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USP expands its database of food fraud cases

After analyzing new information, the USP has added seafood, clouding agents and lemon juice as foods vulnerable to fraud


Rockville, Md. – Watered down, mislabelled, inauthentic and dangerous ingredients – these are all examples of some recent and serious cases of food fraud.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s (USP) Food Fraud Database presented new information about foods that are vulnerable to fraudulent manipulation in today’s food supply.

And the USP says nearly 800 new examples of food fraud were added to its database, increasing records by 60 per cent. The new material consists mostly of newer information published in 2011 and 2012 in both scholarly journals and general media.

New additions

In 2012, USP’s research showed that milk, vegetable oils and spices were among the top categories where food fraud occurred.

Now that USP scientists have analyzed new information that top list has expanded to include seafood (fish, shrimp), clouding agents and lemon juice as categories vulnerable to food fraud.

USP says the products that have been added to the database include ingredients such as olive oil, milk, saffron, honey, and coffee – all of which were in the top seven in the analysis of the 1980-2010 period.

The next group includes tea, fish, clouding agents (commonly used in fruit juices/beverages to improve their visual appearance and make products look freshly squeezed); and black pepper – none of which were in the top 25 for the 1980-2010 period.

Among the new media and other reports the USP examined, the most-represented products in the database are milk, fish, turmeric, chili powder and cooking oil (all in the top 12 in the 1980-2010 period), followed by shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup (none of which were even in the top 25 in the 1980-2010 period).

Examples of fraud include:

• Milk, Vegetable Oils and Spices:
• Fluid milk watered-down and adulterated with urea in India.
• Maltodextrin used to dilute powder in South America.
• Vegetable oil used to replace milk fat in South America.
• Oils, olive oil replaced with other, less-expensive vegetable oils is pervasive.
• So-called “gutter oil” (waste oil repurposed as cooking oil) was documented in China.
• Less-expensive spices or fillers used to dilute or replace spices.

• Seafood:
• Fish escolar often fraudulently mislabelled as white tuna or butterfish. Escolar is banned in Italy and Japan, and other countries have issued advisories on the trade and consumption of this fish. Escolar has high content of waxy esters that is likely to cause a special form of food poisoning called gempylotoxism or gempylid fish poisoning.
• Puffer fish (pictured not puffed up) being mislabelled as monkfish to evade import and other restrictions in the U.S. Puffer fish has caused tetrodotoxin poisonings in the U.S. and elsewhere.

• Clouding Agents:
• The plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and other related phthalates being fraudulently added as clouding agents in place of the more expensive palm oil or other allowed food ingredients in fruit juices, jams and other products. Safety concerns surrounding DEHP include cancer and the improper reproductive organ development in children. DEHP may be used in food contact materials (e.g., seals, packaging), however the amount allowed to migrate into the food is tightly regulated as to not exceed approximately 1.5 ppm; levels in reported examples of food fraud were found from two to 34 and 8,700 ppm in food and supplement products, respectively.


Deanna Rosolen

Deanna Rosolen

Managing Editor, Food in Canada
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