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A not so ‘Oregenol’ herb

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The UK food industry is facing yet another supply chain scandal, and while not on the same scale as ‘horsegate’, the Bart’s Ingredients and Genius product withdrawals and now the ‘oregano’ food fraud (see The Grocer article here), are highlighting one of the industry’s fundamental problems – supply chain complexity.

In a study conducted for consumer group Which?, 19 out of 78 samples of oregano gathered from a range of high street and online retailers contained unlabelled ingredients like olive or myrtle leaves. Some contained between 30% and an incredible 70% of other ingredients.

Members of the public will have little sympathy for retailers should they be named and shamed by researchers.  However, much of the blame lies further down the supply chain, as Professor Elliott explained in an interview on BBC Radio Five Live. He said: "It particularly happens with things that come from faraway places and, with many different people interacting in the supply chains, they do tend to be very, very vulnerable.”

While some observers may speculate that the media hype around incidents such as this are over-hyped, there are legitimate and very serious causes for concerns. Mislabelling, cross-contamination or simple human error which results in incorrect ingredient use can easily result in an allergen being consumed by an unsuspecting consumer. The risk of a severe and deadly reaction is very real in these circumstances.

In the current climate, food and beverage brand owners would be well advised to ensure that their supply chains are fully audited and controls are in place throughout.

Everything should be done to prevent cross-contamination, and many manufacturers have comprehensive training programmes, policies and practices in place to negate adulteration.

Supply chain audits and a comprehensive understanding of not only the provenance but also  the journey a product and its component ingredients take are vital.  Such steps will allow manufacturers to identify potential flaws and help pinpoint where contamination has taken place and prevent it from recurring.

Contractual protection and indemnities are also recommended.  Even if all of the controls are in place and paperwork is present and correct, an unscrupulous supplier will still find ways of skirting around what they will ill-perceive to be red tape.

For many food and beverage businesses, this may look like more time-consuming administrative work, but when the potential reputational damage that could be done is considered, it’s a worthwhile investment.

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