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Special Report: Counterfeit food puts you at risk

You know to be suspicious of counterfeit purses… even counterfeit cash… but counterfeit food?? It's a growing threat in the US and beyond.
You know to be suspicious of counterfeit purses… even counterfeit cash… but counterfeit food??
It's a growing threat in the US and beyond.

When you fall victim to this crime, not only are you not getting what you paid for, you could be putting your life in danger.

Finding food fakes is a constant battle for investigators across the world. Video shot by interpol police shows counterfeit products which could have ended up in the united states: candy bars, fish, cheese and tomato sauce.

Dr. John Spink, Associate Director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program Michigan State University says, "Consumers are being cheated."

Here in the US, Food and Drug Administration agents are also on the hunt for phony food products and ingredients, seizing everything from counterfeit olive oil to alleged expensive wine the feds say is fake.

"We think we're buying a high value or specific type of product and the bad guys have swapped it out with something that's inferior," explains Dr. Spink.

The problem is so big that a new national database was recently created to try to track it. The key word here is "try" because it's hard to catch during production and shipping.

And once it makes it to market, consumers don't realize they've been ripped off, unless they get sick.

"Food adulteration is designed to be not detected,” Dr. Markus Lipp with the US Pharmacopeial Convention says. “So, frequently adulterers do not use fake ingredients that would cause immediate health problems."

In a new study, Dr. John Spink crunched the database numbers revealing the top counterfeited foods.
  • 16% involved olive oil: often diluted with cheaper oils.
  • 14% involved milk found to be watered down.
  • 7% was honey infused with sugar and corn syrups.
  • Fruit juice accounted for between two to four percent of cases; it was watered down or diluted with other types of juice.
"The bad guys aren't following good manufacturing practices,” Dr. Spink says. “There's such
a risk for contamination that can be very lethal."

The most recent case involved vodka laced with methanol which left some college students in England with permanent vision damage. Many legitimate companies are now hiring security firms to monitor their products.

"We've unfortunately found counterfeits of pretty much any product that you can think of," says Tara Steketee with OpSec Security.

Something that just popped up recently- garden-variety tomatoes being marketed as the more expensive heirloom ones.

Consumers are shocked.

"It could really hurt someone."

"Very concerning, to me as a mom."
"It would be overwhelming to me try to police that."

And she's right. For every port investigators inspect and each case police crack, experts know there's always more.

"There's not ten of these bad guys in the world and we can go arrest 8 of them,” Dr. Spink says. “There's a near infinite number of fraudsters and there's a near infinite type of fraud."

If you suspect food fraud report it right away to your local health department.

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