Health Beat: Food phonies! Fraud on the rise

Health Beat: Food phonies! Fraud on the rise

NEW YORK - If you are what you eat, you could be having an identity crisis. Foods we eat every day are packed with things that aren't supposed to be there. It's called food fraud, and it's a growing problem.

In Europe, products sold as beef contained 100 percent horse meat. In Asia, rat meat was being labeled as lamb, and fraud is running rampant in the U.S. seafood industry, as well. 

In fact, the top five foods are something many of us eat regularly. These faux foods may be putting us all in danger.

Fish, honey, milk, orange juice and olive oil — what do they all have in common? They top the list when it comes to food fraud.

"It's a buyer beware," said Dr. Mark Stoeckle, senior research associate in the Program for the Human Environment, The Rockefeller University.

Cheap imitations are filling up grocery store shelves.

"One of the ways that happens is by substituting one ingredient for another," Stoeckle said.

Experts said high cost ingredients are especially susceptible to fraud. Stoeckle said more expensive products are being replaced with cheaper imposter ingredients.

"It's hard for consumers," Stoeckle said.

What are the top fraudster foods? Olive oil, even the extra-virgin kind, is the most adulterated food, usually cut by hazelnut oil, which could pose a dangerous threat to unsuspecting nut-allergy sufferers.

Milk may not do the body good. Studies even found detergent, sugar, salt, and skim milk powder in it, none of it listed on the label. 

Tea bags are sometimes being filled with lawn grass. More expensive white tuna is switched for cheaper escolar, which can cause food poisoning. 

Your favorite juice is mostly apple, even if it's labeled blueberry or cranberry.   Honey is also one of the most common faux foods, some diluted with sugar syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and according to Food Safety News, some honey being shipped from China is laced with antibiotics and heavy metals.

Marianne Petrino doesn't take any chances. She sells her own honey at the farmers market.

"It is the honey I eat, so it's all I'm used to," said Marianne Petrino, employee at Orchards of Concklin.

But if you can't make your own, how do you protect yourself and your family? 

First, buy a whole lemon instead of lemon juice. Buy loose leaf tea instead of tea bags. Purchase whole spices, don't buy the newest food trend. Most importantly, buy from reputable sources you can trust.   

Petrino said it's not surprising more people are choosing to buy locally grown foods from people they know.

"It's exciting. People are very concerned about what they're eating and what they're feeding their kids," Petrino said.

The United States Grocery Manufacturers Association said counterfeit foods cost the industry $15 billion a year. Stoeckle said there needs to be a push for more testing and regulation of foods coming from overseas.

To track the latest on food fraud cases and learn more about other foods that are a common target, check out the online food fraud database.

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