If you truly are what you eat, then you might be having an identity crisis – and don’t even know it!
On January 23rd, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) issued its annual findings on food fraud, and nearly 800 new records were added – a 60 percent increase from last year’s findings.
The USP is a scientific nonprofit organization that helps set standards for the “quality, safety and benefit” of foods and medicines. The group runs a searchable online database of food fraud reports at www.foodfraud.org.
Food fraud, as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is the adulteration, dilution or mislabeling of goods. The USP further defines food fraud in its annual study as “the fraudulent addition of non-authentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser’s knowledge for economic gain to the seller.”
The new USP study shows that the most commonly fraudulent products are olive oil, milk, saffron, honey and coffee.
Tea, fish, clouding agents (used in fruit juices, like lemon, to make products look freshly squeezed), maple syrup and spices (turmeric, black pepper and chili pepper) were also top on the list.
Most of the reported food fraud was committed by producers by adding fillers (other ingredients, such plant leaves to tea leaves), mixing in less expensive spices with high value spices or watering down liquids. Olive oils were often replaced and/or diluted with cheaper vegetable oils.Clouding agents were found in 877 food products from 315 different companies. Another popular target was pomegranate juice, which was often made with grape skins and grape or pear juices.
5 Best Ways to Avoid Food Fraud
If there’s a “whole” alternative, use it. Buy lemons instead of lemon juice; pomegranates instead of pomegranate juice; loose leaf tea; saffron threads; etc. Also, purchase the whole spice (peppercorns, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks) and grind/grate it yourself. Buy from reputable sources and brands you trust, including your local farmers market, co-op and natural food store. Know the who, when and where of the product. Don’t buy into the newest health trend. Food fraud appears more commonly in high-value ingredients that are linked to health benefits. Beware of “white tuna” – it’s often not a member of the tuna family at all. Escolar is commonly marketed as white tuna, super white tuna, butterfish and walu. Escolar is edible – and legal – but the FDA does not encourage its consumption because it includes a waxy substance (gempylotoxin) that humans can’t digest and may cause purgative effects. Educate yourself and train your palate. Does it taste, smell and look right? If you’re wary, search online to see if that particular brand has been reported as fraudulent.