The Importance of Clear Definitions: The Four Definitions of “Food Quality”

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative

definition“Argh… are those academics crazy for being such sticklers about definitions?”  Not at all!  So far — with scholarly articles to quote and reference — we’re all creating a harmonized starting point for Food Fraud prevention.  The important work is just starting for defining and clarifying even the most basic terms.  We all need to stay focused because the laws, regulations, and industry certifications are just now being finalized.

Our definition of Food Fraud is getting quite a bit of attention, being quoted in many US and global regulations or reports.  As we’re all developing our responses to FDA’s formal request for comments on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), another concept that’s important to review is “Food Quality.”

While we have presented Food Quality in presentations or in our MOOC, we haven’t directly addressed it in a publication.  This discussion is important to demonstrate why accurate definitions are so critical… and how we can get on the wrong track with inaccurate ones.

When we were researching our NCFPD backgrounder on Food Fraud recently, we found these varying definitions of “Food Quality” or “Quality Food”:

• Public Health Professional: doesn’t make people sick
• Food Manufacturing Manager: product attributes that lead to consistent end product and manufacturing operations
• Food Standards and Certification Leader: meets the defined specifications such as viscosity, density, color, texture, etc.
• Consumer: high quality or premium

While you may not agree on every aspect of the definitions, an understanding of the different assumptions is important.  If the four stakeholders in those bullet points were working together on a project, without clear definitions they could all start arguing.  Right or wrong, different groups can have different understandings of the meaning of what seems to be the most rudimentary of terms.  This challenge becomes even more of an issue when translating and interpreting between languages and alphabets.  On a current Food Fraud prevention project involving the US, Russia and Korea we’re taking a proactive approach of first creating a background document with the definitions – translated into each language.  We’re also involving linguistics scholars to help study the process of translating between languages.  As with other Food Fraud research, this is helping establish a very firm foundation for future work.

While the world is developing the first laws, regulations, and industry standards for Food Fraud, it is critical that we continue to focus on defining and explaining the foundational concepts.  This is important whether it is for FSMA Intentional Adulteration, the EP/EU draft regulation on Food Fraud, the UK Elliott Review of Food Fraud, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidance document, or the International Standards Organization activities.

So, pay attention, engage, and stay involved when these laws, regulations, and industry standards are being defined.  They are being defined right now.  If we all engage early and often we have a better chance of all getting on the same page and reducing confusion.  Hopefully these efforts help to support the implementation of efficient and effective countermeasures.  We will continue to present those key reports in this column.  Stay tuned.  JWS.

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John Spink
Dr. Spink has been focused on product fraud since the Michigan State University’s Food Safety Program and the School of Packaging began research on the topic in 2006. This work expanded to the behavioral sciences and criminology and led to the establishment of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Initiative in 2008. In 2009 the work shifted to the School of Criminal Justice where the Initiative evolved into a Program.