Have you ever wondered what took place over the last twelve months here at My Food Trust?
Me too, that is why I always love to look back, and stop, think, and consider all the different thoughts, experiences, goals, and milestones, we have reached over the past year. What has been happening? Why is there a need for something like this site? What have been the trend(s)? And are people reading my posts? (Spoiler: yes, you are, and all the stats and numbers are in the end of the post)
It started as thought in 2016, then became part of my online portfolio site in 2017, to get a formel name and dedicated site, My Food Trust, in 2018. It might not be the fastest growing site out there, but I love write, interview and gather information of whats happening across the globe, to assist in greater transparency and traceability of the food we eat.
Because people care. They are concerned of what we eat, and how it has come to the plate on the table. It is not that long ago that we just wanted food in our fridge, to then more sustainable sourced food, where we now want to know as much as possible. And the food industry knows it, but the change is happening at a very slow speed.
Foodtech is trending
To get the industry to speed up, we saw rise in technology driven transparency and traceability. Particularly blockchain technology. This technology is getting the whole food industry amazed by the potentials that lies with its application. So now that the industry has opened their eyes, I look forward to a 2019 where its less talk, more implementation and real life applications thats shows improved transparency and traceability.
I could go on about Vertical Farming, NIR (Near Infrared) technology, RFID, Artificial Intelligence, etc. So 2019 is looking promising, if we can get, both new and old technologies to help farmes, production facilities, retailers, make their food supply chain even more transparent.
Why My Food Trust?
There is a urgent need for transparency. Food transparency. Almost everyday there is a incident with the food we eat, from mislabeling, fraud, adulteration, substitution, theft, false marketing, illness from food and the list goes on. This needs to change! My Food Trust will bring the stories about food fraud, new developments in tech and testing, interviews with experts, advocates for transparency and the shakers and movers on creating better transparency and traceability.
As modern consumers’, we focus on health, organic, wellness, personal nutrition, etc. Hopefully, and very soon, adopting food transparency strategies will no longer be optional. Retailers who can use in-depth data to gather new insights to foster more innovation in this area will be able to better leverage this emerging opportunity and evolve their business around transparency.
I see My Food Trust as the missing piece in a vast and complex puzzle. Highlighting and making people aware of why we always need to be critical about the food we buy. And if we don´t have the critical voice, in the back of our head, we might forget it, because we have other stuff on our minds. So My Food Trust helps to keep you reminded on the food fraud that is happening around the world, so you don´t just buy your food from looking at a pretty label.
I feel that people care about their food, and therefore should be as informed as possible, and thats why I stick with the mantra for My Food Trust – to create greater food transparency, by telling the stories of fraud and those advocating for more transparency.
I’d like to thank all the readers and followers for being a part of this small (for now) community. I am extremely grateful, and honored, that you spend your precious time on reading and commenting on the stuff I post. Thank You!
So before all the stats and numbers, I would like to hear from you. What did you particularly enjoy on My Food Trust over the past year? What would you like to see more of in 2019? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through LinkedIn or Twitter.
Happy New Year, hope 2019 will be a great one!
For all of you interested in data and numbers (incl myself), lets have a look at the stats.
There where 2.000+ unique pageviews for all of 2018
Among all the posts, the average read time was 2.45 minutes. So you are reading what we are posting, thank you!
The Australian strawberry industry has been hit by ‘sabotage’ this year: recent weeks consumers have over a 100 times found large needles stuck into the berries. To ensure the confidence in Australian berries, the producers have therefore begun to control strawberries for export with X-ray. X-ray inspection of food
is an old and well-established technology, but today you have to develop unique solutions for each product to be able to test for different errors. For example, one solution is used to find out if a potato is hollow, while an other solution is used to find out if cold cuts are contaminated with metal shavings. Therefore, X-ray inspection today is preferably used on expensive products with known types of errors – or to sabotaged strawberries.
But people behind a new Danish project, are working on a solution, where food will be able to be scanned with cheaper all-round inspection machines in the future. The Danish project will develop a new dynamic X-ray technology that can continuously vary the X-ray energy of the device and choose the right camera technology. By adding artificial intelligence, the goal is to eliminate the need to develop unique software solutions for each product, and instead enable the system to automatically distinguish good products from contaminated.
The system chooses by itself!
“We develop artificial intelligence algorithms that can choose the optimum x-ray power and right camera with the right resolution. This means that we can control many different types of food without changing the inspection system”, says Brian Vinter, professor at Niels Bohr Institutet. Aarhus-based Magnatek is responsible for the development of a new type X-ray source, while QTechnology from Copenhagen is developing cameras for the project. Newtec Engineering in Odense is responsible for system integration, and Niels Bohr Institute is heading the software development. The Danish Technological Institute will validate the final solution, and the project has a total budget of 17 million DKK. “One of the big challenges is to get X-ray sources and cameras to communicate with our algorithm at very high speeds. For example, we work on detecting hollow potatoes, which needs to inspect 22 tonnes per hour. Our plan is to try to make a hardware solution, so image recognition takes place directly in FPGA chips, so we do not have to have a large server standing between production lines, “says Brian Vinter. When an X-ray inspection system can handle many types of food, the price will also be lower. Therefore, Brian Winter hopes that on the long-term, inspection systems like this also can find their way to supermarkets, to make extra quality checks before the goods arrive on the shelves.
Tiger shrimps in Danish supermarkets is produced under outrageous conditions in Vietnam. 17 hour shifts at the assembly line and chlorine gas leaves workers with chronic, physical disorders. Supermarkets claim they did not know about the conditions.
37-year-old Ngoc Anh is working 83 hours a week on average, pealing shrimp at a Vietnamese shrimp factory. She has chronic sinusitis due to vapors from the chlorine at the factory and her body aches from dragging heavy boxes of shrimps that are sold to Danish consumers in supermarkets such as Rema 1000, Føtex and Netto.
Shrimp workers suffer from chronic sinusitis due to the hard assembly line work, they are sent home for days of fatigue and dehydration, and every month employees faint at the factories. These are the workers who help to secure Vietnam’s booming industry of tiger shrimps.
Overuse of antibiotics on shrimp farms
Over the past twenty years, global demand for tiger shrimps has led to an intensified shrimp production in Vietnam and this has led to diseases in the dams. This is why antibiotics have been mass-fed to healthy as well as shrimp with diseases.
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration found antibiotic residues in 3 out of 13 packs – more specifically in Coop’s Kæmperejer, Planets Pride Vannamei Shrimp (sold in Meny) and Crown Seafood’s Ocean Delight (sold in Nemlig.com).
All samples were below The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s limit values, and the governing body therefore sees no need to follow up.
Antibiotic residues constitutes a problem
Still, every finding of antibiotic residues in food is problematic, says Hans Jørn Kolmos, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at The University of Southern Denmark.
“This could lead to increasing treatment difficulties. The more resistance, the more difficult the infections are to treat, the more people die from it. That’s the very elementary calculation”, he says.
Niels Frimodt-Møller, professor, MD in Clinical Microbiology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, also estimates that overuse of antibiotics can have global consequences:
“Resistance is spreading in southern Europe, Africa and Asia and it is happening with a greater speed than new antibiotics is being produced. Especially in India, China and Africa there has been bad examples. This all boils down to not controlling the use of antibiotics, “says Niels Frimodt-Møller.
Supermarkets will scrutinize the problems
2.500 tonnes of shrimps was last year imported to Denmark. Of this, about 50 tonnes of prawns ended in Coops stores and 70 tonnes of prawns in Rema 1000 stores.
Danwatch has presented the findings of poor working conditions and overuse of antibiotics to supermarkets and importers. They all say they did not know about the problems before Danwatch contacted them. This even though they all have control mechanisms in place to prevent it from taking place.
Kasper Reggelsen, Media Relations Manager, Salling Group, writes in an email:
“What is being presented here does not match our Code of Conduct, and we have already started a dialogue with our supplier to ask for an explanation.”
Similarly, Kristian Lauge Jørgensen, Director of the shrimp importer Company Lauge Seafood Selection writes in a reply to Danwatch:
“In collaboration with the producer, we will follow up on the conditions you refer to, regarding the social conditions of the companies you have visited. It is important to ensure that employees have organized working conditions that complies with applicable rules in the area”.
Here at My Food Trust, we are always excited to talk to great people, especially when it comes to food safety systems (ISO 22000:2018). So if you also are interested or just want to know more, Nuno Soares is your go-to guy, as he has just published an e-book about ISO 22000:2018. Lets get started!
Can you start with telling us a little about yourself?
I am Nuno Soares, I am a food product engineer. I graduated back in 1999, so I have many years of experience in the food industry, every since my first day back in 1999, developing frozen croissants. In the beginning of my career, I came across HACCP in my first job at a factory, and also implementing that system and ISO, so i have been a part of food safety systems since the start of my career. And I have worked with food safety systems ever since.
Along working in the industry, I did a Master in Business Administration, because it is important to understand the business side, and that goes for every food safety professional. You must not be closed minded in your thinking, but know how food safety impacts the business side. Soon after this, I started on my PhD, because I knew the importance of research and also to have a different impact in the food industry. During my PhD, I worked on a solution to substitute a glace, that is used in frozen fish to protect it during frozen storage, to increase shelf life and food safety. So since the beginning of my career I have worked with HACCP and ISO 22000, done audits and inspections, so food safety has been a huge part of my professional and personal interest.
What are your current work in relation to food safety systems?
I am at the moment, a food safety professional, working in the frozen fish industry. On a daily basis, I guarantee food safety of the products. But since I started on my PhD, It has really started my passion to share my knowledge, both my professional work and what I study.
I came to realise my main purpose is to share knowledge broadly, and to help fellow food safety professionals, and that is what I want to do the next coming years. I learned from other great professionals the last 20 years, to develop my skills. Now I want to learn from all the young people that are out there, that are in their beginning or starting their studies.
Everything I do, should revolve around sharing knowledge, so that is what I do, when I go to work, and when I publish my studies.
What is “ISO 22000:2018”, and why is it important?
ISO 22000:2018 is a food safety management system, first published in 2005. Why it is important, firstly, is not owned and backed by retailers and since the beginning was designed to be applied in any step of the food chain.Which is both a strength and a weakness, by not being associated with any retailers, for instance, ISO is a system that can be perceived are less conditioned by the market. To be applied anywhere in the food chain makes it less specific (e.g. prerequisites) and therefore more challenging during audits.
But, due to the other food safety systems (e.g. BRC) being associated with retailers, the goal is to make sure that companies live up to a global recognised food safety standard.
Building on that, from your knowledge, how can ISO 22000:2018 and food safety systems help create greater traceability and transparency of food products?
ISO is doing, and will create improved traceability and transparency of food products. Not only ISO, but also the other food safety systems because these systems demand organisations to have implemented traceability procedures and test of products.. ISO is becoming more and more strict on the traceability aspect, knowing the traceability but also in a “timely manner”. This question of timely manner, we can not avoid talking about the possibility of blockchain, because it is a hot topic. Many foresee blockchain to have a big impact on food safety traceability, I also agree, but let’s test and try to use it, to see if we can get to the root cause or the origin of the problem in a timely manner.
The new update also helps on the aspect of transparency, because companies need to look into their context, risks that are associated with their business, so not only food safety. E.g. food fraud, companies should look into the possibility of food fraud, to know what kind of food fraud is common in their industry, and how they can mitigate and control those risks. This is new in ISO 22000:2018 and was not addressed in the older version.
Also Food Defense may be addressed now inside the organization context, since companies must be aware of potential malicious ways to tamper with their products, that might introduce a foodborne illness to the consumers. So now companies can look to ISO, to introduce more focus on food fraud and food defense
If someone was interested to learn more, where could they read more on this topic?
They are more than welcome to read my ebook, of course. You can find a lot of information on social media, but first go to the source. Of course you can read blogs, and people that are talking about food safety, but the best way to know how you can implement it in your business, is first of all going to the food safety systems official pages and resources.
Here are my answers to questions posed over the past few months online and in industry and regulator dialogue. As some of my points can be successfully argued from different angles, this is intended to create the dialogue and not limit it. Your comments and perspectives are valuable and I look forward to this discussion.
Question 1 : Do I need a Blockchain for effective Food Recall?
No. In a closed supply chain with limited exchange partners you don’t need a blockchain to execute a rapid recall of an unsafe product. Any GS1-standards based technology platform can be used to rapidly trace (backward) and track (forward) a consumer packaged product if the product has a data carrier (barcode) and/or batch/lot # attached. Check out the GS1 global office website or your country GS1 organization as they have a traceability and product recall standard and guidelines on how to execute recall effectively.
In the USA, industry standards body GS1 has partnered with GMA and FMI and has a nationwide, cloud-based Rapid Recall Express platform in operation for almost 10 years. There are similar industry-driven, national recall platforms in place in Canada, Australia and New Zealand which align to regulations and helps protect consumers and reduces industry risks. GS1 South Korea has a ‘stop-sale’ process in place with multiple government regulators for about 10 years. If any of the regulators determine a product is unsafe, the regulator sends a GS1-centric message to the retailers HQ. Within 30 minutes of receiving the regulators alert, all points of sale (cash registers) in the country are blocked and the ‘stop-sale’ process is enacted. I have seen this in action and it’s amazing. The stop-sale process is quickly followed by the formal recall process. This globally unique process reduces the risk of consumer harm and helps to protect the brand at the same time.
Blockchain is helpful for a recall use case when you have multiple exchange partners across multiple countries and using disparate technologies (see Q2). The opensource and purpose-built blockchain data protocol from OriginTrail is very useful in this scenario because it enables GS1-standards based interoperability between multiple blockchains and legacy. As the below slide from OriginTrail indicates, today we have many data silos and interoperability is crucial to address both traceability, transparency and to execute a rapid recall. Origin Trail will be the first to advise that without first addressing data governance (accurate and standardized data) blockchain will not work as intended.
Disclaimer: I advise the Origin Trail board on industry standards, transparency and trust
Question 2: Are current food regulations driving the need for Blockchains?
Yes. Regulations are generally non-prescriptive and in the food chain they call for a “1-up/1-down” traceability. In complex, multi-party supply chains this is costly, time-consuming and can lead to (preventable) illness and death. In the Walmart Mango use case, it took almost 7 days to execute a mock recall based on 1-up/1-down approach and 2.2 seconds using their specific Blockchain configuration. Blockchain technology is helpful in complex, multi-country, multi-exchange party supply chains that already have good data governance and industry data standards (GS1) in place. A standards-based blockchain enables linkages to be made between the exchange parties and permits sharing of product master data, transactional data and event data – the unhindered flow and visibility of this data is what we call transparency.
I have adapted and use the following diagram to explain the success of the Walmart model in context of theoretical and practical applications of transparency and trust using technology. In this model, the below-the-line RMT indicates regulation mediated transparency. You will note that this is based on mistrust – so are strong contracts that buyers put in place with suppliers. The alternative is what Walmart achieved with voluntary trust-building with strategic transparency and identification based trust enabled by technology – what I call TMT or Technology Mediated Transparency.
Question 3: Can Blockchain guarantee Food Safety and Food Authenticity?
No. Blockchain is oversold as a guarantee of food safety, food authenticity and anti-counterfeit in general. The only legitimate and legal way to guarantee food safety and authenticity is through analytical testing of the product itself – we cannot track the outer package or container and claim the food is safe and authentic. On-pack security features (forensic, covert or overt) help in fraud detection but forensic evidence is required for successful conviction in food fraud cases.
Example 1. WINE bottle recycling
There is a known underground industry that trades in used wine bottles. A hotel or restaurant worker may be incentivized to collect and sell empty vintage wine bottles for hundreds of dollars each. They are re-filled and re-sold for thousands of $, often with fake security features. According to a 2017 Forbes article, an estimated 30,000 bottles of fake imported wine are sold in China every hour. Solution providers are making technology advances and offering security features that create obstacles on the bottle itself including tamper-evident features and fraud alerts for multiple scans of the serialized identifier. Despite the technology improvements and their utility, the only way to legally guarantee the wine is genuine is through forensic testing of the wine bottle contents against the reference samples taken from the harvested crop, or the final blended mix. The storage of reference samples by harvested batch may be a regulatory requirement in some regions.
Example 2. Commingling of fresh fruit and vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables may be commingled with products from multiple, geographically dispersed suppliers which increases the risks related to quality, safety, authenticity and provenance. For example, a product may claim to be organic but might have 50% non-organic mixed in to complete the order. The role of blockchain and other technologies in this scenario is limited because human behaviour is the variable. Risk reduction strategies will vary and depend on the context and culture. They can draw on combinations of 1) incentivized behaviour to reduce cheating 2) training on a food safety culture 3) effective food safety practices 4) farm and supply chain auditing 5) industry supply chain standards 6) technology solutions and 7) analytical science. The latter, analytical science being the most critical for evidence.
Question 4: Can Blockchain deliver a guarantee of Food Provenance?
No. This is confusing I know. Provenance refers to geographic source or origin and is determined by forensic science not software, GPS or hardware (see below traceability). Let me share a hypothetical example; lets say we have potatoes and carrots in Vietnam that go to market as ‘product of Vietnam’. In one possible scenario, bad actors could roll the veggies in dampened local dirt to enhance the illusion of being a local product. When the product is forensically tested, both the veggie species, and their carbon fingerprint proves they are indigenous to, and were grown in a particular region of China. This is food fraud and classified as an economically motivated adulteration where a cheaper product is sold as a more expensive premium local product. Blockchain, IoT, stickers/logos or barcodes on bundles of products will not solve this because human behaviour is the variable.
Analytical laboratories can address these issues as part of a regular audit of suppliers and supply chains. Similarly, forensic testing can determine if fish were wild caught or farmed. Companies doing exceptionally well at this today include Perth-based Source Certain and New Zealand-based Oritain, to name a few.
Question 5: What’s the difference between provenance, traceability and chain of custody?
Even the experts get these confused. Let me explain how I see it. Provenance is defined above as geographic source or origin and it is guaranteed only through the results of forensic testing of it’s carbon fingerprint. You will hear experts or software companies say they ‘track provenance’. In many cases what they really mean is classic supply chain traceability or in some cases, chain of custody. Classic traceability includes the source of the materials and is best interpreted as the ‘business or logistics source’. In my opinion, we should not call it tracking provenance as we are not necessarily tracking the true geographic source or origin per-se, we are tracking physical ‘movement’ from a business or logistics source through the supply chain. This draws an important distinction between classic product traceability and forensic product traceability of the geographic source or origin as defined by forensic testing of the products carbon fingerprint.
To help the discussion and align on terminology, see below definitions of food traceability extracted from Olsen and Borit (2013).
CODEX: Traceability is defined in the Codex Alimentarius Commission Procedural Manual (FAO/WHO, 1997) as “the ability to follow the movement of a food through specified stage(s) of production, processing and distribution ”.
ISO: Traceability defined in ISO 9000 and ISO 22005. ISO 9000 (ISO, 2000) as “The ability to trace the history, application or location of that which is under consideration”
The ISO 22005 (ISO, 2005 ) definition is word for word the same as the ISO 9000 definition, but ISO 9000 is a standard for quality management systems in general whereas ISO 22005 is a specific standard for traceability in the food and feed chain. ISO 22005 adds that “Terms such as document traceability, computer traceability, or commercial traceability should be avoided. ”
For all these ISO definitions (ISO 8402, ISO 9000, ISO 22005), there is an additional clause which states that when relating to products, traceability specifically entails “the origin of materials and parts, the processing history, and the distribution and location of the product after delivery”.
EU General Food Law (EU, 2002) defines traceability as “The ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food producing animal or substance intended to be, or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing and distribution ”.
The net-net, traceability includes the material origin. A brief note: within a supply chain, physical products are tracked-forward but traced-backwards and this bi-directional capability is generally referred to as traceability. The chart below is unpublished and from my academic research. It shows the nuances of information, product and assurance flows.
Chain of Custody (CoC)
CoC or cumulative tracking was an active discussion in pharmaceuticals in the early to mid 2000’s but seems to have lost some favour. CoC is critically and legally important in highly regulated sectors. For example in weapons, explosives, transport of bulk money, works of art etc. where exact time stamps of the product physical movement, locations and details of all transactions including the parties in physical custody must be tracked and registered. This is similar to a FedEx package delivery where very detailed information is available and signatures are required for acceptance from one party to another. This accumulation of data along the supply chain is sometimes referred to as similar to a ‘Russian doll’.
Example: Pharmaceuticals and Tobacco
Pharmaceuticals and tobacco are two sectors that are highly regulated to protect against many issues including illicit trade, counterfeit, human health and safety etc. What this means is that every dispensing unit of a drug and every pack of cigarettes must be globally and uniquely identified with a serial number and tracked at every stage in it’s supply chain (to the point of dispensing for drugs and to the last point before purchase for tobacco. Note, drugs are tracked to prescriptions and patients, tobacco is not tracked to smokers).
In the (old) chart below from GS1, CoC is represented by cumulative tracking in comparison to 1-up/1-down, centralized database control for closed networks and distributed databases; which we noted more than 15 years ago and is now similar to the current blockchain dialogue. The latest version of the various traceability models can be found in the GS1 Global Traceability Standard (2017).
Disclaimer: I was previously a senior vice president at GS1 Canada and Director of Product & Consumer Safety at GS1 Global office.
Food is regulated of course but not to the extent above that it requires serial number specificity (lot size 1). Generally, food is tracked by lot, batch or date code and a can of soda will have the same global trade item number (GTIN) as the same soda product next to it. The GTIN, while globally unique and aligned to the brand is not a serial number and is referred to as a product family or class code. With the increase in food fraud, there is now growing momentum to add a second data carrier to a food product with a serialized identifier and links to a product web page or product authentication tools. Note, date carrier is a ‘family name’ for all barcodes and RFID tags. Regulations may suggest the ‘data to be carried’ and the brand owner will then select the appropriate data carrier.
To visualize how a GTIN works in a food chain today, see the chart below from GS1 which can be found in the 2017 version of the Global Traceability Standard
On August 13th 2018, GS1 released a new standard called the GS1 Digital Linkstandard which will enable connections to all types of B2B and B2C information. This new standard is the foundational bridge between physical products and their digital twins.
That’s it for this post – your comments, feedback and opinions are highly valued and very important. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on topics related to transparency, trust, credence, anti-counterfeit, traceability, product recall, blockchain, provenance and many more.
About the Author:
John G. Keogh is a sought-after speaker, advisor and researcher. Operating at the intersection of the Public + Private sectors globally, he provides confidential advisory, research & interventions across policy, operations, strategy and technology.
John holds a PG Dip. and an MBA in General Mgmt. He has an MSc (distinction) in Business and Management Research into Supply Chain Transparency and Consumer Trust. He is currently a part-time, associate researcher at Henley Business School, undertaking doctoral (DBA) research into food chain transparency and consumer trust. John plans to publish an ebook “Food Chain Transparency – what executives need to know” in 2018.
39 year old Shen Yicheng, a former computer salesman, now a farmer that are growing food the ecological way, which is a rare thing among farmers around the outskirts of Shanghai. He produces products without pesticides. He wanted to be self-sufficient, but now friends and family want to buy his carrots and watermelons. The reason? Chinese food products are filled with toxic chemicals or otherwise harmful to their personel health.
Even though there is Chinese food products with eco labels, there is massive lack of confidence in that labelling due to several incidents with food fraud (and because the labels can easily be bought on Taobao). The list is long and horrifying: rats sold as lamb, cooking oil fished up from the sewage and poured in new bottles, poisoned milk powder, decades old so-called zombie meat and an almost impressive selection of fake products, including everything from eggs and rice to prawns. Scams, corruption and unscrupulous profit hunting are a major part of the problem.
In annual interviews with 5000 citizens from different cities, the concern of food safety is top one or two every year, the last ten years. They are terrified to get sick or die of what may be a part of their diet. Everybody knows that the food supply chain in China is a huge mess. This is one of the reasons why people eat at KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). Crazy as it may sound, people eat there because it’s healthy (and safe). People trust KFC, because of hygiene control and the chicken is not fake.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). It might not be a food product that you buy everyday, but when you buy it, it is quite expensive so you want to “the real deal”. But, far from every EVOO product on the shelf at the supermarket is actually a EVOO. Meaning, that some are of lesser quality (low-grade oils), not from the country of labelling (olives from greece, but the label says Italy) and so forth.
I used EVOO as an example in my thesis on how a new technology, blockchain, could reestablish trust, transparency and traceability in the supply chain of EVOO. And that is highly needed, especially if you (if your Danish), saw Kontant on DR last night, where they investigated Danish distributors and a Italian producer. So in relation to that, I have interviewed Tom Mueller, who has extensive knowledge about EVOO and the fraud that happens before the products are on the shelfs. So without further ado:
Can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Tom Mueller. I am a free-lance writer of non-fiction and fiction. I was educated at Oxford (DPhil, Rhodes Scholar), Harvard (BA, summa cum laude), and Alief Hastings High School in rural east Texas, home of the Fighting Bears. I’ve lived or worked in 48 countries.
My first book, Extra Virginity, is a New York Times best-selling account of olive oil culture, history, and crime. My articles have appeared in the New Yorker, National Geographic Magazine, New York Times Magazine and Atlantic Monthly.
What work have you done in relation to EVOO?
Truth about EVOO was born out of my love of great olive oil, and my concern about low-grade oils being passed off as “extra virgin” in the industry today, worldwide. As a freelance writer who for the last two decades has spent much time in and around the Mediterranean, while contributing to publications including the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, and New York Times Magazine, I felt I knew olive oil well. But it took an assignment for the New Yorker in 2007, “Slippery Business,” to make me understand the remarkable complexity of the olive oil trade, and the immense value of olive oil itself. Since then I’ve gone steadily deeper into oil; in 2012 I published Extra Virginity, a book that explores this great foodstuff from many angles – cultural, culinary, chemical, criminal – and introduces the artisan producers and age-old landscapes of fine olive oil.
Why does fraud happen along EVOO’s supply chain?
The fraudulent behavior comes from everywhere – from misrepresenting amounts of olives brought to the mill, to various games that are played in the milling process, to blending of higher-grade extra virgin olive oil with low-grade olive oil or with other cheaper vegetable oils, to mislabeling . . . The list is endless, as is the ingenuity of the fraudsters.
Why is it important for, us as a consumer, to have knowledge about this fraudulent behavior?
First, to ensure you are eating a healthy, tasty and genuine product, whose origin you know. Second, to make sure that honest producers get a fair price for their product – or find a market at all (they are often excluded by low-priced, fraudulent oils). Third, that you aren’t supporting fraudsters when you buy a bottle of oil.
From your knowledge, what can be done to increase traceability and transparency of EVOO products?
It is crucial to do on-site inspections and tests of mills, refineries and storage facilities, especially in ports. So many checks are on paperwork only, not chemical testing of oils. The chemical and sensory parameters of the extra virgin grade also have to be improved (tightened) – they are currently very loose. Labels should specify the exact geographic location where olives were grown and milled, and the exact name of the producers – too often the “brand” is simply a multinational that buys and blends other peoples’ oils.
Further on that note, do you think tech can help with increasing traceability and transparency of EVOO products? And how?
Steady scientific advances in infra-red, DNA and other testing of olive oil have appeared. These need to be incorporated, rapidly, into current legislation.
What are your tips and tricks to spot that the EVOO you buy, is in fact what it is?
That is very hard to state, because there are many factors that comes into play. But I have outlined some points below, and if you want more thorough tips and tricks go to my website here.
Olives are stone fruits, like cherries and plums. So real EVOO is fresh-squeezed fruit juice – seasonal, perishable, and never better than the first few weeks it was made.
Bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil’s healthfulness. Sweetness and butteriness are often not.
There are 700+ different kinds of olives, which make thousands of different kinds of oil. Asking “what’s the best olive oil?” is like asking “what’s the best wine?” The answer is, “depends on what you’re eating it with.”
Know the when, who, where of your oil: When it was made (harvest date), who made it (specific producer name), and exactly where on the planet they made it.
A big thank you to Tom, for his insights on this widely loved product across the globe, and why we need to keep pushing for better traceability and transparency of food products, in general.
If you want to read or know about my work on creating better traceability and transparency with tech, read this post, where I state the current supply chain process of EVOO, and how blockchain can shift the supply chain towards more transparency of the food we eat, and how farmers, producers, retailers etc, can get better traceability.
Food fraud is the act of purposely altering, misrepresenting, mislabeling, substituting or tampering with any food product at any point along the farm–to–table food supply–chain. Fraud can occur in the raw material, in an ingredient, in the final product or in the food’s packaging.
Food fraud is the deception of consumers through intentional adulteration of food:
by substituting one product for another
using unapproved enhancements or additives
misrepresenting something (e.g., country of origin)
misbranding or counterfeiting
stolen food shipments and/or
intentional contamination with a variety of chemicals, biological agents or other substances harmful to private– or public–health.
So when there is talk about food fraud, that can entail many different aspects, but the most ghastly is the intentional contamination with our food. Just within the last 15 years, there has been many issues with food fraud:
China (2008) melamine in baby food; (2015) ‘zombie’ frozen meat
Russia (2015) palm oil in milk
Italy (2011) illegal organic produce; (2014) hydrogen peroxide on seafood
England (2013) beef burgers containing pork and horsemeat
Australia (2013) free–range eggs from caged hens
Mexico (2005–present) meat from undeclared species
USA (2009–present) Salmonella in peanuts, honey–laundering, meat from undeclared species
While many of the cases that arise from from investigations usually are harmless, some food–fraud incidents have resulted in serious public health consequences. This do illustrate vulnerabilities in the current regulatory and quality assurance systems.
That is why knowing the source and history of the food we eat is all important. Fraudsters are able to perpetuate their crimes through vulnerabilities in the current food supply chains. End-to-end traceability and supply chain transparency are critical management tools for food brand owners, farmers, etc. Track-and-trace combined with market monitoring and testing, are key tactics for proactively mitigating food fraud risks.
So even though consumers are doing hard work to seek out foods that will promote their health, by buying food that are a mean to a healthy life, they are fighting a losing battle.
In Ecuador, you live and die with the poisonous bananas.
Bananas from Ecuador are sprayed with pesticides, many of which are particularly toxic.
Seven are illegal in the EU and, according to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, all 18 are banned in Denmark. The pesticides are applied by airplanes spraying the pesticides beyond Ecuador’s more than 5000 banana plantations. This has major consequences for you and the village San Pedro de la Y.
The pesticides affects both banana workers and locals so they get sick. Very sick. Several of the pesticides used in Ecuador’s banana plantations are, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), carcinogenic or have similar serious side effects.
There is a lot of money in bananas in Ecuador, and very few have the courage to stand up against the powerful industry – not at all if you live and work in one of the country’s banana provinces.
DR (Danish national Radio), which is the reference for this post, has interviewed banana plantation workers, one of them is Efren Velez Cedeño. During the work of one the banana plantations, Efren was repeatedly bathed in the dust of pesticides. Now he is seriously ill with a liver disease and due to this unable to work anymore.
“It burns on the skin. Stings and claws. We never ever knew beforehand when it would be sprayed from the planes. Never. We had to hide under some plastic or a tiny roof”says Efren Velez Cedeño, who has worked in the plantations for 30 years, until he got sick.
This is not a view thatEduardo Ledesma, chairman of Ecuador’s banana exporters, believe to be true. According to him, no plantations in Ecuador use pesticides that are illegal in the EU: “If they are banned by the EU, I can assure you that they are not used here. And in that case, tell me the name of the product and the banana producer. Tell me who they are. If you’re a good journalist, tell me. My partners do not use pesticides that are banned by the EU.”
Whether or not people are affected by the pesticides when sprayed, Eduardo Ledesma states: “It’s a lie, it’s a lie because the workers get a message, nobody is so stupid. The pesticides come from planes with a GPS that controls where the pesticides will land. If sprayed over populated areas or in an irresponsible manner, it would happen that the banana workers were hit. It’s false information from competing countries that want to hurt Ecuador.”
The EU recognizes that aerial spraying can have serious negative consequences for human health, and seeks to avoid these consequences among EU citizens. Therefore, aerial spraying of crops with pesticides is discouraged unless exceptional conditions are present that would make the spraying an advantage instead of a risk for humans and the environment, according to DanWatch.
Nevertheless, European consumers risk buying bananas that are sprayed from the air with pesticides so dangerous that they risk making workers and their children ill, states DanWatch.
Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Henrik Granau, or more correctly, Mr. RFID. If you haven’t read Part 1, I urge you to do that, to get a good understanding of Henrik, RFID and its challenges. Simply click here!
If you already have read Part 1, I love that you did, then you know that this part is going to focus on the opportunities with RFID within food traceability/transparency. No more small talk, let’s dive into it!
And then turning from the challenges, what are the general opportunities with RFID?
There are a lot of application areas and certain Industries where there are still obvious opportunities, but in general I believe it is in the combination with other technologies we see the huge potential;
By using RFID you create a transparency on how goods, assets etc. are flowing through your operation and if you add to this detailed information on how the workflow is actually being performed, you have established the foundation of making better decisions in your organization.
When combining these operational data with other data (‘Big Data’) and Software Robots (Artificial Intelligence), you can create new services and business models (‘disruption’).
Almost everything within the area of ‘Internet of Things’ involve wireless communication with a device which has to be uniquely identified to make sense – hence “RFID” will be ‘pervasive’.
Building on that, from your knowledge, what are the potential of RFID tags to create greater traceability of food products and why?
Internationally we already have a number of good cases in food traceability (Fish, livestock, vegetables) with RFID and combined with temperature sensors, we have established better cold-chain management. I believe that traceability within the supply chain can still be improved, but in general the technology is in place and we have the good cases with documented results.
The challenge is that we want the consumers to be able to have the complete history of each item available on their smartphone with one scan. If it’s RFID (NFC) or 2D barcode doesn’t matter so much – the challenge is to capture all the information during the product’s lifetime automatically which is achieved by using RFID on the transportation unit. For this to work, the unique item numbers which are packed has to be associated with the unique identifier of the transportation unit, and in some areas you will then have to add some evidence that the goods hasn’t been tampered with during transportation.
So creating greater traceability is possible with RFID, but you have other issues depending on the objectives; 1) for manufacturers to issue effective recalls, 2) for consumers to check the goods before consumption, 3) for protecting against fraud, etc.
What potential do you see in a RFID/Blockchain combination to create greater traceability of food products, from your knowledge?
I am not a blockchain specialist, but I understand that what blockchain can add is a bulletproof distributed verification mechanism. So, when the issue is to have verification that a specific organization is guaranteeing that their part of the traceability data are valid, then you could use blockchain to lock a certain ‘hand-over’ transaction with some associated data. If RFID is used then this process could be done automatically at choke points. As an anti-counterfeit method.
I believe I can learn more about the potential with RFID/Blockchain by being kept updated on your progress.
If someone was interested in RFID, what would be a few things you would suggest to investigate further?
I will start with recommending to vist www.rfididk.org. This is RFID I Danmark’s website where we have tried to give a good introduction to RFID – especially through cases and slides from presentations held at our conferences.
As a special service the RFID I Danmark Association is offering that anyone for free can contact me with initial questions. You can mail me at email@example.com or you can call me at +45 21 832 835.
Thank you to Henrik, for his great insights into RFID and the opportunities. From this and what I learned from the RFID in Denmark conference, I see great potential for a RFID/Blockchain solution in supply chains. RFID will secure correct data inputs, which can’t be tampered or adulterated, which then are data inputs for the immutable blocks in the blockchain application.
One of the key takeaways from the conference, was the lack of adoption and their one-sided focus on RFID being a inventory solution, and not grasping a more holistic picture of what the tech can do. And I feel that, that is a general thing when investigating new technologies, that it is very one-sided and not trying to connect all the dots.