Last week, the former president of the now-defunct Castle Cheese Co. was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $5,000 fine for mislabeling Parmesan and Romano cheese, therefore “conspiring to introduce misbranded and adulterated cheese into interstate commerce.” The maximum penalty could have been one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine. The company itself was penalized $500,000.
The cheese was considered misbranded because the labels did not accurately reflect the ingredients in the product. Certain ingredients had been substituted or omitted, and others had been added. In fact, it was saw dust that was added as a filler to the cheese, and it was a fired plant manager that tipped off the FDA to the ruse.
Food fraud occurs more often than we would like, and some of our most commonly consumed products are victims.
Here are some of the most common foods that need scrutinizing before placing them in your grocery cart:
1) Coffee – Buy whole beans as a safeguard instead of getting ground coffee that might be mixed with other ingredients like roasted corn or barley.
2) Olive Oil – Label misrepresentation runs high for this product. It might not be produced in Italy nor with Italian olives, or it may be mixed with soybean oil or peanut oil.
3) Fish and Seafood – Expensive fish is often swapped out for cheaper ones. Tilapia for red snapper, langostino for lobster.
4) Honey – Go local if you can, because there is little regulation over honey, which can be masked with sweeteners and corn-based syrup.
5) Champagne – Like “Roquefort” cheese, “Champagne” may only be used on those bottles produced in Champagne, France, yet some wine makers frequently use the term “Champagne” on sparkling wines.
Food fraud is serious when it causes allergic reactions, food poisoning, and other illnesses. Deaths have occurred.
How can the average consumer protect himself/herself?
1) Read labels as, unfortunately, 30% of all incidents are from products produced in the U.S. followed by China (14%), then India (13%).
2) Beware when buying fish/seafood, dairy, and oils/fats as these are the most common food categories associated with food fraud.