The food-fraud detectives have dug up more evidence of a growing number of foods that contain bogus ingredients or are deliberately mislabeled, particularly olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, coffee and chili powder. Moreover, some mislabeled seafood could poison you.
The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a nonprofit scientific group, says it added nearly 800 reported cases of food fraud to its online database. That’s a 60 percent jump versus the 1,300 cases when the USP database was unveiled in April 2012.
The updated cases – covering foods sold in the United States and around the globe – comes mainly from reports published in academic studies and the news media in 2011 and 2012.
The initial 1,300 cases were published between 1980 and 2010. The initial list found that milk, vegetable oils, and spices were among the top fraud targets.
The new data show similar trends for 2011 and 2012, along with new categories vulnerable to fraud, including fish, shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup. In fact, UPS said fraud was a “significant problem” in the $80 billion seafood business in the United States, where more than 80 percent of the fish is imported.
UPS scientists also found that black pepper and clouding agents – commonly used in fruit juices and beverages to improve their visual appearance and make products look freshly squeezed – were vulnerable.
“While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg,” Jeffrey Moore, the USP’s analyst who created the database, said in a news release.
He added that USP hopes ultimately the database “can be used as a tool by food manufacturers, regulators, scientists and others worldwide to help achieve a safer food supply.”
Among the latest documented cases in the USP database:
Olive oil – Often found to be diluted or replaced with cheaper oils. We’ve known the “extra virgin” olive oil on the supermarket shelf here often isn’t the real thing. (Click here to read about a 2011 U.S.-Australian study.) For our part, we go to great lengths to ensure the oil we make is of the highest quality. It’s certified as true extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council. The oil must pass rigorous lab and taste tests to earn that certification.
Milk – Watered-down and adulterated with urea in India; milk fat replaced with vegetable oil in South America.
Spices – Diluted or replaced with less expensive spices or fillers.
Seafood: An oily fish known as escolar often fraudulently mislabeled as white tuna or butterfish. Escolar is banned in Italy and Japan; other countries have issued advisories on the trade and consumption of the fish, which can cause food poisoning.
Your friends at California Olive Ranch