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ASI Food SafetyAug 22, 2023 4:35:10 PM5 min read

Top Ten Food Fraud Products

Food fraud and economically motivated adulteration are common industry issues. In fact, food crime costs the global food industry an estimated US $40 billion annually. In this blog, we’ll look at the most common products for food fraud, high-risk food fraud ingredients, and how to spot potential food fraud. 

The Basics of Food Fraud  

When consumer demand is high or supplies are limited, large and small businesses of all kinds are more likely to find themselves vulnerable to food fraud. Short or long-term demand and price pressures occurring in supply chains can result in higher consumer prices and decreased competitiveness for manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors. In an attempt to reduce costs, companies become more vulnerable to seeking shortcuts to stay competitive in business.  


Food fraud is a criminal act involving intentional adulteration, deliberate mislabeling, or misdescription of food for financial gain. Food fraud puts consumer health and safety at risk, it generates unfair market competition and threatens consumer trust in the food system. Unscrupulous suppliers and manufacturers might be tempted to take advantage of loopholes in the surveillance, investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of food fraud to keep the increased costs of their products to consumers as low as possible. 

Top Ten Food Fraud Products 

Consumers increasingly crave sustainable, organic options, making them vulnerable to a hidden enemy: food fraud. Here, we dissect the top ten offenders, revealing their deceptive disguises and offering tips to avoid the bite:

1. Seafood: From "shrimp scampi" starring pangasius to "tuna steaks" hiding farmed tilapia, seafood fraud is widespread. Look for MSC certification and buy fish whole or in fillets to spot alterations.

2. Dairy Products: "Parmesan" might harbor cellulose fillers, and watered-down milk can trick your wallet. Stick to reputable brands and check ingredient lists for suspicious additives.

3. Meat, Poultry & Fish: "Kobe beef" might be masquerading as regular sirloin, and ground meat can harbor mystery ingredients. Opt for butchers you trust and ask about sourcing.

4. Wine & Alcoholic Beverages: Cheap "Pinot Noir" could be dyed Merlot, and diluted spirits are a common scam. Research reputable brands and look for protected designation of origin (PDO) labels.

5. Herbs, Spices & Seasonings: Saffron adulterated with turmeric, chili powder spiked with sawdust – the spice trade is notorious. Buy whole spices when possible and source from trusted shops.

6. Vegetable Oils: Extra virgin olive oil diluted with cheaper fats like soybean oil is a major culprit. Look for DOP or IGP certifications, and test for cold temperature crystallization (real olive oil solidifies below 50°F).

7. Honey: Sugar syrup masquerading as honey is sadly common. Look for crystallized honey, which is a sign of authenticity, and consider buying local, raw honey from trusted beekeepers.

8. Coffee & Tea: "Gourmet" blends might contain cheap fillers like roasted barley, and flavored teas often use artificial additives. Look for single-origin coffees and whole-leaf teas from reputable retailers.

9. Grains: Adulterated wheat with cheaper grains like oats or barley can be found in flours and cereals. Opt for organic, whole-grain products and check labels for transparency.

10. Olive Oil: We mentioned it before, but this "liquid gold" deserves a double mention. Counterfeit "extra virgin" olive oil is rampant. Seek DOP/IGP labels, dark bottles to protect from light, and a peppery kick in the taste.


Deceptive Dinners: Unmasking the Sneaky Secrets of Food Fraud

Food should nourish, not deceive. Yet, the hidden world of food fraud can turn your grocery aisle into a minefield of misleading labels and deceptive substitutes. But fear not, food detectives! By sharpening your awareness and arming yourself with knowledge, you can become a savvy shopper and protect yourself from these culinary cons.

Hallmarks of a Hoax:

    • Price Puzzlers: When a "premium" product like saffron or organic avocado oil is suspiciously cheap, it's likely a siren song of fraud. Remember, quality ingredients rarely sing bargains.

    • Masquerading Mimics: Be wary of imposters! Pangasius may try to fool you as shrimp, and tilapia might impersonate tuna. Familiarity with the genuine appearance of your food is your shield against these shape-shifting swindlers.

    • The Paper Trail Trail-Off: If a product lacks proper traceability documentation, its origin becomes as murky as a swamp. Opt for brands that offer transparent sourcing information, shining a light on their ingredient journey.

    • Label Labyrinths: Watch out for misleading labels like "Italian-style" Parmesan or "honey-flavored" syrup. These often lack the genuine ingredients they imply, weaving a web of deception.

    • Questionable Credentials: Be cautious of certifications or quality claims that seem fishy (pun intended!). Research the legitimacy of accreditations and verify claims before trusting them.

Beyond the Label:

    • The Shell Game: Be mindful of products where ingredients are hidden or obscured, like ground meat or sausages. These can harbor mystery components, turning your meal into a guessing game.

    • Label Lies: Always scrutinize food labels for inconsistencies or missing information. Undeclared additives or incorrect ingredient listings can be red flags, waving a warning in plain sight.

Taking Action:

    • Report It: If you suspect food fraud, don't be a silent hero! Report it to the relevant authorities. Your vigilance can protect others from falling victim to these deceitful meals.

    • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on current food fraud trends and common scams. Resources like the FDA website and consumer advocacy groups can be your arsenal of knowledge, equipping you to identify and avoid these culinary cons.

Bonus Tip: Support local, ethical producers who prioritize transparency and traceability. Building relationships with trustworthy sources can significantly reduce your risk of encountering food fraud, turning your grocery list into a map to food integrity.

Remember, you have the power to protect yourself and others from food fraud. By being a mindful consumer, you can ensure your meals are honest, your choices informed, and your dinner plate a haven of genuine goodness. So go forth, food detectives, and unmask the sneaky secrets of food fraud!

Because food fraud can take many forms and can infiltrate supply chains at many stages, more companies are demanding certification of all vendors in their supply chains to reduce the risk for contamination and food fraud as well as mitigate risk for potential liabilities.

Certifications can help your facility maintain the highest standards for food safety, so they are well worth the time and effort. 

Learn more about food fraud by contacting - ask about our Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessments today!