Large-scale food theft is the plat du jour on criminal menus as of late. In fact, food and beverages have replaced electronics as the most-stolen good in the United States, with an estimated $21 million worth of food and beverages stolen in 2015. Products range from alcohol, meat ($41,000 in chicken wings by a father and son team in New York), and dairy (especially cheese and ice cream) to produce, nuts and seeds. Thieves find edibles appetizing targets because the value is high and the risk is relatively low—many perishables don’t have serial numbers and can’t be tagged or traced.
Who Moved My Cheese
Cheese is currently the most stolen food item in the world. In the last 3 years, almost $425,000 worth of cheese has been stolen in Wisconsin alone—including $90,000 in Marshfield near Nelson-Jameson’s headquarters and $46,000 worth just a month ago near Milwaukee. Any way you slice it, that’s a whole lot of cheddar. Gouda thing for the dairy industry, it’s not that easy to get away with stealing lotza mozza. Cheese is a highly-regulated food, with documentation implemented at various stages of production and distribution—from paperwork to truck seals. Thus, most of the recent queso the stolen cheeses have been solved.
Some of the most sophisticated and frequent shell games involve the nut industry in California, with almonds, walnuts and pistachios targeted most often. And the thieves are clearly on a (nut) roll: in the past 9 months, more than $10 million worth of product has been stolen from the California supply chain, which is about $3 million more than the amount stolen in the last 4 years. It is believed that most of the stolen nuts are being sold for export, as they have a long shelf-life, are relatively untraceable and have increased in global value and popularity. Fortunately, the nut industry is doing their best to crack the case. Since most of the thefts take place during the logistics process, extra safety and security measures have been implemented that include radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and fingerprinting and photographing truck drivers. Police task forces have also been recently increased.
An Issue of Both Economics and Public Health
While we often laugh when we hear that someone’s stolen 600 barrels of maple syrup, don’t let the puns and humor detract from the economic damage the stolen food black market inflicts. It negatively impacts growers, agricultural laborers, processors, logistic companies, distributors, retailers and insurers. Eventually, the loss of income is passed onto the consumer through food shortages and raised prices. Food safety is also an issue. Like the California man that was caught selling unrefrigerated, stolen orange juice out of his garage, most thieves don’t care about proper handling and storage of the product. Clearly, the risk of foodborne illness combined with far-reaching monetary losses make food crime a seriously unpalatable concern that needs to be addressed with some importance. For more information on the FDA’s cargo theft policies and notices, please see http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/CriminalInvestigations/ucm182888.htm .