Meals fraud is secretly infiltrating America. Here is how one can keep away from it

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

“I guarantee you that any time a product can be passed off as a little more expensive, it is. It’s that simple,” Larry Olmsted, author of Real Food/Fake Food, told CNBC.

Scammers, motivated by economic gain, are covertly infiltrating the global grocery market through a variety of means including counterfeiting, dilution, substitution and mislabelling.

This not only hurts consumers’ wallets, but also endangers public health and safety.

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

“We may not know the full impact of food fraud because so much of what scammers 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 cannot estimate how common this scam is or what the economic impact is.

“Be careful of products you put in, on, or on the wall,” John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, told CNBC.

Between 2012 and 2021, the most common type of food fraud was lies about an animal’s origin and dilution or substitution, both of which accounted for 16% of incidents recorded by the Food Chain ID food safety monitor.

For example, dilution could mean adding a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive extra virgin olive oil.

“If I drink scotch, I couldn’t tell you [the] Difference between a $50 bottle and a $5,000 bottle. So I know I could be fooled at this point,” Spink said.

The Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank suggests five questions consumers can ask themselves to reduce their vulnerability to product fraud.

  1. What type of product is it? Be extra careful with any product you put on your body, ingest, or put in your wall.
  2. Can you tell the difference between the products?
  3. Do you know the dealer or supplier? do you trust them
  4. Do you shop online? If so, did you find the online provider from a reliable source?
  5. Complain. Is the provider reputable? If so, they will want to know.

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

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