You walk through the automatic glass doors and into the grocery store and grab a roller basket.
On your list, the usual: milk, olive oil, coffee, tea, orange juice, veggies (organic), and maybe some fish — you’re trying to be healthier, after all.
As you walk the aisles, you spot a few additional items. You pick up some honey for your tea, and some maple syrup for a weekend breakfast. You realize you’re running low on spices so you grab some paprika and a shaker tin of black pepper.
These seem like simple, basic, everyday items — staples of a quality diet. The weird thing though? Some of them may not contain exactly what you think they do.
These essential staples represent many of the leading categories for fraudulent or counterfeit food.
In fact, it’s estimated by the industry group Grocery Manufacturers of America that up to 10% of food products contain an adulterated or fraudulent ingredients — something that’s not what people think they are buying.
For products like tea, that may include random leaves or colored sawdust. For honey, it may be high fructose corn syrup. And for fish, where a long supply chain and sources from all over the world offer a number of places where a different product may be substituted for a desired one, all kinds of substitutions happen.
“Ten percent of commercially available food is adulterated, but for some of these fish it’s 19 out of 20 times,” says Larry Olmsted, author of the new book “Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do about It.”
Olmsted tells us that some of the stats on how big the “fake food” issue is are “mind-boggling.”
Economically, the extent of the fraud is massive. Depending on how you measure it, the financial impact of this deception is huge — ranging from around $10-$15 billion all the way up to $50 billion.
These illegal substitutions can be dangerous too. In some cases, mislabeled fish actually comes from banned species that are inherently toxic or that have dangerously high levels of mercury.
However, as Olmsted points out, you don’t want to be scared of food. People may try to pass off fraudulent products as real, but don’t give up: It’s worth trying to find the actual (delicious) thing you are looking for instead of a bland and potentially risky substitute.
And in many cases, he explains, one simple tip can help people avoid the adulterated substances.
“The biggest sort of overarching tip is just try to buy the food as close as you can to the whole form — as in intact — as you can,” he tells Tech Insider.
Ground and instant coffee are much more likely to contain leaves, twigs, or cereals than whole bean coffee. If you buy a whole lobster, you know what you’re getting — a cheap lobster roll or lobster ravioli are far less likely to be what you think. Instead of juices, consider just buying fruit. It’s healthier and more likely to be what you want. In 2013, certain samples of “beef” sold in Europe were found to be 80%-100% horse meat — but the horse was ending up in pre-made “beef” lasagnas, not in much more easily identifiable steaks.
At restaurants, Olmsted says simple questions can make a difference. The people working there should know where their fish comes from. Truffle fries are a bad sign, since real truffle oil is so expensive that there’s no way it’s ending up on the majority of diced potatoes with that claim.
But in the end, Olmsted says that the point is that real foods are so good they’re worth seeking out — whether you get them at the grocery store or at a restaurant that you trust.
Just be wary of the premade, mass-produced, or pre-ground stuff where there have been multiple opportunities for some unexpected ingredients to slip into the supply.
“The less recognizable the food is to the eye, the more likely it is to be adulterated,” he says.
Read the original article on Tech Insider. Follow Tech Insider on Facebook and Twitter. Copyright 2016.
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