For those people who believe "ignorance is bliss," this story may not be for you: The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) just released a new set of food frauds on their extensive database, and it kind of makes us want to never grocery shop again.
Some of the products listed are fairly obvious (seafood, for example), but popular tampered-with products also include milk, spices, and lemon juice.
So what exactly is food fraud? "Food fraud means that somebody adds something or replaces a perfectly safe ingredient with essentially something unknown," Markus Lipp, senior director of food standards at USP, says. This replacement is illegal, but could go undetected.
"Any risks, hazards, or problems that occur will only depend on how knowledgable and ethical the person who committed that fraud is," Lipp says. "If they think it’s safe but in fact it’s not safe, then everyone else will suffer the consequence."
We've scoured the database for 10 common pantry staples that have been at the center of food fraud reports in the past 30 or so years, with some as benign as adding sugar to lemon juice, and other as dangerous as adding plasticizers to fruit juices and jams.
While it's nearly impossible to dissect everything you buy from a grocery store, Lipp says common sense will get you halfway to purchasing true, honest ingredients. "There is the old adage if it’s too good to be true, then maybe it’s too good to be true and it’s in fact not true," Lipp says. "Say I find a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil that is significantly cheaper than anything else on the market. Then I may want to ask some questions."
Luckily, supermarkets and producers do provide ways to contact them and ask questions, via websites and customer service. "Companies, whether big or small, have a very strong interest for repeated business," Lipp says. Of course, they also have an incentive to make money, and, "where there’s money to be made, most likely someone will attempt to make that money whether it’s legal or illegal."
For the United States, Lipp says, our food standards are a bit higher than a developing country's, but sometimes fraud still happens. "The only reason why we enjoy these levels is because people care, and they have been caring," Lipp says, "and ongoing vigilance is required to keep that level of safety and maybe improve it when necessary."