9 Foods That May Be Fraudulent
Often substituted with a lower-cost type of olive oil or thinned with a nut, seed or legume oil.
Fish and Seafood
Some higher-value species have been replaced with cheaper, more abundant fish.
Milk and Milk-Based Products
Cow’s milk has had milk from other types of animals added to it, or been adulterated with reconstituted milk powder, urea, rennet or other products. Adulterated milk might be added to infant formula and other milk-based products.
Honey, Maple Syrup and Other Natural Sweeteners
Honey might contain undisclosed types of added sugars. Maple syrup is sometimes thinned out with sugar or corn syrup.
Juices might be watered down, cut with a cheaper juice or contain only water, dye and sugary flavorings.
Coffee and Tea
Ground coffee might be cut with leaves, twigs and other substances. Instant coffee may include chicory, cereals and other substances. Tea may contain leaves from other plants, color additives and colored saw dust.
Saffron, ground black pepper, vanilla extract, turmeric, star anise, paprika and chili powder have been found to contain adulterants and colorings.
Organic Foods and Products
USDA has detected fraudulently labeled products for a range of foods and ingredients from domestic and international suppliers.
These are used legally to enhance fruit juices, jams and other foods. Of particular concern is the fraudulent substitution or addition of the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and related phthalates. DEHP has been linked to public health risks, such as cancer and reproductive concerns.
Article written by – Diane Quagliani, MBA, RDN, LDN
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration have mechanisms to identify, enforce and prevent food fraud, they don’t have the resources to physically inspect most products, much less detect every case. For instance, in 2011, the FDA physically inspected only 2.3 percent of all food and feed imports, which means the percentage of inspections for food alone is even smaller. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in 2000, FDA inspections covered only about 1 percent of the food imported under its jurisdiction.
But another front against food fraud is coming from the food industry itself — implementing more sophisticated and accurate methods to detect fraud, such as DNA testing and genome sequencing of fish, to help ensure authenticity. Spink says he expects implementation of industry standards that will require a documented vulnerability assessment and control plan based on guidelines from the industry-driven Global Food Safety Initiative.
Meanwhile, consumers also can take steps to reduce their risk of being deceived:
- Be aware of foods that commonly fall victim to fraud. Learn more about vulnerable foods by tapping into the searchable USP Food Fraud database of reports of ingredient fraud: foodfraud.org.
- Shop at trusted retailers and cultivate relationships with small, local businesses. This step isn’t foolproof — even honest sellers can be fraud victims, too — but they may take extra care to source their products. For instance, local merchants sometimes have more direct oversight of their suppliers, such as a small grocer who picks up his organic produce from the farm down the road. They have more at stake, too. “There’s usually low risk of fraud from a local shop because they have a high risk of going out of business from a fraud incident,” Spink says.
- Choose time-honored, reputable brands and products. Be wary of bargain prices for typically expensive foods such as saffron and extra-virgin olive oil — they might be diluted with cheap ingredients.
- Buy foods as close to their natural form as possible. For instance, grind your own coffee beans and whole spices, and grow your own herbs.
- If you suspect fraud, shout it out. Report it to the retailer and the manufacturer through their website or the consumer hotline number on the package. For FDA-regulated products (any food except meat and poultry), contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state at fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/default.htm. For meat and poultry products, contact the USDA Office of Inspector General at usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm.
- If you suspect a food product has made you sick, contact your public health department right away.
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