Whether it’s diluted olive oil, mislabeled fish, adulterated spices, or any of a number of other counterfeits, the instances of food fraud in the U.S. are on the rise, according to a new report from the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), which sets quality standards for food and medicines. USP states that 800 new reports on adulterated foods were added to its database at foodfraud.org in 2012, an increase of approximately 60% from the previous year. The database draws its information primarily from scholarly journals and news reports.
“While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well-documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for the USP, who heads up the database.
Heading the list of most faked foods reported in scholarly journals were olive oil, milk, saffron, and honey; media reports most commonly listed milk, fish, turmeric, chili powder, and cooking oil.
Food fraud has a long history, said Doug Powell, PhD, professor of food safety at Kansas State University, but today, there are better tools to detect it. He suggested that food industry organizations could take advantage of these technological advances to better position their products in the marketplace.
“Seafood, for example, has become one of the most prominent categories for food that experiences fraud,” he said. “DNA barcoding can be used to figure out whether a species is actually what it says it is. Distributors should use that as a tool to set themselves apart in the marketplace. [They can advertise] ‘This is a real snapper from the ocean, and we’ve got the DNA to prove it.’ For products like honey and olive oil, I’m not sure what the chemistry is involved there, but I would think that it should be something that could be marketed. If your food is the real deal, prove it and brag about it. People should be willing to pay a premium for that.”