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Olive oil and milk among top ingredients used in 'food fraud'

Food adulteration is more than just your neighborhood fish counter selling you farm-raised salmon and telling you it’s line caught. It’s ingredients that can go in ingredients to make products sold by your reputable local grocer or restaurant.

New research shows that the most common food fraud ingredients are olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee and apple juice.

The report was commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security. It defines food fraud as any substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of ingredients for profit.

Researchers at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention compiled a database of all 1,305 academic articles and media reports -- they believe the first of its kind -- to come up with the list.

“There is a general sense that food fraud is a major global problem for the food industry,” said Jeff Moore, one of the researchers. “But no one knows the size of the problem. No one has collected and compiled all the information in the public domain on this topic.”

The fraud is to turn a buck, sometimes by using cheaper ingredients such as hazelnut oil in the place of some or all of the olive oil in a product. But it can have public health consequences.

It particularly points out melamine, a chemical that wasn’t even on the industry’s radar until it showed up in pet food in 2007 and infant formula  and powdered milk in 2008. The database found that there were reports of it being used as early as 1979 as a protein substitute. It has killed children worldwide.

“In any case it is an economic issue,” said Markus Lipp, another researcher on the study. “But the decision of the adulterer can make it a public health issue.”

Lipp said the keys to fighting food fraud were more regulation, oversight, transparency, “industry that is willing to enforce those standards and ultimately consumers who care.”

U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention is a nonprofit scientific organization. The results of its research were published in the Journal of Food Science in April. You can access the database of reported food adulterations at their web site.

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