Vulnerability assessments are a hot topic in food safety at the moment, with Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) food safety standards set to include requirements for documented food fraud vulnerability assessments in the near future. Most food safety and food integrity experts believe that vulnerability assessments are an important first step towards preventing fraudulent foods from reaching consumers. However, in an interview with Food Safety News, Mitchell Weinberg, food fraud investigator and CEO of Inscatech describes food fraud vulnerability assessments as “frankly… a little bit of a waste of time.” Mr Weinberg says that a food fraud vulnerability assessment is essentially about recording what you already know. He explains that if a business is sourcing a food ingredient from a developing country, they should already know that it is more likely to be affected by fraud than if sourced locally. Likewise, high value and high volume materials are more attractive to fraudsters. Weinberg tells the interviewer:
“Just use common sense, figure out where the problem is, check it out… trust but verify.“
Weinberg is right; creating documented risk assessments of any kind is simply an exercise in writing down what we already know. And common sense should be at the core of any risk assessment. So is there any value in a documented vulnerability assessment?
- A documented assessment is a record of who thought of what and when they thought of it. It is evidence that fraud has been considered; it can be used to check that common sense was used in that consideration. It can be audited, reviewed and updated. It can be shared.
- The process of creating a documented assessment can serve as a prompt to identify gaps in knowledge and provide an incentive to ‘fill in the gaps’.
- A documented vulnerability assessment can be used to transfer knowledge. Weinberg says creating a written assessment is making a record of what you already know; that is exactly what is needed when the person who made the assessment changes jobs or has to explain supply chain risks to a stubborn Purchasing Manager.
- Most food businesses manufacture hundreds of food products and many more hundreds of ingredients; comparing the vulnerability assessments of different products and materials is an effective way to prioritise fraud prevention actions. While the ultimate aim is for no product to be compromised ever, we all have to start somewhere.
To view the interview with Mitchell Weinberg, click here.