6 Tips to Avoid Food Fraud

Don’t get duped by products with unhealthy additives.

By Toni Gasparis
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Why You Should Avoid Ground Coffee and Spices (2:42)

Food fraud is a major problem in the United States. Since most of our food products are shipped into the country, the food goes through a lot of hands -- packaging, processing, and transporting -- before it gets to your local grocery store. During the entire process, food can be mishandled and contaminated without you even knowing it. Additionally, ingredients can be added that are harmful to your health and not what was advertised on the label in order to cut costs while charging premium prices. Self-proclaimed food spy and owner of food fraud detecting company INSCATECH, Mitchell Weinberg, shared with The Dr. Oz Show his personal expert tips to avoid becoming a victim of food fraud. 

1. Avoid Pre-Ground Products 

Consumers should be wary of pre-ground products like coffee and spices. Since they are so finely ground other things can be slipped into the mix to make production cheaper but diminish the quality of the product. Weinberg says that fillers for ground coffee can include chicory root, dirt, and dried leaves. Additives in spices include industrial dyes to make the color of the spice -- for example, Sudan red dye is known to be carcinogenic but may also be found as a filler in red spices like paprika.

So what do you do about it? Test your ground coffee by putting some coffee grinds into a glass of water. Coffee grinds should sink to the bottom whereas fillers will float on the top. Or, to avoid the issue altogether buy whole coffee beans and grind them yourself. The same should be done for spices, try to buy them whole and grind them. Tip: Use your coffee grinder to grind fresh spices. 

Related: 9 Spices That Will Fire Up Your Metabolism

2. Don't Buy Pre-Blended Products

Similar to pre-ground products, with pre-blended products it's hard to know if everything included is 100% authentic. The biggest culprit is pre-blended yogurt drinks or smoothies. While they are easy, seemingly healthy, snacks for kids a look at the label will show otherwise. Most pre-blended drinks include preservatives and additives, therefore, you will see a lot of things that are fresh fruit and yogurt on the label. 

To avoid feeding your kids sugar with additives and no nutritional benefits try to pre-blend your own healthy smoothies and keep them in the freezer for easy access. 

3. Look Out for Expensive Ingredients on Inexpensive Products

Sometimes things that sound too good to be true are in fact just that. If there is a product that is advertising a known expensive ingredient but the product itself is super cheap that is most likely a marketing tactic -- the expensive ingredient is in fact not present in the product. For example, Weinberg says that vanilla bean is a traded commodity so it is valuable. If you see vanilla bean being advertised on a yogurt, check the label because chances are there is no actual vanilla bean in the yogurt. 

This issue can be easily prevented by taking the time to read product labels to look out for the best ingredients and the ones that are considered food fraud. In the instance of the vanilla bean yogurt, a quick fix would be to buy natural and plain yogurt and add your own fruit or vanilla separately as a sweetener. 

Related: The Ultimate Food Label Guide

4. Don't Think Health Stores Are Better 

While health food stores and organic stores appear to be healthy and better for you to shop at, Weinberg personally thinks that these types of stores are actually worse for you. The products sold in these stores are prime targets for food fraud because they are priced higher and also are labeled for you to think they're better. If the grains and vegetables at a health food store come from out of the country there is still a potential for them to have been sprayed with harmful chemicals or have additives. So it is best to be a diligent consumer and check labels and food sources regardless of the store you are shopping at. 

5. Know Where Your Shrimp Comes From

It's not always known how clean the water is that your shrimp are living in. A lot of times in other countries the water can have sewage, antibiotics, dirt, and bacteria in the water that can contaminate shrimp. To avoid tainted shrimp Weinberg suggests buying shrimp that is from America because of the higher standards or from the Gulf because it is cleaner. 

6. Boil Frozen Fruits and Vegetables 

Frozen fruits and veggies have become an easy way to make smoothies with extra nutrients, but in reality, if uncooked they carry the risk for listeria and hepatitis A. Assistant professor in food science at The Ohio State University, Barbara Kowalcyk recommends cooking frozen fruits and vegetables until they come to a boil. Then refreeze them to use for smoothies at a later date -- since they will already be boiled the bacteria will be gone and they will be good to use freely. If you don't have time to boil, research has shown microwaving for a few minutes could do the trick too. 

Related: 7 Common Symptoms of a Listeria Infection

Article written by Toni Gasparis