How to stop food sabotage

Last Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, I had a requested op-ed published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I was a little rusty, so Amy did more than just clean it up, and I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now because there was some medical stuff last week, but all is well and here it is:

My 9-year-old daughter and I were watching the news on Saturday morning and she asked, why would someone put a needle in strawberries?

Some people are not nice.

A couple of years ago a food safety type asked me, what’s the biggest risk to the food supply.

I didn’t hesitate.

Deliberate tampering and food fraud.

Food safety has traditionally been faith-based – especially when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Consumers cannot control how food is handled before it gets to them. This is why consumers need to know their suppliers and know what they are doing to keep people safe.

This latest food tampering scare – 11 cases of contaminanted strawberries reported nationally so far, the first in Sydney on Saturday – makes that clear.

Faith-based food safety sucks. It always has. Risks have always been present. As Madeleine Ferrieres, the author of Mad Cow, Sacred Cow: A History of Food Fears,  wrote, “All human beings before us questioned the contents of their plates.”

But contemporary consumers forget that contamination risk has always been with us: “We are often too blinded by this amnesia to view our present food situation clearly. This amnesia is very convenient. It allows us to reinvent the past and construct a complaisant, retrospective mythology.”

“We still live with the illusion of modernity, with the false idea that what happens to us is new and unbearable,” she has said in an interview.

What’s new is that we have better tools to detect problems. This also presents an opportunity: those who use the best tools should be able to prove their food is safe through testing and brag about it. They can market food safety measures at retail.

The days of faith-based food safety are coming to a protracted close.

There is a lack – a disturbing lack – of on-farm food safety inspection; farmers need to be more aware of the potential for contamination from microbes (from listeria in rockmelon, for example) as well as sabotage.

There is an equally large lack of information to consumers where they buy their produce. What do Australian grocery shoppers know of the food safety regulations applied to the produce sold in their most popular stores? Who can they ask to find the answers?

The best solution is for farmers and retailers to market food safety. If they have a great food safety program they should be promoting it. Consumers can handle more information rather than less.

Douglas Powell is a (sorta?) retired professor of food safety in Canada and the US who now lives in Brisbane. He blogs at barfblog.com.

And in memorandum, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, the Blues Brothers’ guitarist and longtime blues sideman who died Friday at 88.

Needles in Australian produce: Copy-cats, metal detector sales and stiff penalties for ‘cowards and grubs’

With more than 100 reports of tampered fruit being investigated by police across Australia, an Adelaide father has been charged over a fake needle-in-strawberry report.

Police say the 34-year-old last week reported that his daughter bit into a strawberry purchased at a local supermarket and that it was contaminated with a needle.

The arrest comes as the hunt for those responsible for sticking needles in strawberries continues, and the federal government ramps up penalties for so- called “food terrorists.”

Food tamperers could spent 10 to 15 years behind bars under draft laws passed by the government on Thursday.

One young boy in NSW has already been arrested over behaviour that “could be called a prank”, police said, and he will be dealt with under the youth cautioning system.

The warning comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks to punish ‘cowards’ who purposely contaminate food.

Culprits could face up to 15 years jail under tough updates to food contamination laws the PM will urgently push through parliament this week.

And “idiots” who post Facebook hoaxes about fake contamination cases could face up to 10 years in jail under new measures to deal with “reckless” behaviour.

‘Sabotage’ laws will also be updated to include the sabotage of “goods for human consumption” where it impacts national security.

“Any idiot who thinks they can go out into a shopping centre and start sticking pins in fruit and thinks this is some sort of lark or put something on Facebook which is a hoax, that sort of behaviour is reckless and under the provision we will be seeking to introduce swiftly, that type of behaviour would carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison,” Prime Minister Morrison said today.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. You are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children,” he said.

“You are a coward and a grub. And if you do that sort of thing in this country we will come after you and we will throw the book at you.”

Meanwhile, the strawberry scandal’s costing the industry millions of dollars, but it’s created a booming trade for one food safety company.

A&D Australasia provides metal detectors to food production companies, and their sales in the last week – including in New Zealand – have skyrocketed.

Spokesperson for the company Julian Horsley says he’s sold a year’s worth of products in just four days.

“There’s an element of panic obviously because customers are saying we can’t buy your product until this and this are in line – so that’s obviously a commercial panic to them” he said.

Each detector costs around $22,000, but Horsley says growers are viewing them as an investment.

“For these guys it’s either put my produce in the rubbish bin, or supply it to the customers.”

Six people die after South African Christian pastor feeds bleach to his church, tells them ‘this is the blood of Jesus’

Andrew Bieszad of Shoebat reports that six are dead and four are in critical condition after a Pastor fed his church congregation bleach because he told them it was the “Blood of Jesus.”

The pastor, who works at a church at the Ark Ministry in Makgodu Village, in Limpopo, South Africa, told people he has the power to turn the poisonous liquid into the blood of the Son of God.

Shocking pictures taken of a service show the suit-wearing religious leader pouring what is said to be bleach from a white bottle directly into the mouths of church-goers.

According to local news services, the pastor, who didn’t want to be named, said: “Yes, it was Jik before I made the declaration. But after I declared it to be the blood of Jesus Christ it means it’s no longer Jik so it won’t harm anyone who consumes it.”

Jik is a brand of lemon bleach.

He went on to describe his bleach-drinking sessions as similar to when Jesus gave his disciples wine to drink, telling them it was his blood.

But Limpopo police spokesman, Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe, said officers had yet to receive any complaints, requesting members of the congregation come forward to speak to officers.

Man swallows needle in strawberry bought from Woolworths Australia

Queensland, with its sub-tropical climate, has fabulous produce and seafood.

Even if regulators are a bit dopey about food safety.

Jill Poulson and Tanya Westthorp of the Courier-Mail report health authorities are warning people who have bought strawberries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria to throw the punnets out after several incidents of needles being found in strawberries sold at Woolworths.

Queensland Health and Queensland Police today took the extraordinary step to urge people who bought strawberries across the eastern seaboard in the past week to throw them out after three separate incidents in Queensland and Victoria.

Police suspect the ground-down needles were deliberately planted in the punnets with the culprit intending to cause ‘grievous bodily harm or other objectives’.

The needle allegedly found in strawberries purchased from Woolworths at northside Brisbane. Pic: Supplied.

The contaminated strawberries come from one farm and are sold under the brands ‘Berry Obsession’ and ‘Berry Licious’. They are sold from Woolworths and it’s believed they may also be sold at other stores. A product recall is underway.

It comes as a 21-year-old Burpengary man ended up in hospital after he swallowed part of a needle when he bit into a strawberry bought from Strathpine in Brisbane’s north on Sunday.

Two more incidents in Victoria were confirmed yesterday.

Everyone’s got a camera: Fake food poisoning Gangnam Style

Dancing Gangnam Style by the side of a swimming pool in Cyprus, Liam Royle appears full of life.

Yet according to him, he was suffering from food poisoning he had developed while on his holiday – experiencing stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

The 23-year-old made a fraudulent sickness claim against Jet2holidays, stating that he suffered from “personal injury” and a “loss of enjoyment” while staying at Papantonia Hotel Apartments, and also “missed meals, excursions, swimming time and other general activities”.

However, when Royle’s former girlfriend became aware of his dishonesty, she contacted the company with a rather incriminating dossier which showed that instead on his holiday, Royle visited the nearby town of Ayia Napa, where he walked around the shops and ate a McDonalds, did not miss meals, drank beer and cocktails, swam in the pool, and was even filmed dancing Gangnam Style.

Instead, the woman who wishes to remain anonymous continued, the 2015 holiday was “fabulous”.

In light of the evidence, Jet2holidays challenged the Manchester man’s claim, and a district judge ruled that he was “fundamentally dishonest” and ordered he pay the company more than £6,000 in costs.

Pins found in pepperoni sticks, sausage sold in B.C.

Nanaimo, British Columbia (that’s in Canada) may be famous for its Nanaimo bars, but now police are investigating after pins were found in meat products sold throughout Nanaimo, B.C.

RCMP (that’s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, where’s your horse?) say they’ve had three reports about food tampering at separate stores in the Vancouver Island city since December 2017, but no injuries have been reported.

In each case, a pin — similar to one used for sewing — was found in a pepperoni stick or Ukrainian sausage made by Grimm’s Fine Foods.

Police say they haven’t received any reports involving other Grimm’s products, or any other meat products in Nanaimo or elsewhere.

Investigators believe the products were tampered with while on display.

Const. Gary O’Brien says the public needs to be especially vigilant and inspect meat products before eating them.

Food fraud: Over 3600 tonnes of dangerous food removed from EU market

Trafficking in fake and substandard food is big business, and efforts to stop this global phenomenon are ongoing

Rotten meat, chemically coloured tuna and fake baby milk powder – these are just a small sampling of the products seized as part of the latest OPSON investigation into the presence of counterfeit and substandard food and beverage products on the market in Europe and beyond.

Run over the course of 4 months (December 2017 – March 2018) across 67 countries*, OPSON VII resulted in the total seizure of more than 3 620 tonnes and 9.7 million litres of either counterfeit or substandard food and beverages as a results of more than 41 000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates. In total some 749 people were arrested or detained with investigations continuing in many countries.

“The results of OPSON demonstrate what can be achieved to protect consumers worldwide when law enforcement agencies join their efforts and perform coordinated actions”, said Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre, “It is a threat which requires such cooperation across borders, taking into account the increased integration and globalisation of supply chains. All countries face this threat and it is the duty of law enforcement agencies to make sure what consumers get in their plate is genuine and safe”.

“The dismantling of nearly 50 criminal networks involved in the production of fake food and drink is an important result in stemming the flow of potentially lethal products into the marketplace,” said Daoming Zhang, Head of INTERPOL’s Illicit Markets unit. “The volume of counterfeit and substandard products seized is a reminder to the public that they need to remain careful about what they buy and from where.”

The annual operation coordinated by Europol and INTERPOL is supported by customs, police and national food regulatory bodies in addition to partners from the private sector. Since its first edition in 2011, the number of countries taking part in OPSON has grown every year, reflecting the growing commitment to tackle this issue.

In Europe the close cooperation established between Europol and the EU Commission coordinating the EU Food Fraud Network led to the implementation of a specific project targeting the fraudulent trade of tuna. A comprehensive approach involving all stakeholders allowed the phenomenon to be tackled in an innovative and more effective manner via the simultaneous use of administrative and criminal enforcement tools. Europol will continue to support this multiagency approach in the upcoming editions of OPSON.

Belgium – sale of rotten meat unfit for consumption

Belgium closed a major meat processing plant in the country, and supermarkets have taken meat products off their shelves in a scandal over rotten meat. The incriminated company saw its licence revoked by the federal government, after spot checks revealed a potential health risk in two products: minced beef and oxtail. Officials found traces of so-called meat waste, pieces of the carcass, intended for animal feed which are prohibited for human consumption.

Spain – fake baby milk powder

Four people have been arrested and a factory that packaged counterfeit baby milk mostly destined for China dismantled in Spain. Eight tonnes of the forged product were seized. The powder bought in bulk in Poland for one euro per kilo and delivered to Barcelona was not harmful but it lacked the nutrients needed by infants. It was also made in an environment that did not comply with food health and safety standards.

European wide-action – fraudulent practices in the tuna fish industry

During OPSON VII, an EU coordinated action was run with the support of the EU Food Fraud Network across 11 European countries** in order to detected fraudulent practices pertaining to tuna fish. This was the first time that such an action was carried out on a specific product. The illicit practises included species substitution and fraudulently selling tuna intended for canning as fresh. In this case, the tuna intended for canning was illegally treated with chemical substances that altered its colour to give the misleading impression of its freshness. In total, more than 51 tonnes of tuna were seized and more than 380 samples were taken.

France- smuggling of perishable goods

In a joint operation, The French Gendarmerie, Customs, Police and Ministry of Agriculture seized in its overseas territories over 9.5 tonnes of smuggled perishable goods and 60 litres of fuel and raw material intended for illegal gold mining.

Training in the detection of food fraud

Throughout the year, representatives from a variety of agencies and sectors – police and customs officers, prosecutors, investigative experts – attend training courses and workshops in advance of the operational activity. These hands-on workshops equip participants with the knowledge they need for the raids and follow-up investigations, in particular, enabling them to better distinguish fake products from genuine ones. In Hungary, the National Tax and Customs Administration in cooperation with the National Food Chain Safety Office and the National Board Against Counterfeiting produced a short video to explain the operation to law enforcement officers and a general audience.

A final and detailed report on the results of the operation OPSON VII will be published in the upcoming months.

Stop scamming in Spain: Crackdown on British tourists’ phony food poisoning

The British Ministry of Justice has announced new rules to stop British holidaymakers in Spain from scamming tour operators with fake food poisoning claims.

Under the crackdown, a limit will be set on the legal costs that can be claimed in overseas package travel claims. This will stop claims management companies from seeking legal costs that are out of proportion to the damages sought – a loophole that has often pushed tour operators to settle out of court.

In a press release, the Ministry of Justice said the change “would mean tour operators would pay prescribed costs depending on the value of the claim and length of proceedings, making defense costs predictable and assisting tour operators to challenge bogus claims.”

According to court documents, phony food poisoning claims may have cheated Spanish hotels out of as much as €60 million since 2014. The scam took off in the summer of 2016, with one hotel chain receiving 273 claims requesting compensation for 700 people.

The scam was simple enough. The tourist buys a travel package with any travel agent and stays at a Spanish hotel that includes all meals in the price. Back in Britain after the vacation, the tourist uses a claims-management company to file a complaint against the company that organized the trip, alleging that the hotel meals made him/her ill.

Current British consumer laws barely require the claimant to produce any evidence. No doctor’s report is necessary, and claims may be filed up to three years after the event.

Since it is hard to prove that the client did not get sick, and faced with high legal fees if the case goes to court, the tour operator accepts the claim, then pass on the cost to the Spanish hotels as per their contract, in which the latter accept responsibility for all damages.

In 2017, the Spanish Civil Guard arrested seven British nationals for their involvement in the scam.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), the number of claims jumped from 5,000 in 2013 to 35,000 in 2016 – an increase of 500%.

“Claiming compensation for being sick on holiday, when you haven’t been, is fraud,” said Justice Minister Rory Stewart. “This behavior also tarnishes the reputation of British people abroad. That is why we are introducing measures to crack down on those who engage in this dishonest practice.”

The Ministry of Justice says the new rules will come into effect shortly – well before summer begins.

In early April, a young couple who demanded compensation after claiming they fell ill on holidays were caught out thanks to their social media photos.

Chelsea Devine, 21, and Jamie Melling, 22, from Liverpool in the UK, went on a 10-day all-inclusive holiday to Benidorm, Spain in September 2015.

The holiday was booked with travel and tourism company TUI, and they stayed at the Levante Beach Apartments during their trip.

In May 2016, the couple both claimed they had contracted serious food poisoning from food and drinks consumed during their stay, and each demanded $4500 in compensation from TUI.

The pair claimed they were seriously ill during their holiday, and that the sickness lasted for weeks.

However, Liverpool County Court heard their social media accounts revealed a variety of happy, poolside selfies, which caused judge Sally Hatfield QC to brand them both as “fundamentally dishonest”.

They recently received a record fine of more than $27,000 for their fraudulent claim.

According to The Sun, Recorder Sally Hatfield QC said there was no evidence the pair had been ill during their trip.

In October 2017, UK couple Deborah Briton, 53, and Paul Roberts, 43, were jailed for making fake holiday sickness claims in a landmark case.

Food fraud: Adulterated chili racket busted in India

A spurious chili powder racket was busted at Gollapudi in Vijayawada on Friday by officials of the Bhavanipuram police, task force, and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

The raid was conducted on Sudha Enterprises in Bhavanipuram, where officials found huge quantities of substandard chili powder, made from crushing the stems.

According to reports, Sudha Enterprises was run by one Grandhi Narayana Rao, who procured the inferior quality chili powder for Rs 30 per kg, allegedly re-packed it, and sold it for Rs 50 to Rs 60 per kg.

The officials reportedly seized 600 kg of chili powder in the raid, along with 100 kg of salt and black gram.

“Chili powder usually is made by grinding chili and mixing it with certain ingredients. Instead, Narayana was found using cheap quality chili and chili stems, procured from Guntur, and was selling them under various brand names. He had not obtained FSSAI licence to sell the products in the market,” assistant food controller N Purnachandra Rao was quoted as saying.

In December 2016, a crackdown on adulterated chili powder by the Commissionerate of Food Safety (CFS) found a total of 3.09 tonnes or 3,000 kg of misleading or falsely-labelled product in a span of a few weeks across the state.

Officials said that it was almost impossible to tell the difference unless the product was clinically tested, as they looked exactly the same. This made it even more dangerous, as it is difficult to identify.

Food fraud: Illegal fish via Facebook in NZ

Michael Daly of Stuff reports the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says it has been alerted to more than 250 cases this year where people have tried to sell recreationally caught seafood on Facebook.

The issue attracted attention in Southland just before Christmas, with at least three posts on local group buy and sell sites offering seafood for sale. One was for fresh pāua said “trades or swaps 2kgs left”. Another was for 1kg of fresh pāua and 700g of frozen, while the third advertised nine “Fiordland lobster” tails “snap frozen straight off boat”.

An MPI spokesperson said the ministry was investigating several reported illegal fish sales on social media in the Southland area.

“For good reason, we cannot disclose the stage at which our inquiries are or what methods we use to acquire best evidence.”

The three posts advertising the pāua and crayfish angered members of the Spearfishing Southland group Facebook page. In a discussion on the site about the online advertising of seafood, one spearfishing group member said he had reported three incidents to MPI.

Another spearfishing group member, Andy Smith, who also runs an open community page with the same name, said after he had replied to the post for the crayfish tails after spotting it. 

“I put a message up myself saying, ‘Do you realise, it’s illegal what you’re doing?’ Fifteen minutes later, the post was gone,” he said.

He wasn’t aware of many cases where seafood was advertised in Facebook posts. “I see it happen sometimes, but it usually gets taken down pretty quick.”