USP Grows Food Fraud Database by 60%, Adds Most Vulnerable Foods from 2011–2012

January 24, 2013

Foods most vulnerable to fraud now include olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, coffee, tea, fish, clouding agents, black pepper, turmeric, chili powder, lemon juice, and maple syrup.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP; Rockville, MD) has added nearly 800 new records of fraud to its Food Fraud Database. The new additions reflect records from 2011–2012 and point to additional food fraud categories of seafood, clouding agents, and lemon juice.

The Food Fraud Database documents foods most vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation in the food supply, based on reports in both scholarly journals and general media. When first compiled, the database contained 1,300 records of food fraud published between 1980 and 2010. These records showed milk, vegetable oils, and spices among the top categories for fraud.

USP scientists say those categories remain leading problems, in addition to newer fraud trends recorded in 2011–2012 for seafood (fish, shrimp), clouding agents, and lemon juice. Foods most vulnerable to fraud now include olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, coffee, tea, fish, clouding agents, black pepper, turmeric, chili powder, lemon juice, and maple syrup.

USP points to specific examples of how fraud takes place, including watered-down and urea-adulterated fluid milk in India; dilution of milk powder with fillers such as maltodextrin in South America; replacement of olive oil with less-expensive vegetable oils; and dilution or replacement of spices with less-expensive spices or fillers.

Fraud involving clouding agents is also high, with USP calling it “the 2011 equivalent to the melamine scandal involving Chinese milk products from a few years ago.” Clouding agents are commonly used in fruit juices to improve visual appearance and make products look freshly squeezed. Incidents reported include use of the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in fruit juices, jams, and other products,  in place of more expensive palm oil or other allowed food ingredients. “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,” USP reports.

USP defines “food fraud” as “a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging, or false and misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.”