Food fraud: We are all unsuspecting victims

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Food fraud

Food fraud is prevalent, and we are often none the wiser. How well do you study the labels on the food items you buy? Even if you do, supermarket shelves are packed with products that are not what you thought they were.

Food fraud, emoji inspector

What is food fraud?

Food fraud involves intentional altering, mislabeling, misrepresentation, tampering, or substituting anything in food or drink products at any manufacturing and packaging stage. They do this with the purpose to deceive consumers and gain undue financial and marketing advantage.

Examples of food fraud include the 1981 fraud involving “rapeseed oil” that affected tens of thousands of people and between 375 and 835 deaths in Spain. In 2008, 50,000 babies became sick, and about six died in China from adulterated milk containing melamine. Other examples include methanol added to illegal spirits, beef products containing horsemeat, insecticide in eggs, and slaughtering of sick cows. Let’s explore how food fraud fools us.

Food fraud, olive oil

Food fraud on olive oil labels

Even if the label on your olive oil claims it is 100% pure olive oil, chances are it has other oils, like peanut oil, mixed in with a small percentage of virgin olive oil. You might think it’s no big deal, but what will happen if one of your dinner guests is allergic to peanuts?

Wasabi root
Wasabi, the real thing

Could your favorite restaurant commit food fraud?

Wasabi is not easy to come by. The natural product is related to cauliflower and cabbage. It is a root-like stem that needs moist, cool conditions to grow. Once grated, the flavor of the real thing lasts for only approximately 15 minutes. Many restaurants serve what they call wasabi, but they mix small quantities of wasabi root with horseradish, mustard flour, vinegar, oil, food coloring, and high-fructose corn syrup behind closed kitchen doors.

Food fraud, pancake syrup
Maple syrup vs pancake syrup

What is the syrup on your pancakes really?

We all love the occasional maple-syrup covered pancake. However, is the syrup in your pantry maple syrup or pancake syrup? The boiled sap of a maple tree is the sticky syrup we call maple syrup. In contrast, pancake syrup is a mixture of corn syrup, flavoring, coloring and preservatives.


Halibut, red snapper or food fraud?

Tilefish is prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is one of the fish types with high levels of mercury. Therefore, it could be dangerous to serve it to pregnant or nursing mothers and also young children. However, you might not even know if you get tilefish instead of halibut or red snapper at a restaurant or even the market.

Lobster bisque
Lobster or langostino?

FDA says lobster bisque could be food fraud

Although the texture and taste of your lobster bisque seems like the real deal, it could be langostino bisque instead. Langostino is related to the hermit crab, aka squat lobster, and it is also about 50% cheaper than lobster. FDA regulations say the label on langostino may not say lobster without including the word squat or langostino.

All Natural sign
Real or fraud?

How natural is “natural flavors” in prepacked food items?

The FDA recently took steps to ban synthetic flavors manufactured to mimic the real food flavors. This action followed the discovery of laboratory animals posing health risks. Original natural flavors are only in real unrefined, unprocessed whole foods.

Oregano with insect pieces and rodent hair?

Are there insect fragments in your herbs and spices?

Reportedly, herbs and spices may contain a limited amount of rodent hairs, insect fragments and other yucky stuff. Only when it exceeds the limits will the FDA regard the product as adulterated. For instance, 10g of ground oregano  may have 1,250 pieces of insects, and 300 in crushed oregano. This might be the inspiration you needed to start your own herb garden.

Fruit Juice
100% pure or not?

100% fruit juice does not mean what you might think

Food fraud is widespread when it comes to fruit juices. Suppose you purchase orange juice with a label stating 100% fruit juice. In that case, it could refer to any combination of fruit and vegetable juice. Many times a large percentage is other cheaper juices like apple or white grape juice. Have a good look at the label. The more ingredients, the less likely the chances are that the juice is pure.

Juice, pasteurized
Pasteurized orange juice — pure or not?

Does perfume flavor your orange juice?

Orange juice manufacturers usually pasteurize the juice to lengthen the shelf life. However, the process removes the oxygen and most of the natural flavor-providing chemicals. Therefore, they need a plan to put flavor back, and that is where the perfume manufacturers come in. They provide the juice manufacturer with a mixture of oil and orange essence, which are not likely to appear on the label.

Label, ingredients

How much do you love vanilla flavoring?

Knowing the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring might put you off the flavoring version forever. Vanilla extract is a product of vanilla pods mixed with ethanol, a simple alcohol. In contrast, vanilla flavoring is vanillin, a synthetic product made with a base of wood pulp and petrochemicals.

To summarize, read the labels carefully and hope for the best!

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