What's Really in Your Food?


What's Really in Your Food?

Navenia Wellington

Thursday, October 08, 2020

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How do you like your burger? With or without horse meat? What about some corn syrup with your honey?

Food has been found to contain non-food ingredients or ingredients contrary to the label; this is food fraud. A cost-cutting strategy, used by unethical food business operators, this illegally substitutes the primary ingredient with a cheaper one; oftentimes with similar characteristics. Most times, these substituted ingredients are not dangerous. However, a consumer with a peanut allergy may unwittingly be affected if they use, say, olive oil to which peanut oil was added.

Substitution is not the only way food fraud is done, however; food business operators also dilute or omit ingredients. The motivation behind food adulteration is financial, and the impact of the action is a grave public health concern. Furthermore, there have been times when the adulteration of foods has been dangerous, resulting in people getting sick, including infants. Some of the most notable cases in the last 10 years include milk that was mixed with melamine to increase the protein content, peanut butter contaminated with salmonella, and horsemeat in burger patties.

According to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), food fraud can be described as intentionally causing a mismatch between food product claims and food product characteristics. The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CX/FCIS 18/24/7) defines food fraud as “any deliberate action of businesses or individuals to deceive others in regard to the integrity of food to gain undue advantage”. Types of food fraud include but are not limited to adulteration, substitution, dilution, tampering, simulation, counterfeiting, and misrepresentation. This is why food fraud is also referred to as Economically Motivated Adulteration.

Most times it is next to impossible for consumers to notice a difference in their products and therefore it will go unreported. Below are some of the products that are commonly adulterated along with the substituted ingredient:

1. Olive Oil — peanut oil, corn oil, vegetable oil

2. Cow's Milk — milk powder, oil, sugar, water, melamine, milk from other animals

3. Honey — high fructose corn syrup, sugar syrup

4. 100% Orange juice — lemon juice, grapefruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, clouding agent

5. Coffee — roasted corn, twigs, cereals, chicory

6. 100% Apple juice — pear juice, high fructose corn syrup, pineapple juice

7. Tea — leaves from other plants

8. Seafood — tilapia substituted for tuna, puffer fish for monkfish

9. Black pepper — flour, papaya seed

10. Vanilla extract — sugar alcohols, synthetic vanilla, tonka beans

A recent article by Dr Gary C Smith of the Colorado State University stated that globally the most common food fraud incidents by product category were:

1. Fish/Seafood

2. Dairy products

3. Meat products

4. Alcoholic beverages

5. Fats/oils

Dr Smith also stated that globally the business of food fraud is worth over US$50 billion annually.

The length and breadth of the food chain is dynamic comprising of simple and complex elements. One such element is the possibility of food fraud, which is a major concern at every level of the food chain. Not only because of the possible economic impact to a food business operator and their brand, but to the health of the consumer and the impending food safety issues. No one wants to be drinking plastic in their milk or drinking a cup of brewed woodchips instead of coffee. Food fraud is wrong and must be stopped.

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