Fake Food: It’s what’s for dinner?

corn in husk

Think you have the complexity of reading food labels solved? Think again. If it wasn’t hard enough before to determine what you were actually buying (or eating) when looking at food packaging, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) recently released findings that the number of records in their Food Fraud Database have increased 60% since 2010 (roughly 800 new additions).  The database was started in 1989 as a resource to advance a safer food supply.

So what constitutes food fraud? According to the USP, food fraud is a deliberate substitution, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, ingredients, or packaging.  Often times, food ingredients that are listed on the package are replaced with a cheaper alternative.

The 800 new additions were nearly all in 2011 and 2012. This is especially alarming considering that between 1989 and 2010 the database housed 1,300 records of food fraud. Products defined in their database have a broad reach, ranging from olive oils and juices to seafood and meats.

Shoppers expect that what’s in the food they are purchasing will be properly represented on the label. Sadly, this isn’t the case. You can protect yourself by taking some precautions:

  • Choose and cook with whole foods
  • Try to shop local or at natural food markets whenever possible
  • Look for wild caught vs. farm-raised (a local butcher or fishmonger is even better)
  • Buy organic whenever possible
  • Avoid foods that seem inexpensive for what they are
  • Avoid heavily processed or pre-packaged foods

While you can never be completely sure of what you are getting, taking these steps can help you avoid purchasing and consuming fake foods. Sure, you might end up paying a little more than you are accustomed to, but the peace of mind and health benefits are worth it in the end.