Recent scandals where horsemeat was found added to beef in Europe have increased pubic awareness of food fraud. As commodity prices continue to rise worldwide, food fraud is rising as well. A recent study released by a consumer watchdog group has found that cases of food fraud have increased 60 percent in the last year.
Food fraud rising
The FDA defines food fraud as the adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods for economic gain without the consumer’s knowledge. A recent study on food fraud released by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) reported that nearly 800 new records were added to its online database of food fraud cases.
The Department of Homeland Security funded the efforts of USP researchers, who launch the food fraud database in 2010. Since then, reports from 2011 and 2012 have been added to a list that now includes about 2000 foods to watch out for. The most common fraudulent foods are olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee and apple juice.
Frequent food frauds
Other frequent frauds involve tea, fish, maple syrup and spices. For saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, the USP database lists 109 counterfeit substitutes, including marigold flowers, corn silk, gypsum, chalk and strands of cotton or plastic thread.
Clouding agents are commonly used to make fake fruit juices look freshly squeezed. The USP found clouding agents in 877 food products from 315 different companies, including Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a chemical used in plastic manufacturing linked to cancer and damage to the reproductive system.
Food fraud protection
To protect yourself against food fraud, look for whole alternatives to the most fraudulent substances. Buy real lemons instead of lemon juice and whole spices such as peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg. Look for reputable sources you can trust, visit farmer’s markets and consider joining a food cooperative.
The USP food fraud database was developed as a resource for regulators and food manufacturers, but since the database is free, but anyone can use it.
Top food frauds
Olive Oil: often diluted with other less expensive oils, including hazelnut, soybean, corn, sunflower, palm, sesame, grape seed and walnut.
Milk: found to contain vegetable oil, whey, caustic soda, cane sugar, detergent and toxic compounds like melamine and formaldehyde.
Honey: often a mix of high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose syrup, invert beet sugar, water and essential oils.
Saffron: often adulterated with glycerin, sandalwood dust, tartrazine (yellow dye), barium sulfate, borax, marigold flowers and colored corn strings.
Orange Juice: adulterants include lemon juice, sugar water, paprika extract, marigold flower extract, or synthetic sugar/acid mixtures.
Coffee: ground or instant may be diluted with roasted corn, ground parchment, barley, coffee twigs, potato flower, malt, chicory or caramel.
Apple Juice: faked with corn syrup, raisin sweetener, malic acid, beet sugar and other juices, such as grape, pineapple, pear or fig.
Tea: tea bags may include sand, sawdust, starch, China clay, used tea leaves and color additives.
Fish: A recent study found one-third of all fish samples tested across the US were mislabeled and substituted with cheaper, more common species.
Black Pepper: often adulterated with juniper berries, papaya seeds, starch, buckwheat flour or millet seeds.