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The food in your kitchen cupboards may not be what it seems.

“I guarantee you, when any product can be passed off as a more expensive product, it will be. It’s that simple,” Larry Olmstead, author of “Real Food/Fake Food,” told CNBC.

Fraudsters motivated by economic gain surreptitiously infiltrate the global food market through a variety of means, including adulteration, dilution, substitution and mislabelling.

Not only does this hurt consumers’ wallets, it also puts public health and safety at risk.

Some estimates say food fraud affects at least 1% of the global food industry, worth $40 billion a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

“We may not know the overall impact of food fraud because so much of what fraudsters do is hidden from us and has been for centuries.” Kristi Laurvik, senior manager of the food program at the US Pharmacopoeia, told CNBC.

Even the FDA says it cannot estimate how often this fraud occurs or its economic impact.

“Be mindful of the product you put on you or plug into the wall,” John Spink, director of the Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank, told CNBC.

From 2012 to 2021, the most common food fraud was falsification of animal origin and dilution or substitution, both accounting for 16% of reported incidents by food safety monitor Food Chain ID.

For example, dilution may involve adding a cheaper vegetable oil to an expensive extra virgin olive oil.

“If I drink scotch, I can’t tell you [the] difference between a $50 bottle and a $5000 bottle. So I know that at that moment they can deceive me,” said Spink.

The Food Fraud Prevention Think Tank suggests five questions consumers can ask themselves to reduce their vulnerability to product fraud.

  1. What type of product is it? Be extra careful with any product you put on your body, swallow, or plug into a wall.
  2. Can you recognize the difference between the products?
  3. Do you know a retailer or supplier? Do you trust them?
  4. Are you shopping online? If yes, then you have found an online supplier from a reliable source.
  5. Complain. Is the provider legitimate? If so, they’ll want to know.

Watch the video above to learn more about the different types of food fraud, how the industry is preventing risk, what consumers can do, and where fraud may be hiding in the olive oil, spice and seafood markets.



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