Special Report - Food Fraud

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Do you really know that what's in your food is safe?

Scientists say many of the things we eat are packed with things that aren't supposed to be there--a practice known as food fraud.

Newschannel 3 spoke to the experts to see why it's a concern that is motivating many people to buy local.

Knowing where your food comes from is important to customers.

Scientists say knowing that can protect you from what some call food fraud.

"Food fraud is the deliberate deception of consumers using food," said Michigan State professor Dr. Doug Moyer, an expert on the subject.

"That includes adulteration by adding ingredients that aren't supposed to be there, or by deleting valuable ingredients and substituting them," he said.

Just last month, the FDA sent out an alert: undeclared peanuts in cumin powder, posing a serious public health threat.

"And what these food fraudsters are doing are substituting peanut shells into the cumin spice to extend the amount of material to kind of make up for what they have not harvested and not processed," Moyer said.

Another food often tampered with is olive oil.

"Unfortunately, back in the 80's there was a deadly incident in Spain, where industrial grade oil was mixed in with olive oil to extend it and it put people in the hospitals and killed some people," Moyer said.

Using substitutes or fillers not listed on the label is a violation of FDA regulations, and hard to detect.

"It's very difficult to check the authenticity of food yourself. I mean, we don't have labs to check DNA for fish to see if it's really what it's supposed to be. We have to trust," Moyer said.

Trusting your food source may be your only protection.

Experts say a local food stand is an excellent way to actually see what you're getting; but even here, natural sweeteners can be a sticky subject.

"Things like honey are still commonly adulterated," Moyer said.

"When you're getting local product, and you know the vendors, and you know the vendors and you can attest to their integrity, that makes a big difference to people too," said Rosanne Kiely, with West Village Market and Deli.

Local natural food stores, with locally made products.

"More and more, people like to know exactly who their food is coming from," Kiely said.

Another way to trust what's inside the package.

"It's just like common sense advice that you know where you're buying your food from," Moyer said.

Protecting yourself and your family, by paying closer attention to what you eat.

"We think of food fraud as definitely a public health threat," Moyer said. "These things aren't geared to hurt you, and they shouldn't and typically don't hurt people. But sometimes if they're bending the rules, they might be bending all the rules."

The interest in food fraud has grown in recent years, in light of potential terrorist attacks on the food supply chain.

There is now a searchable database of documented cases. You can find that by clicking here.

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