The Vulnerability Assessment Helper includes an allergen warning because any product that claims to be safe for people with food allergies is particularly vulnerable if an incident of adulteration or substitution occurs in its raw materials or ingredients. An allergenic adulterant, such as a peanut flour can have deadly consequences for consumers with allergies. Read more about peanut contamination of cumin here.
The Vulnerability Assessment Helper can help you to understand out how severely a product or product group would be affected by economically motivated adulteration, substitution or dilution of the raw materials or ingredients used to make your product. No matter what answer the Helper calculates, you, with advice from other experts within the business should carefully consider the impact/s, including those listed below, and make your own choice. Add your own choice to the column labelled ‘User rating’. The results table and matrix on the Results (printable) page is calculated using the ‘User rating’; if one has been entered it will override the calculated result.
Food safety risks: Any adulteration, substitution or dilution of an ingredient should be treated as a serious food safety issue as a first priority. There can be direct food safety risks to consumers from contaminated adulterants, allergenic adulterants or unhygienic handling of the ingredient during any adulteration or substitution. There can also be an indirect food safety risk to consumers from adulterants that cause chronic disease, or are carcinogenic or are lacking in nutrients that would be present in an unadulterated product.
Loss of consumer trust: Any problem with your product or product group can be catastrophic for your brand.
Indirect risks: Adulteration, substitution or dilution of an ingredient indicates a flaw in the traceability of your product, which means non-compliance with the requirements of food safety standards and regulations.
There are financial risks associated with any incidence of food fraud. If your company has a Risk Officer or an Enterprise Risk Management Plan the relevant persons should be informed of the results of your vulnerability assessment and consulted about how to prioritise the prevention and mitigation planning that comes after each vulnerability assessment.
Characterising Ingredients are
- ingredients or categories of ingredients which are mentioned in the name of a food or are implied as being present in a food by pictures or graphics on a food label; and
- when mentioned in the name of a food or graphically represented on a food label are used to influence the choice of a consumer by describing or establishing a special characteristic of the food or by distinguishing a food from similar foods.
Examples of products with characterising ingredients include chocolate chip ice-cream, mushroom pie.
This definition is based on The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 1.2.10
The Vulnerability Assessment Helper asks users to note which ingredients are characterising ingredients not because a characterising ingredient is inherently more vulnerable to economically motivated adulteration or substitution but because problems with a characterising ingredient can greatly increase the vulnerability of the product group as a whole, as well as risking non-compliance with food standards and regulations. Within the raw materials table the answer you give at ‘characterising ingredient’ does not contribute to the vulnerability calculation for that ingredient but is used when considering the overall vulnerability of the product or product group.
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Vulnerability Assessment Helper Spreadsheet – Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
What happens if I can’t complete all the questions?
To get a result you need to enter a very small amount of basic information about the product or product group that is being assessed and the name of at least one ingredient. If your information is very patchy the helper will calculate a high vulnerability rating. However it is possible to supplement the calculated rating with your own estimate if desired. This means that if you already think that a particular raw material, ingredient or supplier is very low risk you may choose to simply enter its name and your best estimate of risk instead of completing all the data fields. This will allow you to prioritise your time for important raw materials, ingredients or suppliers.
Why is the Vulnerability Assessment Helper an Excel spreadsheet instead of specialised software?
The helper was created for Quality Assurance Mangers and HACCP Managers to use. It was created with Microsoft Excel because most of its intended users are familiar with excel and so can begin entering data as soon as they open the spreadsheet, with no special training. Data can be copied, pasted, sorted, searched and manipulated just as you would in any spreadsheet and results can be easily extracted for use in other documents. Blank and completed spreadsheets can and should be incorporated into a company’s controlled documents and record-keeping system and Microsoft Excel files are usually suitable for this purpose.
The tabular format of the data entry pages allows users to have a ‘whole picture’ visual understanding of the data that has been entered and the gaps that need to be filled. Other types of software such as questionnaire-style assessments do not provide a visual overview and require information to be entered in a defined series of steps which can be frustrating. Within the tables of the Vulnerability Assessment Helper, colour-coding functions provide instant feedback about whether an answer affects vulnerability in a positive or negative way, which can be a valuable learning tool.
How many raw materials can be accommodated?
Each copy of the spreadsheet can accommodate 60 raw materials or ingredients and up to five suppliers for each raw material, to a total of 300 suppliers. If you have more than 60 raw materials for your chosen product group you may wish to split your product group into smaller sections to reduce the complexity.
What if I have more than five suppliers for one of my materials?
You may wish to group similar suppliers together for the first round of assessments or you may need to create a second raw material listing to accommodate the extra suppliers. Performing a full assessment of every supplier is optional and the tool will calculate results without full supplier results. You may wish to start by concentrating only on suppliers of very vulnerable ingredients or you may wish to focus on suppliers that appear likely to be high risk when you first start. The Vulnerability Assessment Helper will allow you to remove previously entered data or backtrack at any time. You can also go back later and update entries as more information comes to hand.
Can I copy the results into my own spreadsheet or other document?
Yes. The data that you enter can be copied, pasted, sorted and manipulated as in any spreadsheet. When copying from the helper use ‘paste special – values’, which will avoid pasting formulas that might return error values in a different document.
Do I have to purchase a new spreadsheet for each product group?
You may make as many copies of this spreadsheet as you need for ONE food business in one manufacturing location. You may not share it with other food businesses or take it when you change jobs. For complete terms and conditions click here.
Is there a telephone number I can call for help and support with the tool?
Real-time support is coming soon. Until then, please email email@example.com with your query, including your preferred contact details and geographical location (for time zone purposes). We will contact you by telephone or Skype or email an answer to you.
Can I have access to the formulas that generate the results?
If you disagree with the results generated for your product or any of its ingredients or suppliers the helper allows you to override them, although the calculated results will still be displayed as a reminder of any discrepancy. If you think the methodology, including the risk calculations should be amended or you think there is an error in any formula please contact us. We want the Vulnerability Assessment Helper to be the best that it can and value your feedback.
Want to buy an unlocked version that is fully customisable? Request a quote here.
Why can’t I manually change the results in the summary risk assessment table or in the risk matrix (Results page)?
The Vulnerability Assessment Helper calculates results based on the information entered, however it is possible to supplement the calculated rating for each product group, raw material, ingredient and supplier with your own estimate. You are encouraged to use the information collected and entered in the Vulnerability Assessment Helper to estimate your own vulnerability ratings. User ratings are reported in the summary tables and risk matrix if they have been entered; otherwise the calculated results are used.
The likelihood element of the summary risk assessment (the blue or grey box on ‘Summary’ page) is based on the results of all the raw materials combined. If you wish to change the likelihood element in the summary table or in the matrix, you will need to add a user vulnerability rating for each raw material or change the user vulnerability rating for the majority of raw materials on the Raw Materials sheet. If you wish to change the severity element in the summary table or in the matrix you will need to change the user rating of consequences (severity) for the product group on the Product Group sheet.
My security settings will not allow me to run macros, is this a problem?
No problem; the Vulnerability Assessment Helper has been created without macros to keep things safe and secure and to prevent headaches with your internal IT systems.
I only have Microsoft Excel 1997 – 2003, will this be a problem?
No problem; there is a Lite version of the Vulnerability Assessment Helper which comes free with every purchase of the spreadsheet. For more information about compatibility, click here.
Can I get a tax receipt?
Australian purchasers receive a tax invoice for GST purposes in their confirmation email. Purchasers in other countries are not charged any tax but receive an itemised purchase receipt in their confirmation email.
Wrong! While it’s pretty obvious that you could make an economic gain by bulking out an expensive food like caviar with something less expensive, it’s also possible to make economic gains by making tiny alterations to big-volume commodities. Even switching just one or two percent of a bulk item like beef mince or rice with something cheaper can create a huge economic gain when sales are counted in the thousands or tens of thousands of tonnes.
Ground meat is one commodity that has been frequently affected by this kind of food fraud. The adulterants are typically lower grade meat or offal from the same species or meat from a cheaper species. This kind of adulteration is difficult, if not impossible for consumers to detect.
Rice is another commodity that, despite being relatively cheap, is also affected by economically motivated adulteration. The adulterants are reported to be plastic pieces, including thermal insulation materials, potato starch mixed with polymer resins and even pieces of paper rolled to look like grains. This type of fraud relies on transient and poorly documented supply chains; the person who ultimately tries to eat the rice will detect the fraud in most cases – although there are reports of people suffering digestive problems after consumption – however the source of the adulteration usually proves impossible to trace.
If rice adulteration was occurring on a big scale in Europe I suspect that increasing the requirements for paperwork and trying to improve supply chain transparency would be the chosen strategy for those tackling the issue. In the Philippines they have taken a more direct and – for now at least – more feasible approach. They have developed a hand-held scanner that uses Raman spectroscopy to detect ‘fake’ rice by distinguishing between starch and styrene acrylonitrile copolymer. Fast, cheap, easy and no paperwork needed.
GMO or not GMO? How confusing is this tangle of regulation, lawsuits and certifications in the USA? http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Chipotle-hits-back-at-lawsuit-over-its-non-GMO-claims