Some of the most common, everyday foods including olive oil, milk and honey have been identified as the most vulnerable to food fraud, says a study based on a new comprehensive database of food ingredients prone to adulteration.
After reviewing the records of top academic journals within the database set up by the US Pharmacopeial Convention, researchers concluded that the top seven foods prone to fraud are olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee and apple juice.
In 95 percent of the cases, adulteration involved either partial or complete replacement of an authentic material with another, often cheaper substitute.
The study was published in the Journal of Food Science this month.
The database, meanwhile, includes a total of 1,305 records of food fraud and is based on more than 650 academic, media and publicly available reports.
Some of the incidents of fraud involved the partial substitution of olive oil with hazelnut oil and the partial replacement of low-quality spices with lead chromate and lead tetraoxide to imitate the color of higher-quality spices.
Other deceptive methods of tampering included the substitution of Chinese star anise with a toxic version of Japanese star anise and the adulteration of high protein foods with melamine, the substance at the center of the Chinese milk scandal.
Baby formula laced with the toxin sickened more than hundreds of thousands of people and killed more than a dozen babies over the years.
Meanwhile, another food that’s become a common victim of fraud is fish. Last year, marine conservation group Oceana released a report entitled “Bait and Switch” which found that more than one-third of fish is inappropriately labeled. The most commonly mislabeled species include red snapper, wild salmon, grouper and Atlantic cod.
A Consumer Reports study also found that cheaper fish, with greater health risks, were being passed off for more premium species.
In the case of seafood fraud, the magazine recommended that consumers consider buying sustainable fish that are abundant and well managed and low in contaminants.