Olive oil tops food ingredient fraud ranking

Olive oilOlive oil is the food ingredient most prone to fraudulent economically-motivated adulteration (EMA), according to an analysis of a new database created by the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP).

The research - published in the Journal of Food Science (April edition) - looked at more than 1,300 records published in peer-review journals, media reports and other publicly-available literature. It found that the top seven adulterated ingredients in the database were olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee, and apple juice.

The researchers behind the research are Drs. Jeffrey C. Moore and Markus Lipp of USP, and Dr. John Spink of Michigan State University.

"This database is a critical step in protecting consumers," said Dr. Spink. "Food fraud and economically motivated adulteration have not received the warranted attention given the potential danger they present.

Food fraud was recently defined in a report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security and funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (University of Minnesota) as a collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.

A more specific type of fraud, intentional or economically motivated adulteration of food ingredients has been defined by USP's Expert Panel on Food Ingredient Intentional Adulterants as the fraudulent addition of non-authentic substances or removal or replacement of authentic substances without the purchaser's knowledge for economic gain of the seller.

The authors found 95 per cent of records involved replacement, in which an authentic material is replaced partially or completely by another, less expensive substitute.

Examples include the partial substitution of olive oil with hazelnut oil, substitution of toxic Japanese star anise for Chinese star anise, and the partial replacement of low-quality spices with lead tetraoxide or lead chromate to imitate the colour of higher-quality spices.

"Food ingredients and additives present a unique risk because they are used in so many food products and often do not have visual or functional properties that enable easy discrimination from other similar ingredients or adulterants throughout the supply chain," says the paper.

The USP Food Fraud Database is publicly accessible at

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