Can we trust the food we’re eating?

Here's what you need to know about food fraud...
Loading the player...

Australians are being warned to remain vigilant when shopping for their weekly groceries, amidst both the current cost of living crisis and a little-known form of fraud. 

When one thinks of fraud, your mind is quick to jump to the many variations of financial fraud, but it’s food fraud that industry insiders are warning is on the rise.  

WATCH NOW: What nutrients help improve bone health? Article continues after video. 

According to a report by AgriFutures Australia, food fraud costs the Australian economy $3 billion every year. 

But what is it exactly? 

From counterfeit ingredients to misleading labels, there is plenty to be mindful of when it comes to understanding the different types of food fraud. 

These include mislabelling, adulteration, substitition, counterfeiting, dilution, and concealment. 

Despite presenting itself in a variety of ways, the end goal for any type of food fraud is always the same – to deceive the consumer into paying a higher price for a product that is not what it claims to be. 

Adulteration is a type of food fraud that occurs when fraudsters contaminate food by adding other substances to it. (Credit: Getty)

Food Microbiologist and Associate Professor Julian Cox from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering said the little-known practice of food fraud not only tarnished consumer trust but also posed a food safety risk. 

“Consumers are left in the dark when producers substitute ingredients that could potentially cause adverse health reactions,” he said. 

“Whether it’s buying honey or olive oil at the supermarket or going to a high-end restaurant and ordering expensive wagyu steak, as consumers, we expect to get what we pay for. It’s hard, or even impossible, for the consumer to know what is real and what is fake.”

“And typically, we don’t question the product we’re buying because we put trust in something as fundamental as the food supply chain,” Associate Professor Cox added. 

Other types of food fraud inclue making claims about the product’s country of origin, making false claims about how the product was made and misrepresenting the product’s nutritional qualities and the weight of the food. (Credit: Getty)

Speaking of the supply chain, the increased globalisation of imports and exports, and various geopolitical and environmental factors are sadly creating more opportunities for food fraudsters to “get away with it.”

“You can pick almost any commodity, any food or beverage, and you can almost guarantee that products within that category have been tampered with somewhere along the supply chain – even if it’s in the labelling and claiming to be from a specific region of the world,” Associate Professor Cox says. 

Associate Professor Cox recommends consumers ask questions if they have suspicions about any food product they want to purchase. (Credit: Getty)

So is there anything consumers can do to ensure they don’t fall victim to food fraud?

According to Associate Professor Cox, it’s easier said than done. 

“Unless you’re a true expert in that area, you’re probably not going to tell if the local fish and chip shop has sold you barramundi or if they’ve just sold you battered shark meat.”

He does suggest however that early detection and prevention methods such as authenticity testing, or government intervention could go a long way in solving this global problem. 

“It’s always in the best interest of the farmers and food distributors themselves to make sure consumers are getting what they’re paying for,” he says. 

“These measures can help protect the integrity of the industry and thus ensure the food quality and safety is not compromised.”

Related stories