Food fraud

Fraudulent food products are poor quality and may be contaminated; they can cause food poisoning and even death.

INTERPOL operations have seized olives that contained copper sulphate solutions, sugar contaminated with fertilizers, and shrimp-paste laced with pesticides.

What are the dangers?

There are two main types of food crime:

  • Selling food unfit for consumption. This includes selling animal products of unknown origin or re-labelling products past their use-by dates.  
  • Bulking up, watering down, substituting and mislabelling. This includes the substitution of whole foods or ingredients with cheaper alternatives, which can be harmful, or deliberately mislabelling the quality or source of ingredients.
Sho)p Safely - Food Fraud

What to look out for

When buying food items, check the quality of the packaging, lists of ingredients, details of manufacturers, etc. Trust your instincts and avoid buying anything that doesn’t look quite right.

Here are some tips about a few specific products.

  • Olive oil - Olive oil is one of the most affected food products. It is often diluted with other cheaper types of oil and even lard. Check specific product details including harvest date, country of origin and name of the producer. If these details are not clear, the oil may be fraudulent. Also look for the Protected Designation of Origin mark, which should appear on all legitimate oil products made in Europe.
  • Honey - Illicitly produced honey has been found to contain potentially harmful antibiotics. Always read the ingredients and avoid products that have added sugar or syrup. Buy from local producers where possible.
  • Fish - Seafood is frequently mislabelled. Fraudulent fish products often contain high levels of mercury and histamines that can cause illness.  

What to do if you think your food is fraudulent

If you suspect you have bought fraudulent food products, or see them for sale, you should report it to the police and your local environmental health office or food regulatory authority.
Do not eat or drink the products if you have any doubts about them.