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18 January 2019
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FSA nut substitution probe should shock us all

6 March 2015  

News that the Food Standards Agency is investigating the use of undeclared almonds and peanuts as a substitute for cumin should put an organisation’s total knowledge of its supply chain – from end to end – firmly in the spotlight. Diana Spellman, managing director of Partners in Purchasing Ltd, comments.


Recent news that nut proteins have been used as a cumin and paprika substitute is, while possibly less emotive on a mass scale, even more shocking than the horsemeat scandal as, this time, the problems in the food chain are potentially deadly. For everyone in the food industry the health of our customers must be the absolute top priority and, as these spices are found in many foods as a flavour enhancer, we welcome the fact that the FSA is probing the UK supply chain to protect consumers.


For a food service manufacturer, wholesaler, operator, or chef it is extremely difficult to carry out a visual check for the presence of undeclared nut proteins, as the floury substance can be made to appear as authentic as certain spices through roasting, treating or dyeing. So, if the product is mislabelled throughout the food production process, it is almost undetectable until it comes into contact with an allergy suffer, when it can have devastating effects.


Food fraud is a serious, and potentially fatal crime that is symptomatic of much larger issues. As food production struggles to keep up with the growing world population, today’s supply networks become longer and more complex, and the power of concentrated buying groups and retailers forces a downward pressure on prices, we need to look at finding effective solutions to the ever more prevalent global problem of food fraud.


Consumer education is also vital because unless consumer demand stops driving demand for lower prices, this leaves the food industry vulnerable to the next food industry scam. For example, in the US there is currently a focus on economic deception in the sale of seafood, when a less expensive species such as halibut is substituted for a more expensive species such as sea bass.


Knowing the supply chain end to end is the single most important recommendation.

The current responsibility for each participant within the supply chain to check their immediate supplier in a one-step-back approach, verifying compliance to food safety within the food chain, to meet our ‘due diligence’ responsibilities is not sufficiently far reaching. This is clearly falling short as a thorough approach within the audit system to prevent food fraud.


Now it is the time for the industry to take a two-steps-back approach to audit. This is the only way that each subsequent link in the due diligence chain can provide sufficient comfort to ensure that their food and ingredients have been satisfactorily scrutinised, and to ensure that everyone is meeting their legal responsibilities. In a shunt process, if everyone, from the wholesaler to the auditing agency, demonstrates their credentials by scrutinising traceability at least two steps back in the food supply chain, this will increase accountability and significantly reduce risk.