Olive Oil, Milk, and Honey Have Highest Amount of Food Fraud

A new study found that over the past 30 years, olive oil has had the highest number of food fraud cases

We already knew of cases where Italian olive oil was diluted with lesser olive oils, and Chinese truffles were being passed off as French. But it seems like the products we all have to worry about are more basic: olive oil, milk, and honey.

New research published in the Journal of Food Science calculated the most common adulterated ingredients from 1980 to 2010, compiling 1,054 scholarly records.

Olive oil made up 16 percent of the total records, with 167 records. Milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, and coffee followed behind.

"This database is a critical step in protecting consumers," researcher John Spink said. "Food fraud and economically motivated adulteration have not received the warranted attention given the potential danger they present."

In the past, food fraud cases have involved replacing Chinese star anise with Japanese star anise (the latter which is toxic for humans), putting melamine in protein foods, and finding lead in diluted spices. The study reports that 95 percent of food fraud cases involve "replacement" fraud.

Olive oil has been replaced partially by hazelnut oil, while honey is diluted with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar syrup. Coffee grounds have been mixed with roasted, ground corn, or even ground parchment, and saffron has been mixed with gelatin threads or carnation stamens.

Researchers hope that future research and analysis can expose weaknesses in quality control systems. The entire database is available for browsing on foodfraud.org.

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