Food Fraud Secretly Infiltrates Kitchens Across America
Why are we Talking About Food Fraud on a Relationship Scam Website?
Simple. This is a scam and it involves your trust relationship with your supermarket. If you are like us, you buy your food products at a place that you trust to give you authentic quality, that is fresh and safe to consume. But is it really? Food fraud is just another kind of scam that affects us all directly.
It’s one thing if you are scammed into buying a fake designer purse, but that purse does not affect the health of your children or family.
Like relationship scams, food fraud strikes right at the heart of our trust in the institutions we rely on. It is one that affects almost every consumer, and yet most people are completely unaware of it.
What Is Economically Motivated Adulteration (Food Fraud)
Economically motivated adulteration (EMA) – Food Fraud occurs when someone intentionally leaves out, takes out, or substitutes a valuable ingredient or part of a food. EMA also occurs when someone adds a substance to a food to make it appear better or of greater value. For example, when manufacturers add a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive olive oil but sell the product as 100% olive oil, they are cheating their customers. We refer to this type of EMA as food fraud.
Food fraud is a common type of EMA that the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) deals with, but EMA also occurs with other products, including animal food and cosmetics. Some types of EMA are also misbranding violations.
Estimating how frequently food fraud occurs or its exact economic impact can be hard because food fraud is designed to avoid detection. Outside estimates by experts have found that food fraud affects 1% of the global food industry at a cost of about $10-$15 billion a year, although some more recent expert estimates put the cost as high as $40 billion a year.
EMA isn’t just an economic issue, though. Depending on what is added, substituted, or left out, food fraud can lead to health issues, some major, and even death. Some examples include lead poisoning from adulterated spices and allergic reactions to a hidden, substituted ingredient that contains even just one food allergen.
The FDA works on several fronts to protect consumers from the potential health risks and economic harm from food fraud.
Examples of Common Food Fraud
- Honey and Maple Syrup: Even though their labels represented their food as a pure product, some unscrupulous companies have previously mixed honey or maple syrup with cheaper sweeteners such as corn syrup, rice syrup, sugar beet syrups, or cane sugar. This lowered the cost of production, but consumers still paid the full price of a pure honey or maple syrup product with the additional profit going to the companies.
- Olive Oil: Similar to honey and maple syrup, some companies have previously diluted more expensive extra-virgin olive oil with less expensive vegetable oil but sold the mix as pure olive oil at a higher price.
- Seafood: Seafood fraud often happens when someone substitutes a less expensive species of fish for a more expensive species, such as selling less expensive snappers (Lutjanus spp.) or rockfish (Sebastes spp.) for more expensive red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) in a food. See our Seafood Species Substitution and Economic Fraud page for more information. Another example is when a seller adds ice to frozen seafood to make it heavier before selling it by weight.
- Juice: When manufacturers sell a mixture of citric acid, sweetener, and water as “100%” lemon juice or mix grape juice into their “100%” pomegranate juice, the consumer harm is mostly economic. However, when a company mixes expired, contaminated juice stored in dirty conditions with fresh juice in order to hide the low quality of the expired filthy juice, the resulting juice can possibly harm the person drinking it.
- Spices: One type of spice fraud occurs when an expensive spice (such as saffron) is bulked up with other non-spice plant material (such as plant stems). Another type of fraud is using dyes to give spices a certain color, especially when the color strongly impacts the perception of quality. Lead-based dyes and other industrial dyes that can cause adverse health problems such as cancer have been found in spices such as chili powder, turmeric, and cumin.
- Infant Formula: One way that scientists can estimate how much protein is in a food is by looking at how much nitrogen is present. In 2008, manufacturers in China added melamine (a synthetic chemical often used in plastics that has a high nitrogen content) to infant formula to make it seem like their products had enough protein. This led to kidney failure in babies, and news reports indicated the fraud caused over 300,000 illnesses, 50,000 hospitalizations, and at least 6 deaths.
- Pine Nuts: During 2008 to 2012, some people reported a bitter metallic taste (“pine mouthExternal Link Disclaimer”) that sometimes lasted for weeks after they ate pine nuts. After an international investigation, it appeared that some manufacturers substituted a non-food species of pine nuts in place of more expensive edible pine nut species.
More About Economically Motivated Adulteration (Food Fraud)
The food in your kitchen cabinets may not be what it seems.
According to CNBC
“I guarantee you any time a product can be passed off as something more expensive, it will be. It’s that simple,” Larry Olmsted, author of “Real Food/Fake Food,” told CNBC.
Fraudsters motivated by economic gain secretly infiltrate the global food market through a variety of means, including counterfeits, dilutions, substitution and mislabeling.
This not only harms consumers’ wallets, but it also puts public health and safety at risk.
Some estimates say food fraud affects at least 1% of the global food industry at a cost as high as $40 billion a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
“We might not know the overall impact of food fraud because so much of what fraudsters do is hidden from us and has been for centuries.” Kristie Laurvick, senior manager of the foods program at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, told CNBC.
Even the FDA says it can’t estimate how often this fraud happens or its economic impact.
“Be aware of products that you put in you, on you or plug in the wall,” John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, told CNBC.
Between 2012 and 2021, the most common type food fraud was lying about an animal’s origin and dilution or substitution, both ranking at 16% of recorded incidents by food-safety monitor Food Chain ID.
For example, dilution could entail adding a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive extra virgin olive oil.
“If I drink scotch, I couldn’t tell you [the] difference between a $50 bottle and a $5,000 bottle. So, I know I could be deceived at that point,” Spink said.
The Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank suggests five questions a consumer can ask themselves to reduce their vulnerability to product fraud.
- What type of product is it? Take extra caution with any product that you put on your body, ingest or plug in the wall.
- Can you recognize the difference between products?
- Do you know the retailer or supplier? Do you trust them?
- Are you shopping online? If so, did you find the online supplier from a reliable source?
- Complain. Is the supplier legitimate? If so, they will want to know.
According to the FDA, 1 in 10 food items in your shopping basket may be fake!
Food fraud happens more often as the price of a food product goes up, and when the market is more of a budget provider!
Food Fraud and the Impact on Consumers
Fake food products are a serious problem that can have significant negative effects on consumers. These products are often made with cheap, inferior ingredients and can be dangerous to consume. They can also be harmful to the environment and to the economy.
One of the main dangers of fake food products is that they can be contaminated with harmful chemicals or toxins
These can include pesticides, heavy metals, and other harmful substances that can cause serious health problems for those who consume them. For example, fake honey can contain high levels of lead and other heavy metals, which can cause neurological damage and other health problems. Similarly, fake olive oil can contain dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer and other serious health issues.
Another danger of fake food products is that they can be made with ingredients that are not safe for human consumption.
These can include things like fillers, artificial colors, and other substances that can be harmful to health. For example, fake milk can be made with melamine, a chemical that can cause kidney damage and other health problems. Similarly, fake meat can be made with cheap ingredients like soy and wheat gluten, which can cause allergic reactions and other health issues.
Fake food products can also be harmful to the environment.
For example, fake honey can be made with sugar and corn syrup, which can contribute to the destruction of natural habitats and the loss of biodiversity. Similarly, fake meat can be made with soy and other plant-based ingredients, which can lead to deforestation and other environmental problems.
The economy is also affected by the presence of fake food products.
Consumers are often misled into paying more for products that are not authentic, while the manufacturers of fake food products are able to make a profit by cutting corners and using cheap ingredients. This can lead to a loss of revenue for legitimate food producers, and can also lead to a loss of jobs in the food industry.
To protect yourself from fake food products, it is important to be aware of the risks and to take steps to ensure that you are buying authentic, safe food.
This can include things like looking for certifications, reading labels carefully, and being wary of products that are priced significantly lower than similar products. Consumers should also be vigilant and report any suspicious food products to the relevant authorities.
According to SupermarketNews:
In the rest of the world, fraud is considered a white-collar crime. The victim’s bank account might take a hit, but there’s never any physical harm or violence done to the person.
In food fraud, the goal is the same — economic gain — but there is a very real danger than someone could be injured or killed as a result of the action. A new report by the Institute of Food Technologists warns that fraud is a threat just as real as food safety and food security, but it’s not getting the same amount of attention.
“It’s not that people aren’t looking for it, it’s that it really hasn’t been explained as a public health threat,” said John Spink, an assistant professor and associate director of the Anti-Counterfeit and Product Protection Program at Michigan State University. “It’s always perceived as an economic threat.”
Here Are SCARS 17 Steps You Can Take To Help Avoid Food Fraud
- Research the brand and the product you are buying. Avoid unknown brands. Avoid purchasing products from unfamiliar brands. Especially brands constantly on sale.
- Look for certifications such as organic, non-GMO or fair trade. These organizations tend to police their certifications.
- Check the label for information on the product’s origin, ingredients, and nutritional value. Watch for fuzzy terms like “blends.”
- Be wary of products that are priced significantly lower than similar products.
- Avoid products with vague or incomplete information on the label. Real brands are held to high standards.
- Pay attention to expiration dates and storage instructions. Especially don’t buy products that have no expiration dates. Avoid buying products that are near their expiration dates.
- Look for signs of tampering on packaging or containers. Fake products are not packaged for security like real products are – when in doubt take it back to the store.
- Be skeptical of products that are not in their original packaging. Or where some products have different packaging. Be cautious of products that have unusual labeling or packaging.
- Be cautious of products that have spelling errors or other mistakes on the packaging. These are likely not made in your country.
- Be wary of products that are not typically found in that store or location. Special buys or promotional products are often fake.
- Compare the product you are buying to a known authentic product. Look for what it has on the legitimate label and compare to the other.
- Be cautious of products that have discoloration, unusual texture, or unusual smell.
- Check the packaging for signs of wear and tear, or signs that it has been opened and resealed.
- Ask store employees if they have any information on the product or brand in question.
- Report any suspicious products to the relevant authorities.
- Consult with experts or resources like Consumer Reports, to check for any reported cases of fraud for the products you are considering.
- Use technology like barcode scanning apps to check the authenticity of the product. Fake products will tend to us fake bar code labels or copied bar codes and will not come up as real products.
How To Report Economically Motivated Adulteration (Food Fraud)
Report Food Fraud
If you suspect possible food fraud, you can:
- Call the FDA consumer complaint coordinator for your state.
- Submit a MedWatch Online form. You can submit information about product quality, labeling, packaging, and other concerns related to food fraud.
In conclusion, fake food products are a serious problem that can have significant negative effects on consumers, the environment, and the economy. They can be dangerous to consume, made with cheap and harmful ingredients and can cause serious health problems. Consumers should be vigilant and take steps to ensure that they are buying authentic, safe food. Governments, manufacturers, and retailers all have a role to play in protecting consumers from fake food products, and more needs to be done to ensure that fake food products are identified and removed from the market.