The Congressional Research Service has just released a list of nine food categories with the highest reported instances of food fraud. Food fraud is when food manufacturers purposefully mislead consumers by mislabeling their products. The most common form of this takes place when cheap ingredients are substituted for their more expensive counterparts. The consequences are horrific, and in some cases, even deadly. But consumers can protect themselves from falling victim to this scam by educating themselves about the most common food archetypes. Read on to learn more about why each one of these food categories is a target for con artists.
Certain varieties of fish can be quite expensive, leaving a huge loophole in which shady seafood companies can take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Oceana, an ocean conservation group, conducted a study on more than 25,000 seafood samples. The group found that one in five samples were incorrectly labeled.
Like fish, olive oil can be expensive. Companies looking to make a quick buck are mixing cheaper oil varieties (such as canola, seed, and peanut oils) in with actual olive oil and passing it off as premium extra virgin olive oil.
Milk is one of the most tampered with products on the market, probably because it’s so easy to get away with. Milk powders, urea, and rennet are among the most popular additives found in cheeses, yogurt, and infant formulas. They are used to recreate the creamy consistency of milk, but in actuality are just cheap, unhealthy knockoffs.
Maple syrup falls victim to this fraudulent activity all the time. In fact, most of the syrups sold in super markets are merely high fructose corn syrup, which is just a euphemism for overly processed sugar. Honey often falls victim to this practice as well. Real raw honey should be minimally processed, and is usually a bit pricey.
That “100% juice” sitting in your fridge? Yeah, it’s more than likely watered down or infused with food dye.
Coffee and Tea
Low-end coffee is often low-end because there are leaves, twigs, and other debris mixed into it. The same goes for tea, where mysterious shrubs, weeds, and herbs are mixed in with color dyes to impersonate the real deal.
Take special care when purchasing pepper, saffron, turmeric, star anise, paprika, and chili powder. These are among the most common spices that are filled with counterfeit ingredients and artificial flavorings.
Unless a product is specifically labeled “USDA Certified Organic,” it should be approached with caution. Any company can label their product “organic” or “all-natural” without oversight from the federal government. That’s why the only way to protect against non-organic products being sold as organic products is to make sure it is USDA certified.
Clouding agents are used to visually deceive consumers. They make products like jams, juices, and soups look more visually appealing by creating a murky effect. Of particular concern is a recent trend by some manufacturers who are replacing the typical solution with the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Studies have linked DEHP with cancer and reproductive complications.