Food fraud in market : How food fraud impact on consumers

February 28, 2023

By Steffi Thomas

AM I EATING, WHAT I AM PAYING FOR?? Ask this question multiple times, well the sad reality is NO….

Consumers expect food products to be represented accurately and get what they pay for. However, more than ten percent of commercially available foods are adulterated. In other words, one in 10 of the groceries you have in your cart is probably bogus when you leave the store.

WHAT IS A FOOD FRAUD? Food fraud may occur when food is misrepresented. It is becoming increasingly prevalent in the industry. Food fraud is defined as deliberately substituting, adding, tampering, or misrepresenting food for financial gain. These practices violate rules, requirements, and legislation relating to the agri-food supply chain. They are detrimental to immediate or final customers, whether they are other businesses in the supply chain or consumers. It can pose serious health risks to human, animal or plant health, and economic consequence (for example, if allergens or hazardous materials are added to food products, paying for a product that is of lower quality).

Over the centuries, food fraud has confounded law enforcement. Beginning from 300 BC in Greece, through the Medieval era, and until Frederick Accum, a German chemist identified a wide range of toxic metal colourings in food and drink in 1820, defining it as “Adulterant”. His work created a lot of opposition and was antagonized by food suppliers.

In 1875, John Postgate led a further campaign, leading to a legislative overhaul establishing modern legislation and a system of public analysts assessing adulteration. As industrialization in the United States increased, protests began to rise, culminating in this famous parody:

Mary had a little lamb,

And when she saw it sicken,

She shipped it off to Packing town,

And now it’s labelled chicken. [1]

FRAUDELENT CASES: 1. CHINESE MILK, 2008- Watering down milk is a common fraudulent activity to increase the content of milk. In 2008, a bunch of companies in China added Melamine (a synthetic chemical high in protein) to fraudulent product to pass protein tests. Melamine is a substance that is known to increase the likelihood of kidney problems. This incident affects over 30,000 illnesses, 50,000 hospitalization and at least 6 deaths.

2. AMERICAN PEANUTS, 2009- The first federal food safety felony conviction in US, Stewart Parnell, the former CEO of the now dissolved Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced after he knowingly shipped Salmoella-contamintaed peanut butter across 46 states resulting in 7 death and hundreds of hospitalizations.  

3. FAKE ORGANIC GRAIN SCAM, 2019- Organic grain demand is steeply growing since 2020, which makes it more likely to be involved in fraudulent activities. A huge food fraud case in 2019 involved deceptively selling conventionally grown grain as organic, over $142 million worth. It was alleged that Randy Constant produced the products from his own organic fields and was generating millions of dollars. Most of the fake organic grain sold was used to feed livestock farmers, which they then sold to consumers as organic meat.

5. OIL & FAT FRAUDS- Followed by pandemic, supply chain and purchases remain perennially fragile. The year 2021 has been a record year for fats and oils to have the highest food safety incidences. Olive oil known as, “Liquid gold” for its high economic value, as well as its unique sensory, compositional, and nutritional properties is among the most notified category. Top quality extra virgin olive oil is a hot topic, offering varying prices/values according to its geographical origin (For example, the EC DG AGRI’s latest figures, for the month of May 2020, the oil mill price at €205.9 per 100 kg in Spain, € 345.8 per 100 kg in Italy, and € 217.5 per 100 kg in Greece). A total of 32 incidents have been reported regarding olive oil since 2020, with 20 of those occurring in Europe – 11 of them involved mislabelling, 4 involved incorrect origins, 6 involved substitutions, 6 involved dilutions, and 5 involved intentional distribution of fake/contaminated products.


To prevent food fraud, it is essential to develop measures to mitigate it and, where possible, prevent it from occurring.

Educating consumers about food fraud, and exposing criminal groups, is a way to reduce risks. Now the question is, from a layman’s’ point of view, standing in front of shelf in a supermarket, how can one recognize/ identify food fraud?

CHECK LABEL: Food labelling plays a vital role in ensuring food safety. When purchasing products, make sure to read the labels. The product may be mislabelled, for instance, if it says “PRODUCT OF NORWAY” but Norway lacks the conditions to grow the product. So, ask yourself whether it is being misrepresented.[2]

CONSIDER THE PRICE: A lower price always appeals to us, but isn’t that too good to be true? A bottle of extra virgin olive oil that is much less expensive than other brands may not reflect its authenticity, for instance.[2]

Contact industry/ Relevant organisation!

ASK QUESTIONS. Report concerns and ask questions regarding the information on food labels or how the food is produced by contacting (such as grocery stores, manufacturers, producers, or consumer associations). Increasing consumer awareness encourages companies to be more vigilant about how their products are portrayed.[2]

Bringing a product into your hands is the result of hundreds of interconnected procedures in the food supply chain. Accidents and determined incidents have the possibility to occur simultaneously. Ultimately, consumers should be vigilant at all times.

For instance, someone with severe allergies to an ingredient should carefully read the labels at the grocery store before buying it, they should also read them again during preparation, and be very attentive when consuming it. Even though one trusts what is written on labels and relies on the information, it is imperative to make sure that you understand what the brand is communicating to you and what it means. All actions have a cause, and every individual is responsible for them. There are some who do it better while there are others who fail. In the end, you are the one who suffers, so make sure you understand the consequences before it’s too late.

Report/Raise a concern: Report any food related concerns or suspect food fraud:


  1. A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons at Project Gutenberg (1820) by Friedrich Accum.
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