Beware of food fraud - Tucson News Now

Beware of food fraud

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It's a growing threat in the United States and beyond, and when you fall victim to this crime, not only are you not getting what you paid for, you could be putting your life in danger.

Finding food fakes is a constant battle for investigators across the world.

Video shot by Interpol Police shows counterfeit products, which could have ended up in the U.S.: candy bars, fish, cheese and tomato sauce.

Dr. John Spink, Associate Director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program Michigan State University, says "Consumers are being cheated."

Here in the U.S., Food and Drug Administration agents are also on the hunt for phony food products and ingredients. Seizing everything from counterfeit olive oil to alleged expensive wine the feds say is fake.

"We think we're buying a high value or specific type of product and the bad guys have swapped it out with something that's inferior," Spink said.

The problem is so big that a new national database was recently created to try to track it. The key work is 'try' because it is hard to catch during production and shipping. Once it makes it to market, consumers don't realize they have been ripped off unless they get sick.

Dr. Markus Lipp, US Pharmacopeial Convention said, "Food adulteration is designed to be not detected. So, frequently adulterers do not use fake ingredients that would cause immediate health problems."

In a new study, Dr. John Spink crunched the database numbers revealing the top counterfeited foods.

16 percent involved olive oil, often diluted with cheaper oils. 14 percent involved milk found to be watered. 7 percent was honey adulterated with sugar and corn syrups.

Fruit juice accounted for between two to four percent of cases. It was watered down or diluted with other types of juice.

Not only are you not getting what you paid for, it could be downright dangerous.

"The bad guys aren't following good manufacturing practices. There's such a risk for contamination that can be very lethal," Spink said.

The most recent case involved vodka laced with methanol which left some college students in England with permanent vision damage.

Many legitimate companies are now hiring security firms to monitor their products. "We've unfortunately found counterfeits of pretty much any product that you can think of," said Tara Steketee with OpSec Security.

Something that just popped up recently is garden variety tomatoes being marketed as the more expensive heirloom ones.

"There's not ten of these bad guys in the world and we can go arrest 8 of them.  There's a near infinite number of fraudsters and there's a near infinite type of fraud," Spink said.

If you suspect your food is fraud you are asked to report it right away to the local health department. 

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