Food fraud is secretly infiltrating America. Here’s how to avoid this

The food in your kitchen cabinets may not be what it seems.

“I guarantee that any time a product can be presented as slightly more expensive, it will be. It’s as simple as that,” Larry Olmsted, author of “Real Food/Fake Food,” told CNBC.

Fraudsters motivated by economic gain secretly infiltrate the global food market through various means, including counterfeits, dilutions, substitution and mislabelling.

This not only hurts consumers’ wallets, but also puts public health and safety at risk.

By some estimates, according to the Food and Drug Administration, food fraud affects at least 1% of the global food industry and costs as much as $40 billion a year.

“We may not know the overall impact of food fraud because so much of what fraudsters do is hidden from us and has been for centuries.” Kristie Laurvick, senior manager of the food program at the US Pharmacopeial Convention, told CNBC.

Even the FDA says it can’t estimate how common this fraud is or what its economic impact is.

“Be aware of the product you’re putting on or plugging in,” John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, tells CNBC.

Between 2012 and 2021, the most common form of food fraud was lying about an animal’s origin and dilution or substitution, both ranked at 16% of recorded incidents by food safety monitor Food Chain ID.

Dilution can, for example, include adding a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive extra virgin olive oil.

“If I drink whisky, I wouldn’t be able to tell you [the] difference between a $50 bottle and a $5,000 bottle. So I know I could be cheated at that point,” Spink said.

The food fraud prevention think tank suggests five questions a consumer can ask themselves to reduce their vulnerability to product fraud.

  1. What kind of product is it? Take extra care with any product that you apply to your body, ingest or plug into the outlet.
  2. Do you recognize the difference between products?
  3. Do you know the retailer or supplier? Do you trust them?
  4. Are you shopping online? If so, did you find the online provider from a reliable source?
  5. Complain. Is the supplier legit? If so, they would like to know.

Watch the video above to learn more about the different types of food fraud, how the industry avoids risk, what consumers can do and where fraud can lurk in the olive oil, spice and seafood markets.

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