Four Reasons Food Authenticity is a Critical Part of Ensuring Food Safety

11/01/2019

Dr. Hong Peng

Senior Research Manager, Mars Global Food Safety Center

Hong Peng Lab Photo

Growing up in China, my favorite subject at school was chemistry. I enjoyed experimenting with chemicals and technology in the laboratory. Several years later, I am putting this passion to good use at The Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC), where together we are working to address some of the world’s biggest food safety challenges.

As a Senior Research Manager at the Mars GFSC, I am proud to work with a team of world class scientists on an international platform to tackle the world’s most pressing food safety concerns. My current focus is on food integrity which involves rigorous research and helping to develop the tools and analytical methods necessary to support the reduction of material contamination risk and the prevention of food fraud.

Assuring Food Integrity

Why does it all matter?

  • The food we eat influences our health, wellbeing, cognitive capability, as well as influencing national and global economic development.
  • Access to safe and nutritious food should be a basic human right. Yet every year around 420,000 people die and some 600 million people - almost 1 in ten in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food. 
  • Today, foods often reach the consumer through increasingly complex supply chains creating many opportunities for food safety to be compromised.
  • Food fraud is a global problem, estimated to cost the food and drinks industry between $10 billion and $15 billion per year. Rice is a potential target for unscrupulous traders, through mixing with low grade, low cost grains and low nutritious adulterants for economic gain. 
  • Food fraud in particular is a subject close to my heart. I remember the Chinese milk scandal of 2008 when infant formula milk powder and other materials were later found to have been adulterated with a toxic industrial compound called melamine. Food fraud can occur anywhere in the food supply chain. Together, collaborators and experts across the world are making in-roads but there is still much more work to be done.
How is the Mars GFSC Team Looking To Protect the Authenticity of the Rice Supply?

The Mars GFSC is working to strengthen food authenticity through a program of rigorous research, but our work doesn’t just involve lab research – we also raise awareness through knowledge sharing at conferences and workshops. For example, last week, my associate Jason Xu attended a workshop in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the series of meetings organized by the program members with the theme of improving rice integrity and managing food fraud in Vietnam. In the workshop, Jason shared some of the research and progress we have made in rice authentication with so-called multi-element profiling and machine-learning technology. Our partners also shared the latest technological developments in rapid-screening methods and portable devices, which were warmly welcomed by rice producers and manufacturing sectors for their superiority in in-field application. Jason also had the opportunity to visit one of the major rice processing factories in the Mekong Delta area, where he had the first-hand experience of the front-line of combating potential food fraud.

Earlier this week, the Director of the Mars GFSC, Dr. Abigail Stevenson, and several of my colleagues shared insights at the China International Food Safety & Quality conference (CIFSQ), a global event which aims to enhance food safety through multilateral knowledge sharing, dialogue and collaboration with regulators, academia and even our competitors.

At the Mars GFSC we are proud to be part of an alliance to develop, share, and globally harmonize testing methods to distinguish authentic rice from fraudulent rice. The study is a collaborative program involving multiple partners, including: Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Agilent Technologies, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), and Zhejiang Yangtze Delta Institute of Tsinghua University (Yangtze Delta).

The Mars GFSC is committed to exchanging knowledge and insights openly in line with our ultimate goal of helping ensure safe food for all.

Working at the center provides me with an opportunity to move beyond the boundaries of scientific research to develop tools and capabilities, which have the potential to improve the lives of countless people.

Protecting the integrity of the global food supply chain has never been more important. As the global population grows and external environment changes such as climate change exert pressure, it is essential that we continue to invest in science and technology-based solutions and to collaborate on some of the biggest food safety challenges and create a better world tomorrow. I am proud and excited to work for an organization that is doing just that.

This blog originally appeared on Dr. Hong Peng's LinkedIn, please connect with Dr. Hong by LinkedIn.

Hong Peng Lab Photo