Welcome to the World of Counterfeit Food


BreakfastCounterfeit bills? Sure. Counterfeit jewels? Check out any jewelry exchange with bargains too good to be true. But counterfeit food? Yep, with most of us watching our wallets these days, organized crime gangs have found a way to make bargain hunters happy, and score heaps of cash for themselves.

About 5 years ago, I started reading food labels. The time had come to see how much of the unholy trinity—sugar, fat, salt—lurked in the breakfast cereals, snacks, and other goodies my family consumed.

At about this same time, the economy was headed on a downward spiral with everyone hunting for bargains—including bargain food.

This was also when many international crime gangs hit upon the perfect storm. With little fear of being caught, they started to create cheap versions of everyday foods, replacing expensive ingredients with “creative” additives or substitutions. Using the original packaging or copycat labels, many counterfeiters made huge profits while unsuspecting bargain hunters were happy to pay lower prices.

Welcome to the world of counterfeit food and drink!

Shaun Kennedy, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota estimates that today 10% of all food bought by consumers in the developed world (including the US) is adulterated. A thought that makes me lose any desire to eat ever again. (That is, until my next meal.)

According to a growing number of reports, popular foods like orange juice, honey, fish, olive oil, pomegranate juice, and coffee are often tampered with, and sometimes contain “mystery” or toxic ingredients such as lead, antibiotics or formaldehyde. Need I say these additives were never meant for human consumption and are somehow missing on the list of ingredients?

What about milk? According to the Food Fraud Database, it turns out some milk sources contain a list of adulterants a mile long, including:  Melamine, non-authentic animal sources, formaldehyde, urea, hydrogen peroxide, machine oil, detergent, caustic soda, starch, non-potable water, cow tallow and pork lard. Yuck!

For those of us who enjoy drinking something a bit stronger than milk, The New York Times reports that a knockoff Glen’s vodka (which looked and tasted like the original) was churned out by a company called Moscow Farm which is located in the English countryside. This counterfeit vodka was pumped into the original bottles and sold in shops across Britain at substantial savings to the consumer. Somehow, the list of ingredients avoided any mention of the methanol and bleach that were added to the watered-down version to give it the proper color.  Click here: Counterfeit Food More Widespread Than Suspected – NYTimes.com

Since food labels no longer tell us what we want to know, here are a few suggestions to help distinguish the true from the tampered… 

  1. Buy whole, unadulterated foods whenever possible.
  1. Read labels. Sometimes they can be a tipoff. Although you won’t find a listing of bogus ingredients, common words or names are sometimes misspelled. (Although these crooks may be clever, they have a hard time with spelling.)
  2. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Better to buy a knockoff designer bag, than a knockoff bag of food.
  3. Buy from reputable stores and suppliers. This doesn’t guarantee purity, but you stand a better chance of getting what you asked for.

FYI: Other products subject to fraud include condoms, pharmaceuticals and makeup. A very depressing thought!

What changes, if any, have you made when you buy groceries and sundries?


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