ROCKVILLE, Md. – The US Pharmacopeial Convention has added nearly 800 new records to its food fraud database, which increases the total number of records by 60 percent. The database’s first iteration compiled 1,300 records of food fraud published between 1980 and 2010. The update consists mostly of information published in 2011 and 2012 in scholarly journals and general media.
The USP, a non-profit scientific organization that also publishes the Food Chemicals Codex, defined food fraud as “a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.”
Top ingredients represented among new scholarly records in the database are olive oil, milk, saffron, honey and coffee. All five of those ingredients were in the top seven in the analysis of 1980-2010 records. Tea, fish, clouding agents and black pepper, none of which made the top 25 in 1980-2010, followed the top five ingredients in the new scholarly records.
Among the new media and other reports, milk, fish, turmeric, chili powder and cooking oil were the most represented products. They all made the top 12 in 1980-2010. Shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup, none of which made the top 25 in 1980-2010, followed those five ingredients in the update of new media and other reports.
“While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well-documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for the USP and the database’s creator and lead analyst.
He said the USP hopes food manufacturers, regulators and scientists use the database to help achieve a safer world food supply. He said the database may provide knowledge of known and potential threats, spur research and development of more accurate detection methods, and increase awareness of food fraud among consumers and lawmakers.
The USP drew attention to clouding agents by comparing them to the melamine scandal involving Chinese milk products. Clouding agents are used in fruit juices and other beverages to improve visual appearance and to make products look freshly squeezed. Numerous database records documented the plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and other related phthalates being added fraudulently as clouding agents in place of more expensive ingredients, such as palm oil, in juices, jams and other products. Safety concerns surrounding DEHP include cancer and improper development of reproductive organs in children.
The USP said fraud is a significant problem in seafood. About $80 billion in seafood is sold in the United States annually, and more than 80 percent of fish in the country is imported. The USP said in the United States puffer fish is being mislabeled as monkfish to evade import restrictions. Puffer fish has caused tetrodotoxin poisonings, according to the USP.
“Seafood is an example where food safety controls are species-specific, making replacement of one fish with another especially troublesome,” Dr. Moore said.
Food fraud in milk, vegetable oils and spices is a worldwide concern. The database includes examples of watered-down and urea adulterated fluid milk in India, dilution of milk powder with fillers such as maltodextrin in South America and replacement of milk fat with vegetable oil in South America. China had a food fraud problem with “gutter oil,” or waste oil repurposed as cooking oil.