Published May 25, 2012
Do you really know what’s in your go-to olive oil? And what about that favorite coffee blend? You may be scratching your head. “Um, olives and, well, coffee beans, obviously.” Not so fast.
Foods we eat every day are packed with things that aren’t supposed to be there—a practice known as “food fraud”—according to a new study published in the Journal of Food Science. In order to reduce costs, unscrupulous companies illegally cut a primary ingredient with something less expensive. And the top seven most frequently adulterated foods are things many of us eat every single day.
We do so unwittingly because the impostor ingredients are very hard—if not impossible—for the consumer (that would be you) to detect. “That’s the real challenge for the experts and agencies to detect food fraud: Consumers don’t often notice a quality problem, and the contaminants are unconventional,” says Michigan State University’s John Spink , PhD, associate director of their Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program and one of the authors of the study. They’re not typically found in food products, so most of the adulterants go unnoticed. And though adulterants are usually not dangerous, they can be – like when dog food laced with melamine started killing dogs.
But don’t panic yet. “The prevalence of food fraud is ultimately very low,” Spink says. Spink’s tips for steering clear of food fraud? Find a retailer you trust to stock healthy, safe products, and if you get sick, report any food poisoning immediately to your county board of health. Now read on for the 7 most fraudulent foods.
We’d be hard-pressed to find another oil so healthy as that from olives. In all of its various virginities, olive oil lowers cholesterol, knocks out stomach bugs, and even makes skin glow. But that’s not the whole story. Researchers found that olive oil—yes, even the extra-virgin kind—is the most adulterated food, usually cut by hazelnut oil. (Sound good to any nut-allergy sufferers out there?) Other imposter ingredients include corn oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, palm oil, and walnut oil.
If you think that milk in your coffee comes from a cow, you might be mistaken. Turns out, there may be a veritable zoo of producers in your carton. Sheep’s milk has been found to be cut with bovine milk, and buffalo milk with goat-antelope milk. Milk was also adulterated with reconstituted milk powder, urea, and rennet. But wait, there’s more! Milk was even cut with something called “fake milk”: oil, urea, detergent, caustic soda, sugar, salt, and skim milk powder. We’re not sure that does a body good…
Honey is one of our main squeezes for its healing antioxidants and downright deliciousness. But it’s also one of the most common fraudsters. You may also find sugar syrup, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, beet sugar, and “honey from a non-authentic geographic origin” in that bottle—rendering it what we’ll call not-honey. Some honey is also likely laced with illegal Chinese antibiotics from abroad and heavy metals, according to Food Safety News.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice , so its place on this list shouldn’t come as a surprise. What is a surprise is all the stuff sometimes mixed with it. Inside those tiny, astronomically priced bottles of saffron, scientists have found glycerin, sandalwood dust, tartrazine (a yellow dye linked to hyperactivity in children and lupus); barium sulfate (a fluid mainly used in oil well drilling); and borax.
Orange juice is no stranger to repulsive adulterants like illegal fungicide, and now, here are a few more reasons not to trust anything you don’t squeeze from the fruit: OJ has been shown to host unlisted lemon juice, mandarin juice, grapefruit juice, high fructose corn syrup, paprika extract, and beet sugar as some of its uninvited guests.
Nothing starts a morning right like a fresh-brewed cup of…twigs? Believe it or not, researchers have found them in coffee, along with roasted corn, ground roasted barley, and even roasted ground parchment. Adulterants in instant coffee are every bit as sneaky; they include chicory, cereals, caramel, more parchment, starch, malt, and figs.
Apple juice may conjure the innocence of youth, but sometimes its ingredients are downright guilty. Grape juice, high fructose corn syrup, pear juice, pineapple juice, raisin sweetener, fig juice, fructose, and malic acid have all been detected in apple juice – or perhaps more accurately known as mystery apple soup.