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US highlights food fraud perils

By Rod Addy , 24-Jan-2013

Puffer fish is fraudulently used to replace monkfish
Puffer fish is fraudulently used to replace monkfish

Seafood, clouding agents and lemon juice are the latest categories targeted by food fraudsters flagged up by the US Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention’s Food Fraud Database.

The USP has finished an overhaul of the database that boosts the number of records it holds by 60%, fed by information published in scholarly journals and the general media.

Top food fraud targets listed are olive oil, milk, saffron, honey and coffee, followed by tea, fish, clouding agents to improve the visual appearance of fruit juices and beverages and black pepper.

Substances cropping up most frequently in reports from media and other sources include turmeric, chilli powder, cooking oil, shrimp, lemon juice and maple syrup. None of these was even in the top 25 list of food fraud targets in a previous USP analysis of 1980-2010 records.

Urea-adulterated milk and puffer fish

Examples of food fraud include watered down and urea-adulterated milk in India, and puffer fish, a cause of tetrodotoxin poisoning, being used to replace monkfish.

In addition, fraudulent use of phthalates to replace approved clouding agents in fruit juices, jams and other products is a major concern, according to the USP.

Numerous database records identify fraudulent use of the plasticizer Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and related phthalates to replace legitimate clouding agents in products including fruit juices and jams in 2011, said the USP.

Considered that year’s equivalent of the Chinese melamine scandal, “the scale of this fraud was vast”, involving 877 products from 315 food companies, said USP. A total of 206 products were exported to 22 countries and an estimated 4,000 victims were affected in Taiwan, it added.

Safer food supply

Dr Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for USP and the database’s creator and lead analyst, said he hoped manufacturers, regulators, scientists and others would use it to achieve a safer food supply.

The database could provide more complete knowledge of known and potential threats, spur development of better detection methods for adulterants and increase authorities’ and consumers’ awareness of the issue, said Moore.

“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.

“The idea behind the database was to shed some light on this largely uncharacterized space by collecting and analyzing the fragmented information in the public domain reported by scholars, regulators and media.”

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