Did you buy organic honey supposedly made by bees that only ate rose pollen? Did your expensive extra virgin olive oil supposedly come from one tree in a little village in Sicily? Only to find out that neither product came from where the label said and you grossly overpaid for something that was massed produced.
Food fraud affects about 10 percent of all commercially sold food products and the global food industry loses around $12 billion per year due to a variety of food frauds, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Most food fraud cases, involve substituting high quality product for a lower quality alternative in order to make money. Many products that may be fraudulent include oils, milk, spices, fruit juice, seafood and sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.
Typically, consumers get ripped off three ways:
- They buy counterfeit luxury goods, such as expensive olive oil, wine or cheese.
- They buy products with proposed health benefits, like antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice, that have little or no active ingredient.
- They buy organic or non-GMO foods that are actually conventionally grown products that have been fraudulently labeled.
The vast majority of fraud does not pose a public health risk. The harm in most cases is that you’re overpaying for low quality products. In a small number of cases, there is potential for harm due to food allergies and improperly labeling. Also, there have been cases of illness due to the bait and switch of certain foods. Some leading to severe stomach distress.
How to Protect Yourself against being a victim of food fraud? Here are 5 questions to ask before buying a product:
What is the product? Be on alert when buying oils, dairy foods, spices, fruit juice and fish.
Can you distinguish quality? If the price is too good to be true, then it’s likely fake.
Do you have a trusted supplier or a trusted retailer? Buy from a reputable grocery store as opposed to an alternative retailer. It’s easier to buy fakes when the product comes in pieces and is processed.
Are you shopping online? Buy from a reputable and recognizable supplier.
Did you speak up about a potential fraud? Speak to the retailer and brand owner about the problem, and keep a sample for testing.
The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Agriculture Department address food fraud through food safety, defense and quality authorities. However, there are times when the federal agencies miss the fraud and often consumers bring the fraud to the agencies attention.
Technology will make it easier to reduce food fraud. There is a promising technology which has DNA bar-coding. Fish, meat and fresh produce can be coded according to their genetic makeup, which can lead to less fraud. The food industry could commit to buying from suppliers that use this technology. This technology is expensive and therefore, the consumers will not access to it for now. However, soon there will be an app for smartphone use for the consumers to test their food.