlines that the company’s investment in AB Sustain’s ‘Think.Fish’, a species and proximate analysis tool, which uses Near Infrared Reflectance to accurately identify content of incoming raw materials is their response to the mis-labelling issue. In a multiple species sector, Young’s are clear that there are greater opportunities for deliberate species substitution fraud in the seafood industry than in any other type of protein based food manufacturer. “Once you remove the visual indicators such as the head and the skin, even experts are unable to tell the difference between some fish species such as Atlantic cod Gadus morhua and Pacific cod Gadus macrocephalus for instance,” says Mike Mitchell. He adds that white fish species are often organoleptically and morphologically similar, making substitution easy. There are only so many things you can substitute for red meat, in the fish industry there is more scope for adulteration.
Whilst it may not be considered to be a risk to health, the consumer has a right to integrity. Young’s Seafood have it high on the agenda. “It’s a fundamental principal of a responsible supply chain; that the product being packed and supplied to the consumer is faithful to the description on the pack,” says Mike Mitchell. “NIR technology has been in use at Young’s for 20 years, it’s a rapid method and enables testing at the point of analysis when the fish arrives. Think.Fish uses this technology and has applied a species identifier aspect to it.” Barry McCrea explains that the Think.Fish technology gives an extremely quick indication that the fish being supplied is what it says it is. “ can test 100% of raw material supplies and can be used on the factory floor, it is non-destructive and produces results within seconds, without having to select random samples and wait as long as a month for lab testing data.”

A fish block will remain intact while the scanner analyses the contents.


Huge improvement in testing efficiency

Mike Mitchell is clear that Young’s Seafood’s investment in Think.Fish also saves the company time and money in the long run. “We tested around 1,500 samples a year to determine authenticity before launching Think.Fish. Now Young’s are accurately and promptly testing a thousand samples a month. “It will save us money, because we are using less laboratory time, yet it’s possible to do ten times the testing,” says Mike Mitchell.

The publication of Defra’s food integrity report is likely to influence the industry vastly, with traceability and transparency being core aspects. Barry McCrea concludes that safeguarding the supply chain from fraud is vital to protect the industry’s reputation. “Technology within the supply chain plays an important role and where more fish materials can be tested at a cheaper overall cost this will provide not only robust assurance, but will also act as a key deterrent for those tempted to commit fraud in the first place.”

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