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Food Fraud: What You're Eating Often Isn't What the Menu or Label Says

Food Fraud: What You're Eating Often Isn't What the Menu or Label Says

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By    |   Tuesday, 17 January 2017 08:36 PM

Making wise food choices is a cornerstone to good health. But in many cases, you don’t really know what you’re getting — especially with seafood.

“People should be eating seafood because it’s one of the best sources of animal protein out there…but it’s a matter of making sure you’re getting what you’re buying,” says Larry Olmsted, author of “Real Food, Fake Food.”

“You could order red snapper (in a restaurant) every day for a week, and there’s a good chance you’re never going to get it.”

Consider these recent investigative reports:

  • An investigation reported by the TV show “Inside Edition” last year found that 35 percent of the “lobster” served in 28 restaurants scattered throughout the country turned out to be all or part cheaper fish, such as whiting and Pollock.
  • A recent study by the non-profit conservation group Oceana uncovered “widespread seafood fraud across the U.S.” One-third of 1,215 fish samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states were mislabeled, based on DNA analyses of the products. Southern California led the pack at a whopping 52 percent.
  • A second 2015 Oceana study found that 43 percent of Atlantic salmon tested by the organization was mislabeled wild-caught fish, when in fact it was farmed. Up to 20 percent of the salmon sold in markets was mislabeled wild; in restaurants, the fraud figure was 67 percent.

“Americans have shown that they greatly prefer wild-caught salmon to farmed, even though it’s more expensive,” notes Olmsted. “The problem is you can pay a premium for it and are still getting farmed salmon.”

And fraudulent foods aren’t the only problem. If you order shrimp in a restaurant, warns Olmsted, expect to get imports from Southeast Asia that are contaminated with toxins and antibiotics.

Olmsted suggests buying seafood from Alaska because it is all wild-caught from clean waters. He also recommends looking for third-party certification labels, such as the Marine Stewardship Council.

Unfortunately, seafood is just one of many common types of food fraud. Others include Kobe beef, cheese, and honey. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do to be sure you’re getting what you pay for:

Kobe beef: Before 2013, there was no Kobe beef in the U.S. So if you ordered this Japanese delicacy in one of the many restaurants that offered it, you were had, says Olmsted. Even today, only about 300 pounds of the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth beef makes its way to our shores from Japan every month, and only a handful of eateries get it.

“Most of what you get in the U.S. is not real,” Hiroo Miyanishi, of Japan Agriculture’s Livestock Section, told Olmsted. “People should insist on having the authenticity proven.”

Parmesan cheese: Authentic parmesan cheese comes from Parma, Italy, and is so strictly regulated that laws stipulate where the cows can graze and that the cheese be made within two hours of milking. The stuff you buy in the supermarket most likely doesn’t come from Parma and as much as 20 percent of it is cellulose, a plant fiber that helps to keep the cheese from clumping.

To get authentic parmesan, experts say to buy a wedge with the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” burned into the rind, then grate or crumble it yourself.

Honey: German-based ALW Food Group pulled off the biggest food fraud in U.S. history by illegally importing honey to our shores from China, an $80 million scam, say investigators. Chinese honey is outlawed here because it is often cut with corn syrup or other cheaper sweeteners and can also be contaminated with a powerful antibiotic that is banned for foodstuffs in the U.S.

Even domestic honey can be adulterated with other sweeteners, and government regulation is weak. Olmsted suggests buying honey from local producers at farmer’s markets and specialty stores.

Other foods: According to Olmsted and other experts, foods commonly misrepresented include fruit juices, coffee, saffron, caviar, milk, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, black pepper and farm-to-table restaurant items.

You best bet when buying such foods is to ask your grocer, or restaurant owner, about how they verify food claims and what they do to ensure the foods they sell are what the labels — and menus — claim.


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More Americans are turning to fish and other good-for-you foods to boost their health and nutrition. But in many cases, you don't really know what you're getting — especially with seafood. Here's how to be sure you get what you pay for.
food, fraud, seafood, fake
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 08:36 PM
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