Sometimes bad food is caused by undercooking or leaving fresh foods out too long – but often it’s because the item was either fake or contaminated before it even reached retail or a restaurant. After suffering a terrible case of food poisoning likely due to this problem while visiting Shanghai, Mitchel Weinberg was inspired to do something about international food industry fraud.
A former trade-consultant, Weinberg founded Inscatech, a global network of investigators that down evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice. Inscatech’s agents inspect a variety of reports of counterfeit and contaminated food products before they reach retailers and food producers with most problems originating in China.
“Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time but in China, it’s very close to 100 percent,” Weinberg told Bloomberg Technology. “It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.”
Currently, Inscatech is in the process of creating molecular markers and genetic fingerprints to help more effectively identify natural products and determine what’s real and what’s not. Other companies are taking a digital approach and developing technology to monitor where that product originated.
As more Chinese food companies become part of the global supply chain, big supermarket companies, including Wal-Mart Stores, are recognizing the reputational danger of food fraud. Wal-Mart recently completed a trial using the technology, blockchain to monitor their pork supply chain in China. Blockchain, an eight-year-old technology that cryptographically records transactions, helped Wal-Mart to reduce their tracking time from 26 hours to only a few seconds.
Blockchain works as a database of records. It can potentially improve traceability by creating a chain of history that is impossible to alter without destroying the current sequence. Alibaba has also recognized the potential for blockchain within their platforms and is planning to implement a project with food suppliers in Australia and New Zealand, as well as Australia Post and auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Food fraud is a serious global issue,” said Maggie Zhou, managing director for Alibaba in Australia and New Zealand told Bloomberg Technology. “This project is the first step in creating a globally respected framework that protects the reputation of food merchants and gives consumers further confidence to purchase food online.”
However, Inscatech has its concerns about blockchain. Their agents focus on working with informants who bring attention to the exact location where the food-fraud is taking place and believe that blockchain is only as reliable as the person providing that data. As of right now, blockchain is still the best system in place against fighting food-fraud. In a global food industry that relies mostly on just paper records, blockchain will help identify those putting data into the system and if incorrect, allow them to be held responsible.