WHEN YOU’RE SHOPPING AT THE grocery store, you probably expect that the olive oil you see came from, well, olives. And that the organic vegetables were never exposed to toxic chemicals, the cod fillet is sliced from a member of the cod species and the spices are the pure ground form of whatever flavoring they represent.
Increasingly, however, there’s a chance you might be wrong. In recent years, there has been an uptick in reports of so-called food fraud, or attempts by various entities— including storage workers, suppliers and distributors—to alter products and mislead customers and food companies alike for financial gain (though occasionally the companies are complicit). Among the more recent examples: “natural” honey that’s been laced with antibiotics, cumin adulterated with ground-peanut powder and Italian companies selling “Italian olive oil” from a blend of oils that did not originate from Italy.
By and large, the fraudsters are trying to make easy money—charging for a whole food or pricey ingredient, then cutting it with cheaper stuff on the sly. But the health consequences can be dire. That fraudulent cumin, for example, poses a huge risk for people with peanut allergies. And in China, at least six babies died after drinking a milk formula that had been laced with melamine, a chemical used to create plastic, in order to up its protein content.
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