What You Need To Know About The Shady Practice Of ‘Food Fraud’ — here’s how to avoid it


Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was published serially throughout 1905 in a magazine called “Appeal to Reason” before it became a full book, published in February 1906 (per History). Sinclair’s novel, which exposed the corrupt failings of the meat-packing industry, was the catalyst for food regulations in the United States. By the summer of the same year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been formed and passed its first law of many, the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act. But well over a century later, fraudulent food practices remain prevalent in the United States, as well as globally.

In November 2021, the FDA released a new page on its website intended to educate consumers and businesses about food fraud (per Food Safety). Tthe organization defines Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA), or food fraud, as the intentional act of leaving out, taking out, or substituting a part of a food or an ingredient of value.

But why is this still necessary today?

What does food fraud look like?

According to a 2016 press release from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), about 10% of food that consumers purchase is adulterated. The FDA reports that outside estimates of the global economic impact of food fraud range in the billions — potentially up to $40 billion annually, according to a January CNBC report.

A September 2020 report from FoodChain ID found that certain food products, including “herbs and spices (especially ground spices), alcoholic beverages, fish and seafood, certain meat products (especially if they are ground or processed), dairy products (in certain parts of the world), honey, and olive oil (especially extra virgin),” are more likely to fall prey to food fraud.

And while the adulteration of food may affect consumers’ wallets, the overarching concern is food quality. Removing or replacing ingredients, as well as using misleading labels, can degrades products and result in serious illness. There are a number of instances, even in the last several decades, of food fraud that resulted in fatalities, per Ideagen. So, how can consumers remain safe?

How to avoid falling victim to food fraud

A customer walks down an aisle as he shops in a grocery story in Arlington, Virginia on November 10, 2021. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

From fraudulent wine and misrepresented farm-to-table food origins to adulterated products on grocery store shelves, it can be a challenge for consumers to combat food fraud. However, there are a few ways that savvy shoppers can avoid being the victim of fraudulent practices.

The Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, an organization dedicated to providing tools and education in the fight against food fraud, has created a brief list for consumers to consider when making purchases. The think tank suggests that consumers should always be especially careful of any product that “you put in you, on you, or plug into the wall.” Second, the organization warns consumers to be educated about imposters by determining variations in quality. Being able to identify a high-quality version of a product versus a lower-quality one helps to reduce consumer vulnerability.

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

  1. What type of product is it? Take extra caution with any product that you put on your body, ingest or plug in the wall.
  2. Can you recognize the difference between products?
  3. Do you know the retailer or supplier?
  4. Do you trust them? Are you shopping online? If so, did you find the online supplier from a reliable source?
  5. Complain. Is the supplier legitimate? If so, they will want to know.

How food fraud affects us

According to the FDA, external statistics say that food fraud impacts 1 percent of the global food industry, costing approximately $10-15 billion annually.

However, new estimations from experts also say that the disruption cost is as high as $40 billion a year.

Since food fraud is meant to avoid detection, it can be difficult to estimate how often it occurs or how much of an impact it has on the economy.

However, EMA is not only an economic problem. Food fraud can result in various health problems, some of which are life-threatening and even deadly, depending on what is added, swapped, or omitted.

One of the examples of the increasing cases of EMA reported by Food Navigator is that 10 percent of the imported honey samples that the FDA recently evaluated were discovered to be adulterated with undeclared added sweeteners.

On the side of the regulatory agencies, one of the solutions to combating these behaviors is to continue testing products to help prevent the distribution of products that do not comply with regulations in the United States.

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