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Food fraud: Is your food really what you think it is?

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Food fraud is a known issue that companies and consumers need to be aware of.

According to the Guardian, people are paying more attention to this issue since 2013’s horsemeat scandal and suppliers are working to better understand their supply chains in order to monitor risks of fraud.

The drivers of food crime are opportunity and market conditions, reports the Guardian. When crops fail due to climate or disease and become expensive, it becomes profitable to replace them with cheaper ingredients and pass them off as the real thing. Another common form of fraud is dishonesty regarding a product’s place of origin.

According to 60 Minutes, food adulteration is a wide-spread issue often involving organized crime. In the recently aired segment on the Agromafia in Italy, correspondent Bill Whitaker spoke with officials investigating fake extra virgin olive oil. They said that sunflower or canola oil is often treated to look and taste like extra virgin olive oil, which can be potentially dangerous if consumers have allergies.

In addition to phony olive oil, food safety expert Professor Chris Elliott supplied the Guardian with a list of commonly adulterated foods. It includes Spanish chorizo, guacamole, infant formula, oregano, and cocoa. The Italian authorities that 60 Minutes spoke to said wine, cheese, milk, bread, and butter are also commonly adulterated in organized crime schemes.

How do you avoid fakes? CBS provided a guide to buying olive oil as a follow up to the Agromafia investigation that includes checking labels for specific towns or cities and buying directly from producers. While these tips may also apply to other food products, the Guardian  puts emphasis on the role of food standards agencies.

The Guardian also reports that major supermarkets are working on mapping their supply chains to prevent fraud, but doing so is a large task because of the number of products sold. Smaller stores are also limited due to lack of resources. Elliot says the best solution is for large companies to work with smaller companies and argues that trade groups should be distributing information on fraud across the food industry.

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