Nutrition-wise blog

Food fraud — Do you know what you're eating?

December 21, 2016

Despite of all kinds of regulations and inspections, food fraud exists. Food fraud can defined as the intentional addition of improper or inferior ingredients to a food, often for economic gain.

Food fraud has been around throughout history. Highly sought after spices were with filled with ground up seeds; milk was been diluted with water and chalk. The medical journal "The Lancet" reported in 1851 that swindlers were selling tea that was made from elm, oak and beech leaves, and contaminated with lead.

More recent examples have been documented in the bestselling book "Real Food/Fake Food." Here are just a few:

  • Fish and seafood: Less expensive varieties are sometimes sold as a premium species. (Can you tell the difference between species?) 
  • Parmesan cheese: Despite being marketed as 100 percent, some brands may contain 40 percent cheese or less, with the remainder being cellulose.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Some are not extra-virgin or even virgin, or even from olives.
  • Coffee: Some ground coffee may contain grains, such as corn and wheat, or even twigs.

A study conducted by the Food Protection and Defense Institute (a Homeland Security Center of Excellence) looked at food adulteration reports in journals and other media between 1980 and 2011. The food categories cited most often included fish and seafood, dairy products, fruit juices, oils and fats, grain products — and even infant formulas.

Many of these are foods that we eat for health reasons — olive oil, fish, whole grains. We want know that we're eating the real deal — not some watered-down version — and not adulterated versions that can harm us.

Unfortunately, the major governmental agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration are unable to catch many cases of food fraud because of limited resources. Others, however, have turned their attention to product purity. The U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention), a non-profit scientific organization, sets standards and maintains databases to alert the food industry of food fraud incidents. Food manufacturers are also concerned, as it is estimated that food fraud costs the global food industry $10 to $15 billion a year.

Although it's unlikely that we can be completely safe from food fraud, we can take measures to lower our risk:

  • Keep in mind the types of foods that are most prone to fraud (mentioned above)
  • Buy from local producers
  • Be wary of bargain prices for expensive foods
  • Eat whole foods instead of highly processed foods

I will be grinding my own coffee. Thoughts?

Dec. 21, 2016