• Why microbial risk management is critical and how new technology could transform our approach

    Jul 19, 2019
    Dr. Feng Xu
    Senior Research Scientist, Mars Global Food Safety Center


    Safe food is a basic human right, yet each year millions of people around the globe become sick and die after eating contaminated food.

    One relatively common cause of unsafe food is contamination with potentially harmful bacteria and their associated toxins. This can occur anywhere within the global food supply chain and during food preparation in the home. Did you know?

    -The risk of bacterial contamination is higher in low income countries with contributing factors, such as: unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions for food storage and preparation, coupled with insufficient food safety knowledge, expertise and a low level of legislation surrounding food production and manufacturing.

    Every year 1 in 6 Americans suffer from a foodborne illness, costing the US economy an estimated US$51 billion to US$77 billion, with similar estimates for Europe.

    - As the food supply chain becomes ever more global and interconnected, the opportunity for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, increases.

    At Mars, we believe we have a clear responsibility to help tackle significant food safety challenges, such as microbial risk.  However, no one entity can do this alone. That is why The Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) partners with more than 25 organizations and academic institutions to share knowledge, generate and exchange new insights and support supply chain resilience.

    The presence of potentially harmful bacteria in the food supply chain is a critical risk area that requires constant monitoring, proactive management and continued investment.

    With this in mind, the Mars GFSC has set ambitious targets for microbial risk management. We believe new, scientific technologies could, in the future, transform microbial risk management within the food industry, moving away from testing for a specific pathogen, to mapping the entire make-up of an environment, and predicting food safety issues before they occur.  


    Later this month, the Mars GFSC team will present two studies evaluating the application of new technologies to microbial risk challenges at the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

    A Pilot Study Evaluating Oxford Nanopore Sequencing Technology for Salmonella Serotype Prediction
    contains early stage data assessing the use of new, innovative, third generation sequencing technology that uses genetic information to identify bacterial strains more accurately than traditional methods.
    While in our other study: Assessment and comparison of molecular subtyping and characterization methods for Salmonella, we partner with Cornell University to compare six of the most widely used molecular based Salmonella subtyping methods and technologies, providing the food industry with guidance on how to select a method based on their needs.


    At Mars, we believe that everyone has the right to safe food. By taking an approach rooted in scientific evidence and technology transformation, together with the commitment of our world leading partners, our goal is to help build robust food supply chains, ultimately working towards the prevention of microbial contamination of food.

    The Mars GFSC is committed to sharing the knowledge, methodologies and tools it gathers and making them available to all, as part of its commitment to ensuring safe food for all. Check out our website for a full list of publications.

  • Industry Leaders Unite to Establish a Global “Gold Standard” for Food Fraud Prevention

    Nov 08, 2018

    By Dr. Zhong Kai (See photo, R), the ​deputy director of the China Food Information Center, Author of the Guokr.com and the TouTiao, Member of the Committee of the Scientific Communication Department of the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association.

    In China, autumn is the right season to eat crabs; and one of the most famous delicacies in China is the Yangcheng Lake crab. However, during crab season, crabs can be found on sale everywhere labelled Yangcheng Lake, but not all are authentic. Some are actually the Shower crab, and what happens in the crab industry is not unique. It’s just one example of food fraud, an increasingly prevalent phenomenon that includes behaviours such as fraudulent source-labeling and illegally added ingredients.

    【A common problem】

    That said, food fraud is not a new problem. From an old Chinese saying – “Sell horse-meat as beef-steak” – we can deduce that food fraud existed even in ancient China. Over recent decades, many major food crises have erupted, such as the 2008 melamine epidemic, one of the most notorious in China. However, food fraud doesn’t only impact developing countries. Europe experiences food fraud problems as well – such as the horsemeat scandal and fipronil pollution of eggs. This occurs despite the fact that the continent is considered to have well educated food manufacturers and well developed enterprise management systems.

    Along with the globalization of the food supply chain, food fraud has evolved into a global problem. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s report -<The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2018>, some 20% of the aquatic products within the global retail and catering industries are labelled inaccurately. What’s more, an increasing number of factors that cause uncertainty within global economy development will likewise increase the risks of food fraud.

     [Food fraud- a big challenge]

    Although food fraud may not always lead to food safety problems, it hurts the interests of consumers, and it can undermine consumer trust of an entire country, negatively impacting economic development domestically, and even tarnishing a nation’s image. There is growing awareness around the world – especially among government officials and industry leaders – for the urgent need to develop measures to prevent and combat food fraud.

    Indeed, combating food fraud is a great challenge for all stakeholders. It has already existed for so long and can bring great economic benefits to lawbreakers. As an old saying goes, “Money could even hire the devil.” With such incentive, it’s virtually unavoidable that some people will at least attempt food fraud, if not perpetrate it successfully. Moreover, violators will always seek ways to elude regulators, and traditional food administration systems can fail to adequately supervise all participants.

    Some countries have gained significant experience in tackling food fraud, and have benefitted others through mutual learning and communication. However, most of these are individual cases. What’s lacking is a common model to effectively prevent food fraud worldwide. The food supply chain involves a wide range of stakeholders and no single entity cannot solve the problem of food fraud alone. Governments around the world are aware that combating food fraud requires multi-sectoral and multi-level collaboration, as well as co-operation and co-ordination globally. Yet, today there is still no agreement on some foundational topics, such as the definition of food fraud and the scope of the problem. This hinders the creation of a global framework to prevent food fraud.

    Within the food industry itself, the level of awareness and the coping capabilities are not equally understood or implemented. In particular, some small and medium sized enterprises lack the awareness and prevention capacity, so are at greater risk of adulteration of their products. For food enterprises, the key to preventing fraud is stricter management across the entire supply chain. Although many enterprises have their own quality management system, their success may be difficult for other companies to replicate. Therefore, fraud prevention requires improvements shared across the entire food industry.

    Moreover, as the last link in the food-supply chain, consumers are not only victims of food fraud, – they may even be unwitting enablers. Some consumers may have bought fake products, misled by ill-motivated sellers, and some of them may knowingly do so attracted by the low price and acceptance of lower quality. In order to protect the interest of all, it’s also crucial that consumers continue to be educated.

     [Consensus and ​action]

    To address food fraud challenges, international organizations, governments, the food industry, and academics are uniting to take action. For example, the Codex Alimentarius Commission is conducting early stage research required to support the development of a standard for food authenticity and traceability. The United States Pharmacopeial Convention has established the <Food Fraud Mitigation Guidance>. Some leading food companies have also started to undertake vulnerability assessments across their food supply chain.

    In China, the State Administration of Market Regulations is undertaking a range of governance projects to help prevent food fraud. And some food fraud case clues have been handed over to the Public Security Department for further investigation. There are also several consumer education activities within communities, schools and villages.

    In 2017, the Mars Global Food Safety Center and partners jointly organized two international meetings – in Quebec and Beijing respectively - bringing together more than 100 experts from many countries to discuss food fraud prevention and identify combative measures. Recently, Mars and partners have unveiled a report sharing the outcomes from these conference. As one of its authors, I believe this report offers three core contributions.


    Firstly, this report will help encourage multiple stakeholders to reach global and regional agreement on the need to address food fraud and to facilitate the integration and sharing of resources globally and regionally. The food supply chain is a very complicated system; to help prevent fraud across the entire chain, significant investment in resources will be required. That said, even some well established organisations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are said to lack sufficient resources. Therefore, we must improve the integration of resources globally, build information sharing mechanisms, and break down the existing barriers to information sharing between laboratories, regulatory agencies and industry partners across the food supply chain. This will help reduce duplication and increase the efficient use of resources.

    This report’s second major contribution is to promote the sharing of knowledge, experiences and best practices amongst the many different stakeholders. Specifically, this will help build a mechanism for nurturing open collaboration. Preventing food fraud requires professional knowledge, expertise and guidance, as well as multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary collaboration, such as the co-operation among the food regulation, public safety and law enforcement sectors, and multi-disciplinary teams with experts from diverse areas of expertize such as food science, criminal psychology, cognitive psychology and consumer behavior. At the same time, food companies can become the main actors on the frontline of food fraud prevention, and industry leaders, in particular, can play a pivotal role. From my perspective, we will be more successful at tackling the food fraud problem if the business world views food safety as a non-competitive issue and I encourage more industry representatives, to openly share their knowledge and resources in a not-for-profit manner like Mars does.

    The third contribution of this report is to promote the development and application of a range of technologies that can help to detect and prevent food fraud. Detection technologies will provide effective tools for tackling food fraud, and ideally these should be built into a standard fraud prevention framework. In general, many new technologies are emerging worldwide, however, yet, in the food industry, technological innovation and application has yet to fully capitalize on these. To build a unified database for global collaboration in food fraud prevention, we must develop and standardize these technologies. Certain institutions such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the International Organization for Standardization, and the Association of Official Analytical Chemists International are likely to play a vital role in driving standardization.

    Overall, food fraud has always been a big challenge for food safety.  We must drive deep collaboration between all stakeholders, more open sharing of knowledge and practice, and partnership that facilitates development of solutions together. Those discussion fora focusing on prevention of food fraud will elevate the global consensus around the need to address food fraud to a higher level. The conference outcome report aims to provide guidance on global action required to help prevent food fraud.  As a next step Codex Alimentarius Commission will develop the world blueprint for food fraud prevention based on the outcomes of these conferences. As Dr. Chen Junshi, leading academic of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said: ‘this report will help the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as well as having a broader application globally. In the near future, I believe there will be a unique, global ‘gold standard’ food fraud prevention.’

    Download the report < Addressing the Emerging Food Fraud Threat - Pushing for Global Consensus>:
  • Open sharing is critical to enable safe food for all

    Jul 12, 2018
    By Abigail Stevenson, Director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center

    Reflecting on my first few months in China as Director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in Huairou, Beijing, the pace of change is something that strikes me the most.  Although it’s visible in daily life through building development and creation of services like high speed train links, changes in the virtual world are perhaps even more impressive.  China is now the world’s largest e-commerce market for example, accounting for almost half of worldwide retail e-commerce sales.

    All this makes it an exciting place to live and do business. I can attest to this, having lived in its capital city, Beijing, for the best part of a year now. You can really feel the speed at which things are moving.  But along with this pace come new challenges.  Food safety is one such challenge that everyone faces, not just China.

    The reality is that food safety risks are increasing around the globe. These challenges come from a wide range of areas, including changes in agricultural practices, food production, and the environment. Pathogens, such as Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli, and mycotoxins, particularly aflatoxins, continue to present a significant challenge to human and pet health. The globalization of trade means that a food safety issue in one part of the world can quickly impact the global food supply chain. At the same time, new opportunities such as e-commerce bring with them challenges around assurance of authenticity for consumers.

    There is also the issue of reduced consumer trust across the globe – particularly in food companies, owing to a perceived lack of transparency in how food is produced and where it comes from. This has led to calls for industry and regulatory reform.

    China is no different and has experienced a number of food safety issues in its recent past. Determined to find a solution, the Chinese government are working very hard to improve food safety standards. In fact, it was ‘pull’ from Chinese regulators and our Mars China management teams that led to us to base the Mars GFSC in China. 

    As part of our work in China, we were recently invited to contribute an industry perspective to a new book, “Building Food Safety Governance in China”, coordinated by Jérôme Lepeintre, Minister Counsellor for Agriculture, Health and Food Safety at the European Union Delegation to the People’s Republic of China.


    To me this book is a visible demonstration of the positive steps already being taken towards the creation of a global governance approach, and the vital role that China is playing here. China is already a member of the Codex Alimentarius – a 189 strong body focusing on international food safety – and the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Both are dedicated to supporting and promoting global cooperation for food safety capacity building. That said, there is always room to go further through shared research projects of common interest and collaboration with data sharing in real time. 

    This is where the work we’re doing at the GFSC plays a key role; through openly sharing results of original research, and by bringing together experts to discuss how we enable safe food for all. As well as our partnerships in China, the GFSC hosts a range of training sessions, conferences and seminars with academics, manufacturers, regulators, policymakers and non-government organizations from all over the world. I for one am very excited to be part of this exciting work and am incredibly proud of the purpose driven approach Mars take as a company. 

    Please download a copy of “Building Food Safety Governance in China” by visiting https://marsgfsc.com/en/Newsletterdetails?item=d88fe658-6142-632c-ac68-ff0000556d69 if you are interested.

  • Partnerships and Expertise Facilitate Global Safe, Nutritious Foods

    Sep 26, 2017
    By J. B. Cordaro

    “After air and water, safe-nutritious food is the third most immediate need of all humans.”  Ren Wang, Assistant Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    Food safety is critical to food security and ensuring safe, nutritious food, but even when viewed from only a few key metrics, it is clear that much needs to be done to address global food safety. The negative human, economic, social and environmental consequences of unsafe foods impact over 4.5 billion people a year in both developed and developing countries, primarily from exposure to mycotoxins, including aflatoxins.  This fact represents the tip of the iceberg as the 25% of the world’s food supply that is contaminated impacts 1 in 10 people on our planet who suffer from eating unsafe foods, causing 600 million people to fall ill annually and 420,000 people to die, mostly women and children under 5 years of age.

    Ensuring safe food requires a multi-faceted and sustainable approach, and there are efforts under way to address global concerns about all forms and causes of unsafe foods through action oriented platforms led by the United Nations and others to strengthen global food systems and supply chains。

    Firstly, food safety is recognized as a component of food security with linkages to nutrition and collateral development components. Secondly, food safety is given higher priority in findings, recommendations and actions by United Nations forums such as the 2014 International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the 2016 Decade of Action on Nutrition (DOAN). Added to that, food safety is highlighted by UN agencies, such as WHO’s declaration of the 2015 World Health Day as Word Food Safety Day and the most recent 2017 FAO Conference calling for the UN General Assembly to establish June 7 as an annual World Food Safety Day.

    Within the SDGs, the key focus for safe, nutritious foods is at SDG 2: to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. However, close linkages exist among SDG 2 and other SDGs. SDG 1 - end poverty in all its forms everywhere; SDG 3 - ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages; SDG 5 - achieve gender equity and empower all women and girls; SDG 6 - clean water and sanitation; SDG 12 - responsible consumption and production; SDG 13 - climate action; and SDG 17- the partnership goal, which strengthens the implementation and revitalizes the global partnership for sustainable development.

    DOAN’s umbrella function is closely allied with nutrition related goals and targets of the SDGs and the policy commitments from the ICN2 by consolidating and aligning nutrition actions. Specifically DOAN seeks to support and catalyze nutrition actions and investments by helping countries attain specific, measurable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) commitments by 2025. Clearly there is a need to mobilize concrete actions to ensure a safe, nutritious food supply.  

    The private sector also has a role to play, and collaboration between businesses and other key partners is critical if we are to tackle the many food safety challenges impacting the global food supply today. The opening of Mars’ Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in 2015 was a significant step. The center seeks to raise the bar through the sharing of food safety expertise, research and training. It’s also a catalyst for collaboration with government, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and other industry leaders – all vitally important if we are to safely feed a global population expected to reach nine billion or more by 2050.  Through the center Mars has collaborated with United Nations entities such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank; Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN); the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (PACA); IBM; China Food and Drug Association; several academic and university partnerships: multiple collaborations focused on ensuring safe, nutritious foods to achieve food security.

    The Decade of Action on Nutrition has called upon Member States and other stakeholders, including the private sector, to convene platforms to support nutrition actions focused on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets. A multi-sector driven Safe, Nutritious Foods Alliance platform, supported by business and NGOs could benefit National Governments in their implementation of the 10 principles of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and the 17 SDGs. If this platform is established it would be a valuable resource for existing and planned Mars food safety partnerships and expand the Mars GFSC network.