Is Your Food Fake? New Report Lists Major Food Frauds

Are you paying more for fake food? (Photo: Thinkstock)Does that fish taste funny? A new report on food fraud shows that American consumers may be getting ripped off, since many of the items on their grocery lists -- including olive oil, honey, coffee, and fish -- may be full of fillers and fake ingredients.

WATCH: How to Spot Counterfeit Food

The report by the nonprofit United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) lists 1,300 incidents of "food fraud" going back to 1980 -- and 800 of them were added in the last two years alone.

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"While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg," Dr. Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for USP and the database's creator and lead analyst, said in the report.

According to the USP database at, spices like chili powder, saffron, and black pepper are often cut with cheaper spices in order to maximize profits. Less-expensive vegetable oils are sold in bottles marked "olive oil." Tea bags may contain leaves other than tea, and pre-ground coffee may have twigs, roasted corn, or the husks of coffee beans added. Bottles of "100% lemon juice" may contain a little bit of juice mixed with a lot of water and tart-tasting citric acid. That bear-shaped bottle of honey may actually contain High Fructose Corn Syrup instead, and your supposedly pure syrup may be nothing more than sugar, water, and artificial flavoring.

When it comes to seafood, it's become much more difficult to trust what's on your plate. U.S. consumers buy $80 billion worth of seafood each year, and more than 80 percent of that is imported from elsewhere. An investigation last year by The Boston Globe found that most of the fish you find in restaurants and grocery stores are mislabeled, with cheap tilapia subbing for pricier red snapper and escolar (which is banned in Italy and Japan because it has an indigestible waxy substance, called gempylotoxin, that can make people sick) being sold as "white tuna" or "butterfish." The USP report points out that toxic puffer fish has been sold in the U.S. as monkfish, catfish is often sold as sole or grouper, and Mako shark subbing for Swordfish. Shrimp and salmon labeled "US wild caught" have been found to be farm raised outside of the United States.

Even approved food additives may not be what they seem. Many fruit juices and jams have palm oil other other ingredients added as "clouding agents" to make them look thicker (or, in the case of juices, freshly squeezed). But the USP has received hundreds of complaints -- 877 products from 315 companies -- of plasticizers and dangerous phthalates being added instead, potentially causing health problems. (Exposure to phlalates has been linked to heart problems, ADHD, diabetes, cancer, birth defects, and obesity.)

In order to make sure that what you buy is what you get, look for "whole" options whenever possible -- whole coffee beans or spices instead of pre-ground, fruits instead of concentrated fruit juices, and loose leaf tea instead of tea bags can insure that you're stocking up on the real thing. Beware of dark bottles that hide their contents, too-low bargain prices, and super-trendy trendy food items, as they're often targeted for fraud.

"Pomegranate juice is a high-value ingredient and a high-priced ingredient, and adulteration appears to be widespread," Markus Lipp, senior director for Food Standards at the USP, told ABC News. "It can be adulterated with other food juices…additional sugar, or just water and sugar."

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