Adulteration of Food

What We Do

"Food Defense" is the sum of actions and activities related to prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery of the food system from intentional acts of adulteration. This includes intentional adulteration from terrorism, sabotage, and Economically Motivated Adulteration. Intentional adulteration with the intent to cause injury impacts consumer confidence in the food system and has the potential to cause wide scale public health harm. Acts of sabotage and food terrorism through intentional adulteration of food can cause significant public health consequences, create widespread public fear, disrupt trade, and increase food insecurity. Methods may include contamination of the product with physical, chemical, and biological agents. Economically motivated adulteration (EMA), often called “food fraud,” is the deliberate adulteration or misrepresentation of foods or food ingredients for economic gain. Public health harm may also occur in incidents of EMA. Methods of EMA and food fraud include, but are not limited to, dilution, substitution, mislabeling, and the addition of unapproved additives.

How We Work

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9: Defense of United States Agriculture and Food initiated the work in food defense through the establishment of a national policy to defend the agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) through the Preventive Controls for Human and Animal Food as well as the Intentional Adulteration rule requires food facilities to conduct hazard and threat assessments of their products. The FSMA rules require facilities to prepare and implement two plans to address adulteration of food. A food defense plan with mitigation strategies must be implemented based on an assessment of vulnerability to acts of intentional contamination and a food safety plan must identify and implement preventive controls for EMA hazards.

FPDI conducts research and engages stakeholders to determine drivers, precursors, magnitude of economic and public health impacts, detection method improvements, and policy shifts as a result of known economically motivated and intentional adulteration events. This research is used to learn how to detect and deter future incidents in the future through risk, hazard, and vulnerability assessment as well as the use of predictive analytics. FPDI provides stakeholders with the research, information, training, and planning tools necessary to understand and evaluate the vulnerability of their products to economically motivated and intentional adulteration. 

Our Capabilities

Valuable data exists to support food defense efforts, but often this information is located across a large number of disparate sources making it difficult to access and understand. FPDI uses a variety of tools to gather the streams of data, applies technology to provide preliminary sense-making, and then evaluates and interprets the data to achieve the research goals. As research progresses, opportunities to leverage data and research methods to broader applications and audiences are assessed.

Over 10 years of FPDI research on adulteration of food resulted in development of user-friendly assessment tools and searchable databases to curate food defense-related information. These tools assist Industry stakeholders in understanding the FSMA requirements for preventing EMA and intentional adulteration and providing an assessment of their current food defense capabilities and vulnerabilities.

The Food Adulteration Incident Registry is a searchable database of documented EMA, terrorism, and sabotage incidents since 1980. Incidents are categorized by type, motivation, harm, food category, and location information. Dashboard, summary, and specific data views (e.g. adulterant type and amount) are provided for incidents.

The World Factbook of Food is designed to serve as a central reference repository of data related to food. Organized into a series of food and country profiles, the World Factbook of Food provides users with a wide range of food and agriculture data at the food and country level.

The EMA Susceptibility database evaluates a searchable list of food ingredients based on 5 criteria: compositional complexity of the ingredient, variability of the ingredient, selectivity of the ID test(s), specificity of the assay(s), and the ability to detect EMA based on a loss of function in the final food product.

The Food Defense Readiness Assessment (FDRA 2.0) and Intentional Adulteration Assessment Tool (IAAT) aid facilities in assessing their current food defense capabilities and quantifying their risk of intentional adulteration to their products from a chemical or biological adulterant.


FPDI built and maintains a robust consortium of experts researching adulteration of food. Researchers located within the Institute and in our consortium of Universities provide targeted expertise based on user needs. The Institute boasts a multi-disciplinary expert network which includes food science, public health, veterinary medicine, food production, supply chains, animal feed, political science, business, engineering, and computer science. The Institute consortium works collaboratively with government agencies and many private sector stakeholders to learn from the history of intentional adulteration incidents, find innovative ways to detect and deter future incidents, and tran