Reported food fraud cases increased 60 percent over the last two years, according to the latest updates in the Food Fraud Database. But what does this mean?
In simple terms, we’re talking about manufacturers who lie to us about food — what ingredients are actually “in there,” how much food is in the package, and what has been added to fool us about what we’re buying.
Or, as the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) explains it, “Food fraud is a collective term that encompasses deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.”
Initial analyses of the database by USP food scientists was published in the April 5, 2012, Journal of Food Science. This research revealed that milk, vegetable oils, and spices were among the top categories where food fraud occurred as documented in published reports.
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New records added to the database, reflect the current top ingredients vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation in today’s food supply: olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, and coffee, followed by tea, fish, clouding agents and black pepper.
None of these ingredients was among the top 25 records in the previous 1980-2010 database. The 1980-2010 database consisted of of 1,300 records. The recent update added 800 records from 2011 and 2012, bringing the total number of food fraud records to 2,100.
Within the new database, the most-represented products are milk, fish, turmeric, chili powder and cooking oil (all in the top 12 in 1980-2010), followed by shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup (none of which was even in the top 25 in 1980-2010).
Examples of food fraud include:
• olive oil replaced with other, less-expensive vegetable oils, including so-called “gutter oil” (waste oil repurposed as cooking oil);
• sale of the fish, escolar (banned in Italy and Japan) mislabeled as white tuna or butterfish; and puffer fish, associated with tetrodotoxin poisonings, mislabeled as monkfish;
• the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and other related phthalates added as a clouding agent in fruit juices, jams and other products, in place of the more expensive palm oil or other allowed food ingredients; and,