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January 23, 2013

4 Min Read
USP: Food Fraud Reports Up 60% Since 2010

ROCKVILLE, Md.Key findings from a report released today by the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) reveals the incidences of food adulteration or food fraud" has risen a staggering 60% since 2010. Seafood, clouding agents and lemon juice were among the nearly 800 new records of food fraud" added to the USP Food Fraud Database, which tracks information about foods that are vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation in todays food supply.

While intentional and dangerous adulteration is relatively rare these days, it still occursmainly in imported products created by unscrupulous manufacturers. Unintentional adulteration also occurs due to environmental factors, packaging issues and other factors. And while it rarely causes serious food-safety issues, food fraudoften motivated by greedalso remains rampant.

The first iteration of the database compiled 1,300 records of food fraud published between 1980 and 2010. (See the Image Gallery: Food SafetyTainted & Adulterated Foods.) The new report increases the total number of records by 60%and consists mostly of newer information published in 2011 and 2012 in both scholarly journals and general media.

Initial analyses of the database was published in the April 5, 2012, issue of the Journal of Food Science and revealed milk, vegetable oils and spices were among the top categories where food fraud occurred as documented in published reports. Analyses of new information by USP scientists show similar trends for 2011 and 2012, and add seafood (fish, shrimp), clouding agents and lemon juice as categories vulnerable to food fraud.

Among the new scholarly records added to the database, the top ingredients represented are olive oil, milk, saffron, honey and coffee (all in the top seven in the analysis of 1980-2010 records), followed by tea, fish, clouding agents (commonly used in fruit juices/beverages to improve their visual appearance and make products look freshly squeezed) and black peppernone of which was in the top 25 for 1980-2010.

Among the new media and other reports examined, the most-represented products in the database are milk, fish, turmeric, chili powder and cooking oil (all in the top 12 in 1980-2010), followed by shrimp,  lemon juice and maple syrup (none of which was even in the top 25 in 1980-2010).

Key Areas of Concern

Milk, Vegetable Oils and Spices. The database indicates watered-down and urea adulterated fluid milk in India, dilution of milk powder with fillers such as maltodextrin in South America and replacement of milk fat with vegetable oil in South America. In the category of oils, olive oil replaced with other, less-expensive vegetable oils was pervasive, and so-called gutter oil" (waste oil repurposed as cooking oil) was documented in China. With regard to spices, the database shows examples of the dilution or replacement of spices with less-expensive spices or fillers.

Seafood. With $80 billion in seafood sold in the United States each year and more than 80 of fish in the country imported, seafood is big businessand fraud is a significant problem. Examples of seafood fraud documented in the database include sale of the fish escolar, often fraudulently mislabeled as white tuna or butterfish. Escolar is banned in Italy and Japan, and other countries have issued advisories on the trade and consumption of this fish. Escolar has high content of waxy esters that is likely to cause a special form of food poisoning called gempylotoxism or gempylid fish poisoning. Another example of seafood fraud included in the database involves puffer fish, with documented incidents in the United States of the fish being mislabeled as monkfish to evade import and other restrictions. Puffer fish has caused tetrodotoxin poisonings.

Clouding Agents. Considered the 2011 equivalent to the melamine scandal involving Chinese milk products from a few years ago, numerous database records document the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and other related phthalates as having been fraudulently added as clouding agents in place of the more expensive palm oil or other allowed food ingredients in fruit juices, jams and other products. The scope of this fraud was vast: 877 food products from 315 companies were involved; 206 products were exported to as many as 22 countries; and there were roughly 4,000 potential victims in Taiwan. Safety concerns surrounding DEHP include cancer and the improper reproductive organ development in children. DEHP may be used in food contact materials (e.g., seals, packaging); however, the amount allowed to migrate into the food is tightly regulated as to not exceed approximately 1.5 ppm; levels in reported examples of food fraud were found from 2-34 and 8,700 ppm in food and supplement products, respectively.

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