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You Found Something Strange in a Food Product. What are you going to do about it?

October 30, 2015

By: Dan Howell, Director, Claims Laboratory

Food manufacturers throughout the world have a monumental task – providing consumers with unadulterated food products – that often have their origins in farms and pastures- that are edible and safe to eat throughout the shelf life of the product.  But sometimes consumers find things—or claim they found things—in their foods that aren’t supposed to be there.

A food product could be considered adulterated if it contains something that is not listed on the label.  Foreign substances, therefore, could be considered an adulterant using this definition.  A consumer is likely to find at least one foreign substance in a food product during their lifetime.  Foreign substances can be naturally occurring, like a non-edible portion of a fruit pit, stem or skin in a finished product for example.  They can also be just about anything imaginable. I’ve seen many stones, insects, rodents, glass, plastic, and some things that are too bizarre to believe. The sky is the limit!

Working in a state of the art forensics laboratory helps me to identify foreign substances that are alleged to be in a food product.  Sure, foreign substances can be in non-food items as well, but there seems to be more of a stigma associated with the thought of something unexpected in a product that you intend to eat.  Can I identify foreign substances in non-food items?  You bet: a foreign substance is a foreign substance and its identification is my specialty and primary objective.

So what?  A foreign substance doesn’t belong in a product, and the consumer believes the company is responsible and demands satisfaction.  Hold on. My second objective is to determine how or when the foreign substance was introduced into the product.  Was it with the product when it was packaged and heat processed?  Was it more likely accidentally introduced or intentionally placed in the product?  And if intentional, who put it there, an employee or a consumer? Did the consumer really cut their tongue on it as they’ve claimed? How can you tell?  There is a protocol of enzymatic and chemical tests I can use on certain foreign substances that will allow me to answer those questions and prove or disprove the validity of a consumer foreign substance claim.

What should you do if you do discover something foreign in your product?  The first step is to contact the company with the phone number that is provided on the product packaging. Companies want to know if an issue occurred so that they can investigate and address it. Be sure to keep any remaining product, the alleged foreign substance and the packaging material as well.  The packaging material may be the key to how the foreign substance occurred, but that’s another story…

 

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Filed under: Product Safety

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