In January 2013, the U.S Pharmacopeial Convention issued a report reflecting a 60 percent increase in food fraud cases since 2011. This is a huge jump compared to the percentage of food fraud cases from 1980 to 2010.
Unfortunately, these numbers only represent the food fraud cases that are known. Food fraud is defined as food items that are mis-labeled, packaged with false advertising, and/or contain ingredients, which are altered from their natural state.
If you’re like me, you probably shop in a local grocery store or well-known food chain. And you probably purchase mostly foods that are USDA approved--you know, the ones with the food label that tells you about every ingredient in the product. So the confirmed reports of food fraud certainly don’t impact you or your family, right? Wrong.
Food labels are great tools and quite helpful for informing consumers about food item ingredients. It’s important for you as a consumer to know, however, that not everything listed on the food label or package is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
So next time you head out for that “healthy” family dinner option at your local grocery store, you may want to do your homework first and learn how to read between the lines. Start here with some helpful food label hints:
“Natural” doesn’t mean organic. It might mean no added colors, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. However, no true regulations exist for the term “natural,” so you could still be purchasing a food made from salt, lard or refined sugar--even though it markets itself as a natural product.
“Whole grain” or “Whole Wheat” labels only require that a food be 51 percent of the actual whole grain. That means 49 percent of the product could still be made of bleached or refined white flour. The label indicates that the food item contains some whole grains. “Some” could also translate to mean that as little as 10 percent of the food item contains whole grains.
If you truly want a whole wheat product, you need to seek out food items that market themselves as “100% whole grain." You can also double check that the word “whole” is listed with the first flour ingredient in the product.
“Low fat” on food labels means that fat content in the item must be reduced by 25 percent. But don’t forget, manufacturers often replace the reduced fat with additional sugar or other calorie-dense ingredients for taste and substance.
“Trans free fat” food labels don’t deny the fact that foods are truly “trans fat free,” but those foods may still be loaded with extra saturated fat or sugar instead.
Watch out for food labels listed: “free-range, chemical-free, cage-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, green, eco-safe, etc.” These words and phrases have either no third-party verification, no legal verification, or both. Consumers are on their own to guess what’s true and what’s not where these terms are involved.
Food fraud is a reality with increased incidents in the past two years. Your friendly, local grocery store isn’t even exempt from the impact. If you are concerned about the actual health of your family, you may need to start becoming more educated and more frugal with your purchasing decisions.
Any food item is subject to being altered and given misleading titles or ingredient labels. Olive oil may not be pure olive oil. Tea bags may not be pure tea leaves. Coloring and packaging can mask a lot of alterations.
Liquids and spices are most likely to be altered, according to ABC news. You as the consumer have a right to be protected, but you as the consumer have a risk of being “taken.”
You’re on your own to decide, scary isn’t it? If knowledge of food fraud potential makes you lack confidence in food labels, you may want to consider raw and whole foods, a safe alternative for the health of your entire family.
Any food that has to be bagged, jarred or boxed increases the opportunity for you as a consumer to be mislead about product ingredients. I encourage you to write your own story of whole health, don’t be the main character of another food label fable!