Olive Oil Fraud and Other Questionable Foods

I have heard about fake olive oil but wasn’t sure how prevalent it was. Then I came across this article. It really is amazing what we are being swindled out of. We all know how stores do the bait and switch marketing; promising you one thing to get you in the door, when you get there, that item is sold out or no longer available but they have something else in its place.

Same thing happens with our food. I mean we really don’t know what goes on behind the labels on most products we buy. Do we research the item before we decide to buy? Or, do we say, it’s the right price and it’ll work? So many choices out there it is hard to figure out when you need to be extra aware.

Finding a brand you can trust and sticking with it is one way to avoid any surprises in the future. Of course olive oil is only one food manufacturers try to fudge on, honey, milk, fish, spices, alcohol, fruit juices and baby formulas are the most susceptible to fraud. Knowing what you buy is key to getting what you pay for.

Here is a list of things to beware of when purchasing.

Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?

Olive Oil

Accounting for 16% of the database’s recorded cases, olive oil is the food most subject to fraud, according to the Journal of Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?Food Sciences study. In most cases, experts say, consumers are merely getting a bad deal — regular olive oil instead of pricier extra virgin, say, or a less expensive variety from Greece instead of Italy as the label proclaims.

But in rare cases, varieties of non-food-grade oil may be added in, posing a health risk, Steketee says. In one of the more famous cases, more than 600 people in Spain died in 1981 after consuming “olive oil” that was actually a non-food-grade rapeseed oil intended as an industrial lubricant. She suggests sticking to brands you know and sources you trust.

Milk

Adulterated milk is typically watered down and then laced with melamine, which increases the protein content to hide the dilution, Spink says. “Consumers may consume the product and may not be aware of the quality variation,” he says.Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?

In fact, milk is the second most common ingredient subject to adulteration, at 14% of cases in the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s Food Fraud Database.

The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was the most high-profile incident, with the resulting outbreak killing six infants and sickening more than 300,000 consumers. Steketee says the problem is still more widespread abroad, with U.S. consumers needing to be more cautious about powdered milk and similar products of unknown origin.

Makes you wonder why the government doesn’t want us drinking raw organic milk from local reputable farmers; seems less dangerous to me in this case to go natural.

Honey

The Journal of Food Sciences study pegged honey as a top fake, representing 7% of food fraud cases. Last year, Food Safety News tests also found that 75% of store honey doesn’t contain pollen.Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?

People are still buying a bee-made product, but all the pollen has been screened out, says Andrew Schneider, a food safety journalist who wrote the reports for Food Safety News. A lack of pollen makes it tough to determine its geographic origin — and also means regulators don’t recognize the product as honey, he says.

Why the misdirection? Separate Food Safety News tests found a third of the faux honey imports from Asia were contaminated with lead and antibiotics. For the real deal, Schneider suggests buying from a local beekeeper.

A National Honey Board spokesman says the group disputes the Food Safety News findings, and says regulations do allow for pollen to be filtered out as part of the removal of particles such as bee parts and other organic debris.

Fruit Juice

Fraudsters find it easy to dilute expensive juices without a notable change in taste or consistency, says Kircher. Orange juice Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?represents 4% of cases in the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s Food Fraud Database, and apple juice, 2%.

Consumers buying one of those common juices might get more water for their money, while an expensive one like pomegranate may be cut with apple juice.

Consumers should be especially careful to read labels and pick a trusted brand when buying into the latest super-fruit craze, she says. It takes time to build up supply of a newly hot fruit, so those products are more likely to be adulterated.

Baby Formula

Although not a top offender in the Food Fraud database, experts say baby formula poses considerable food fraud risk. Formula Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?is one of the most common targets for organized retail theft, and criminals often tamper with the sell-by codes to move expired product, Spink says.

Adulterated milk, which can make it into formula, also poses a concern here, Steketee says. Parents’ best bet, they say, is to buy from a major retailer rather than less-monitored venues such as flea markets and online auctions. And don’t buy any package that has a blurred-out expiration date or otherwise looks tampered with, she says.

Spices

There’s ample fraud opportunity in expensive goods that are purchased in small quantities and used in small doses as it’s Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?unlikely one’s using enough to notice something isn’t quite right, Spink says. Saffron represents 5% of food fraud cases and vanilla extract, 2%. Turmeric, star anise, paprika and chili powder each account for another 1%.

Some are dangerous swaps, others, a waste of money. Shoppers buying paprika may be getting the flavorless leftovers of spices that have already been processed for extracts. Chinese star anise, for example, may be substituted with toxic Japanese star anise. Experts suggest being cautious about buying from markets or bulk bins without knowing the spice’s origin.

Alcohol

Just a few weeks ago, a New York wine dealer was arrested for allegedly trying to sell rare — but counterfeit — wines for $1.3 Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?million. Collectively, wines, spirits and liquors represent just 2% of cases in the USPC’s Food Fraud database.

Most faux wines are just a cheaper vintage and a bad bargain, but adulterated spirits are potentially more dangerous, says Steketee. Fake vodkas in particular have made the news in recent months, with contaminants such as anti-freeze and other dangerous chemicals.

Counterfeiters are likely to focus most of their attention on the packaging, so consumers should keep an eye out for logos and bottles that don’t look quite right, she says.

Fish

Food Fraud, Whats Really in Those Packages?Faux fish represented the top fraud in the Journal of Food Sciences study of media and other public records, at 9% of cases. And some may be unhealthy.

“It’s easy to sell a piece of fish as one species when in reality it’s another species,” says Kircher. Farmed fish also get advertised as more expensive wild versions. Sometimes, it gets even more creative than a simple mislabel. Scallops, for example, might actually be punched out circles from a whitefish fillet, she says.

A recent Consumer Reports study included a “grouper” sample that was really tilefish, a species that contains enough mercury to make the FDA’s list of foods that pregnant women and young children should avoid. Experts suggest buying whole fish when possible which are harder to fake.

Bottom Line

There you have it. Some things to be on the look out for. Just remember to do your homework and stick with brands you can trust. Natural, simple ingredients are the way to go. If a product has more words that you can’t pronounce than ones you can, put it back and keep looking.

You have a right to know where your food comes from, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more informed you are, the healthier you will be.

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