Horse meat in your burgers, melamine in your powdered milk...It seems like we're hearing more and more stories of products masquarading to be other foods. But which foods are most vulnerable to this sort of food fraud?
Markus Lipp, senior director of food standards at US Pharmacopeia, told Food Navigator that a lot of it depends on profitiablity: the more money that can be made producing something more cheaply, the more likely it is that there will be fraud.
But it also has to be virtually undetectable to the general public. Referring to the scandal that recently rocked Europe over horse meat found in packaged and restaurant meals, "[I]t is very hard to paint a horse like a cow," Lipp said, "but it is totally different when you have a patty. Nobody can tell from looking at a burger patty whether there is 10% horse meat in it or not, but everyone can tell it in a meadow.”
Common Food Fraud Suspects:
- Ground Beef
As the old saying goes, you don't want to watch them make the sausages—or the ground beef. From pink slime to horse meat, you never know what might show up in your burger. Maybe you should DIY your own ground beef.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil is costly and time-consuming to produce, so it is one of the world's most adulterated agricultural products, usually diluted with cheaper oils like sunflower seed oil. In addition, misuse of the label "extra virgin" is rampant.
Lots of honey on the world market comes from China, where beekeepers dose their bees with antibiotics to keep them healthy. But those antibiotics can leech into the honey and produce an inferior product, which the producers then boost with corn syrup and other sweeteners.
Golden and expensive, "cheaper" versions of saffron are often actually made from turmeric, poppy petals, gypsum, and even sandalwood. Other spices, especially from China, have been found to be contaminated after being diluted with lead.
- Açaï Berries
Not so long ago, the only way to get açaï berries was for someone to climb up a palm tree and pick them, so unscrupulous food producers use blueberries instead. As they've grown in popularity, the risk of fake berries has decreased.
Milk powder, in particular, is succeptable to being "extended" with urea, detergent, caustic soda, sugar, salt, and melamine. Contaminated milk powder killed as many as 60 Chinese infants in 2009.
- Instant Coffee
The best part of waking up can sometimes be filled out with grains, starch, figs, and lots of other non-coffee ingredients, especially in instant coffee. Buy whole beans so you know what you're getting.
Fish is one of the most commonly tampered-with or mislabled foods, with one report showing that as much as 60 percent of the fish labled as "tuna" isn't actually tuna.