Food Fraud: Focus on the Yogurt Industry

Atlante GDO Week Food Fraud Frodi Yogurt

5 June 2024

The Atlante Food Fraud Observatory focuses on risks associated with products and categories. The goal? To raise awareness and ensure that businesses can work with greater responsibility.

Commitment and Collaboration: Atlante’s Initiative to Combat Food Fraud

Atlante has always paid particular attention to the risks associated with food fraud. In July 2023, Atlante launched the Food Fraud Risk Assessment project: a robust plan dedicated to evaluating the risks related to food fraud.

As part of this important plan, a collaboration with GDO Week has been established for a monthly column dedicated to food fraud prevention. The articles will be curated by Atlante’s Food Fraud Observatory and authored by Enrico Santi, Quality Assurance Manager.

Each article will provide insights, analyses, and best practices to tackle the complexity of food fraud.

This synergy highlights Atlante’s ongoing commitment to sharing its knowledge and most effective strategies with major Italian chains and its partners to ensure the genuineness and integrity of the food that reaches our tables.

Food Fraud Yogurt

Regulatory context

At the European level, there is no definition for yoghurt and the reference is the Codex standard CXS 243-2003 (revised in 2022).

In Italy, yoghurt is defined by a Royal Decree of 9 May 1929 and subsequent circulars of the Ministry of Health.

According to Italian law, yoghurt must be made exclusively from milk. However, according to the Codex, it can also be produced by using milk derivatives (e.g., milk protein) and other ingredients.

Yoghurt must obtain a living probiotic culture until expiry.

The Italian standardisation standard UNI 10358:16 establishes minimum quantities of viable cells at maturity for both total and individual cultures. The Codex stipulates total minimum quantities, and the requirement for individual cultures is limited exclusively to the case where these are mentioned on the label.

The situation of ‘Greek yoghurt’*, more accurately referred to as ‘Greek strained yoghurt’, is unique. Although not recognised under the designation of origin or geographical indication schemes, the European Commission has ruled that ‘Greek yoghurt’ must be produced in Greece.

*This indication alone can define unstrained (concentrated) yoghurt, produced on Greek territory.

Fraud Risk factors

Fraud risk factors can be identified as follows:

  1. Use of undeclared milk substitute ingredients (e.g., milk powder**)
  2. Non-compliance with the ingredients stated on the label (e.g., lower %, fruit))
  3. Non-compliance with nutritional values (e.g., lower fat or protein content for whole yoghurt or reduced dry matter)
  4. Stabilisation by heat and reduction of the viable lactic acid bacteria count
  5. Significant reduction of the lactobacillus load to achieve ‘neutral’, acid-free organoleptic profiles
  6. Additional for Greek yoghurt: Production outside the Greek territory or failure to declare the origin of the milk if this is other than Greece/span>

**The declared use of milk derivatives is only authorised for production outside Italy.

Mitigation and Control Elements

The use of different investigative methods, also employed in combination, makes it possible to mitigate the risk of fraud.

Controls are planned in relation to the probability of occurrence, which is a function of the general market conditions (e.g., pressure on purchase prices) and the perceived ‘opportunity’.

Checks can be related to organoleptic parameters (conformity of sensory parameters such as colour, appearance, smell, taste, and texture). In this case, perceived conformity can be assessed, and certain conditions may indicate fraud (e.g., alteration of colour).

For in-depth investigations, a diversified approach is necessary:

  1. Specialized analyses, addressing specific parameters such as lactic acid bacteria count and speciation (cases D. and E.), and isotope profile analysis for determining the geographical origin of the milk used (case F.).
  2. Traceability checks involving documentary controls collecting elements of general conformity.
  3. Inspections at the production site.