Is Your Food Faking It?

Spit out your sushi. You have no idea what kind of roll play it’s up to.

There’s a lot of fake food on the market. And unless you closely watch your food, you’re getting fooled.

Food counterfeiters have flooded the market with fake olive oil, parmesan cheese and Kobe beef. They’re committing food fraud with undeclared fillers or dishing out bait and switches.

Larry Olmsted, author of “Real Food, Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating, And What You Can Do About It” explains, “It’s an economic concern, and a health concern. Sometimes both, sometimes one.”

Seafood is major fake food offender, with species substitution swimming rampant. That red snapper you ordered might actually be tilapia or tilefish and both the taste and the nutritional value are compromised. The substitute versions are often farmed, meaning they could contain unhealthy levels of mercury or antibiotics.

He goes on: “You pay top dollar for red snapper, and you get a much cheaper fish that’s potentially dangerous to you. So you’ve been economically cheated, and endangered.”

And the fake food problem goes even deeper. Olmsted says; “I realized that Kobe beef and parmesan cheese are just the tip of this iceberg of fake food—that there’s a long history, but also that it’s hiding in plain sight.”

If you pay for a high quality 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, but what you get is blended with a cheaper oil, that’s a rip-off. If that same olive oil is cut with peanut oil, and you have a peanut allergy, it’s potentially fatal for allergy sufferers who could go into anaphylactic shock on contact with peanuts.

Olmsted argues that the FDA and USDA know about these problems, but until public pressure forced them to break their silence, they failed to take action.

Menus and labels won’t protect you. With the exception of highly regulated terms like “Organic” Olmsted warns that “the labels are deceptive.”

Olmsted says smart consumers can avoid getting duped. “The most general tip that fits a lot of foods, is to buy your food products as close to their natural state as you can.” The more whole your food is, the less likely it is that it’s been adulterated.

Olmsted believes it’s possible to demand change. “Consumers can absolutely do something. It sounds trite, but, call your congressmen, be vocal.” He concludes, “If people complain enough, they will be heard.”

If public pressure and concern continue to mount, food regulators will have to effectively address the fake food epidemic. Until then, stick to eating whole foods as much as possible.