Food Fraud Database Provides Insights into What We Eat

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I like to add ingredients to my coffee when I grew it. Today it was cardamom and the time before it was cinnamon.


    Thanks to a recent NPR story, I knew to look at the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention’s USP Food Fraud Database, which told me the cinnamon I use may have coffee husks in it. And the cardamom? Well, it may have choti elaichi seeds. That may not be so bad since once I looked up that term, I found it means green cardamom.


    The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention is a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality and purity of food ingredients, dietary supplements and medicines that are manufactured, distributed and consumed around the globe. The group’s standards are developed and revised by more than 850 volunteer experts who work under strict conflict-of-interest rules.

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    USP provides written and physical reference standards to manufacturers, supplies and regulators to help them determine food ingredient authenticity and purity. “These standards help limit the introduction of potential adulterants and other problems at the ingredient level, and serve as a widely acknowledged quality benchmark in the buying and selling of food ingredients in the global marketplace.


    NPR reported that the database first launched in 2010 and was upgraded in January with reports from scholarly journals and the media that were published in 2011 and 2012. This database includes approximately 2,000 foods.


    And the food fraud database offers interesting details. For instance, do you have a bottle of saffron in your pantry? Well, there’s a possibility that’s not what it is. NPR noted that the USP database lists 109 substitutes that have been sold as saffron (which is the world’s most expensive spice). These include marigold flower, chalk, gypsum, and strands of cotton or plastic thread.


    So I decided to do a little sleuthing. I cook a lot with olive oil. It turns out that researchers have found that some types aren’t pure. Instead, they can contain soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil or peanut oil. Extra virgin olive oil may include walnut oil, lard, soybean oil, palm oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, olive pomace oil, hazelnut oil or palm oil; there’s also a note that one type had “extra virgin olive oil of non-authentic botanical origin.


    And what about your basic pepper? Turns out it may have papaya seeds, starch, colored seeds from non-authentic plant, piper berries, dried fruit of West Indiana Lantana, false black pepper, buckwheat flour, millet, juniper berry, spent black pepper meal, and stem and chaff of black pepper.


    Cayenne pepper also came up when I searched for pepper. There are a lot of additions as well, including ground rice, mustard seed husk, sawdust, salt, red lead, vermilion, Venetian red and turmeric.


    NPR also points out that paprika sometimes has Sudan red dye, a potent carcinogen that is banned for use in food across the globe. Sudan red dye also shows up in chili powder.  I also found listings that included Sudan I dye, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer, in tomato sauce, curry powder, chili tomato sauce and chili powder.


  • And as I passed the plate with the brownies in the kitchen, it got me wondering about what might be in cocoa powder.  A long list comes up stating that cocoa powder has been found to have arrowroot, grain flours, chicory powder, cocoa husks, sucrose, carob powder, chestnut shell, peanut shell, sesame meal, soybean meal, soybean flour and “non-authentic material."

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    And looking forward to a sip of juice in the morning? That too may have some “interesting” additions. Take pomegranate juice, for instance. It’s been found to have grape derived juices or wines, juice of non-authentic botanical origin, sugars, acids, grape juice, elderberry, black current, black carrot, sorbitol-containing fruit juices (apple, pear, cherry or aronia), high-fructose corn syrup and corn- or cane-derived sugars.


    This website can be helpful if you really, really want to know what’s in your ingredients. However, it also can scare you about what’s in your food!


    Primary Sources for this Sharepost:


    BBC News. (2005). Food recalled in cancer dye scare.


    U. S. Pharmacopeial Convention. (nd). USP’s food fraud database.


    Shute, N. (2013). Food fraud database lets us all play detective. NPR.

Published On: March 29, 2013