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Food fraud is secretly infiltrating America. Here’s how you can avoid it

The food in your kitchen cupboards may not be what it seems.

“I guarantee you any time a product can be presented as something more expensive, it will be. It’s that simple,” Larry Olmsted, author of “Real Food/Fake Food,” told CNBC.

Fraudsters motivated by financial gain covertly infiltrate the global food market in a variety of ways, including adulteration, dilutions, substitution and mislabeling.

This not only hurts consumers̵[ads1]7; wallets, but also puts public health and safety at risk.

Some estimates say food fraud affects at least 1% of the global food industry at a cost as high as $40 billion a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“We may not know the overall impact of food fraud because so much of what fraudsters do is hidden from us and has been for centuries.” Kristie Laurvick, senior manager of the food program at the US Pharmacopeial Convention, told CNBC.

Even the FDA says it cannot estimate how often this fraud occurs or its financial impact.

“Be aware of the product you put on or plug into the wall,” John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, told CNBC.

Between 2012 and 2021, the most common types of food fraud were lying about an animal’s origin and dilution or substitution, both ranked at 16% of recorded incidents by food safety watchdog Food Chain ID.

For example, dilution may involve adding a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive extra virgin olive oil.

“If I’m drinking scotch, I couldn’t tell you [the] the difference between a $50 bottle and a $5000 bottle. So I know I can be fooled at that point,” Spink said.

The Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank suggests five questions a consumer can ask themselves to reduce their vulnerability to product fraud.

  1. What kind of product is it? Be extra careful with any product you put on your body, ingest or plug into the wall.
  2. Can you tell the difference between the products?
  3. Do you know the retailer or supplier? Do you trust them?
  4. Do you shop online? If so, did you find the ISP from a reliable source?
  5. Complain. Is the supplier legitimate? If so, they’d like to know.

Watch the video above to learn more about the different types of food fraud, how the industry prevents risk, what consumers can do and where fraud in the olive oil, spice and seafood markets can lurk.

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