The word “fraud” probably brings to mind international schemes of financial corruption, intended to deceive the innocent and steal their money.
But did you know there is also food fraud?
From extra virgin olive oil to orange juice, there are literally hundreds of products available for our consumption with labels that are lying to us.
In fact, lying to consumers has become so common that the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention has created the Food Fraud Database (FFD), to track infractions. According to the site, food fraud is the “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.”
Here are just a few examples.
1. Olive oil
Researchers have found that olive oil is the food most vulnerable to food fraud. An estimated 69 percent of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the U.S. are probably fake, according to tests by the University of California. In two studies, UC Davis researchers analyzed a total of 186 extra virgin olive oil samples against standards established by the International Olive Council (IOC), as well as methods used in Germany and Australia. Of the ﬁve top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States, 73 percent of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra virgin olive oils analyzed by two IOC-accredited sensory panels.
As you can discover by checking on the Food Fraud database, olive oil is regularly diluted with imposter oils such soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil and sesame oil.
Honey is one of the most commonly mislabeled foods, representing 7 percent of food fraud cases. Last year, Food Safety News tested honey and found that 75 percent of store-bought honey didn’t contain pollen. As Mother Nature News reports, people are still buying a product made from bees, but no pollen food regulators are unable to identify the honey’s source. Consequent testing found that a third of all phony honey was imported from Asia and was contaminated with lead and antibiotics.
By checking on the FFD , you’ll find honey that contains all kinds of added ingredients: sucrose syrup, sugar syrup, partial invert cane syrup, corn syrup, glucose syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and beet sugar are just a few of the offensive additions.
This one kind of threw me. Isn’t milk one of those wholesome products that you know you can trust? Apparently not, as a quick check with the FFD will reveal. In fact, milk turns out to be one of the most commonly adulterated food items available. Typing in “milk” will bring up pages and pages of search results for illegal ingredients. These include, but are not limited to, melamine, non-authentic animal sources, formaldehyde, urea, hydrogen peroxide, machine oil, detergent, caustic soda, starch, non-potable water, cow tallow and pork lard. Yikes!
Yes, not even coffee is safe, although I’m hoping that by following my morning ritual of grinding my coffee beans myself, I am pretty well protected. However, if you favor ground or instant coffee, you may find that it contains coffee husks, roasted corn, roasted barley, roasted soybeans, chicory powder, rye flour, potato flour, burned sugar, caramel, figs, roasted date seeds, glucose, maltodextrins, starch and roasted ground parchment. I think I’ll stick to grinding my own!
5. Orange juice
That container labeled 100 percent orange juice? It’s probably not. Here’s how Gizmodo explains part of the reason:
Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. But! Removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it’s all backwards. So in order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these “flavor packs” to make juice taste like, well, juice again.
Another check with FFD will once again reveal all kinds of extra ingredients.
The best way to avoid all these extra, sometimes nasty, ingredients is of course to buy whole, non-processed foods. Since that’s not always possible, sticking to well-known brands is the next best path to choose. That’s because those big companies have a lot to lose if they’re busted for mislabeling.
And definitely avoid bargains that seem too good to be true; they probably are.
All photos: Thinkstock