Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Monday, December 3, 2012

What's eating you?

Call me naive but when I came across an article on "food fraud",  I was dumbfounded.  Some 7% of our food supply in the US is adulterated and/or mislabeled, involving growers, importers and distributors.  This problem spans international boarders, is difficult to uncover, is worth billions of dollars a year, and is no match for a strapped FDA.

At stake, besides not getting what you paid for, is a health risk to an unknowing public, often with long term consequences.  From carcinogenic additives to lead contamination, dangerous pathogens, toxic ingredients and chemical residues, banned antibiotic use and unsuspected allergens, the problem is enormous.  In most cases the consumer has no idea that they have been ripped off, unable to detect that the food as been adulterated.  Food fraud is an economic problem, but it also a public health issue, especially if the food is potentially harmful.

Some of the most adulterated foods are listed below.  But be aware, almost any food can be adulterated.  

Olive oil-One of the most adulterated foods on the market.  Often times regular olive oil is sold as extra virgin.  Cheaper oils are colored to look like olive oil, or used to dilute the oil to increase profits.  In 1981, over 600 people died in Spain from consuming rapeseed oil (a non-food grade industrial lubricant) sold as olive oil.

Milk-The second most adulterated food on the market.  Watered down, reconstituted milk powder, cut with detergents, caustic soda, sugars, salts, urea, and laced with melamine to cover up the dilution and increase the protein content.  300,000 consumers were made sick, and 6 infants died from the 2008 Chinese milk scandal.  

Honey- Honey that does not contain pollen can not be called honey.  Removing the pollen makes it impossible to trace the honey to its source, or to determine its authenticity.  1/3 of the honey imported from Asia was found to be contaminated with lead and antibiotics.  Honey is also cut with sugar and corn syrups.

OJ and Apple Juice are cut with water or other cheaper juices diluting the product.

Spices-Almost all our spices are imported.  Lead coal tar dyes, tartrazine (yellow dye believed to cause hyperactivity in children), and borax are just a few additives that have been found in spices.  Be careful of buying spices from unmarked bins and markets. without knowing their source of origin.

Fish-A type of bate and switch, farm raised fish will be sold as wild.  Also, one type of fish is sold as another.  Buying fish whole makes it more difficult to misrepresent it.

Coffee-Selling a cheaper variety as a gourmet brand.  Instant coffee being sold as brewed.  Adding barley, chicory, caramel, malt, figs etc. 

Even garden variety tomatoes being sold as heirlooms!

So how do we go about not falling victim to fake food?  For starters, if it seems to good to be true,  most likely it is.  I am not saying that you have to buy the most expensive items on the shelf, but be wary of hard to beat deals.  Once my husband bought extra-virgin olive oil at an unbelievable price, from a brand we never heard of.  It was the worst olive oil ever!  So much for saving some money, but could we have been a victim of adulterated food?

Look for lot numbers, seals, stamps, a/o certification from reputable sources.  Often times, this shows that some sort of quality control is taking place and that the food is going through proper channels.  

Buy brands that you are familiar with, including store and generic name brands.  They have a vested interest and depend on their reputation.  

When you buy local you have heave a better understanding of how your food is grown a/o raised.  You can choose organic farms with grass fed/free range, humane practices.  


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