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Unveiling the Deception: The Most Common Fake Foods to Watch Out For

Most common fake foods to watch out for

In today’s world of food fraud, it’s important to be aware of the most common fake foods that can deceive consumers. Journalist and author Larry Olmsted shines a light on this issue in his book “Real Food/Fake Food,” exposing the vast industry of bait and switch. From mislabeled products to adulterated ingredients, these deceptive practices can pose health risks and undermine consumer trust. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common fake foods and offer insights on how to identify and avoid them.

Olive Oil Fraud

One of the most commonly reported food fraud scams is olive oil fraud. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is particularly susceptible to adulteration with cheaper vegetable oils or inferior olive oils. Shockingly, research suggests that a significant percentage of olive oil sold as EVOO does not meet legal standards. The Mafia-controlled fraud often involves mixing Italian EVOO with inferior oils from other regions, such as North Africa. In some cases, the fraudsters go to great lengths to use oils such as sunflower oil or nut oil that have been treated to resemble olive oil. To make sure you’re buying authentic EVOO, it’s important to be vigilant and buy from reputable sources.

Filet Mignon and Meat Glue

Filet mignon, a tender cut of beef, may not always be what it seems. In restaurants that frequently serve filet mignon, a practice known as “meat glue” is common. Meat glue, scientifically known as transglutaminase (TG), is an enzyme that can bind proteins together. While some TG comes from plants, it can also be extracted from cow or pig blood plasma in a laboratory. This enzyme is used to bind beef trimmings together and form them into filet mignon-like cuts. Although the USDA allows the use of TG, the European Union banned it in 2010. So if you’re dining out and ordering filet mignon, there’s a chance you might not be getting the real thing.

Mislabeled red snapper

Seafood fraud is a widespread problem, with red snapper being a notable victim. DNA testing has revealed that a staggering 87 percent of red snapper samples purchased nationwide were mislabeled. Often, cheaper fish such as tilapia are sold as red snapper, deceiving consumers who pay a premium for the real thing. The deceptive nature of red snapper lies in its appearance. Once the pretty red skin is removed, it closely resembles several other species of fish, making it easy to substitute with a cheaper alternative. To avoid falling victim to this scam, it’s wise to exercise caution when ordering red snapper in restaurants.

Kobe beef imitators

Kobe beef, known for its exceptional quality and flavor, is a highly sought-after delicacy. However, the supply of authentic Kobe beef is limited because it can only be sourced from certain regions in Japan. This scarcity has led to numerous restaurants falsely claiming to serve Kobe beef. Investigations have uncovered several high-end establishments in the United States that misrepresent their steaks as Kobe beef. To be sure you’re experiencing Kobe beef, dine at certified establishments or ask to see the restaurant’s certification.

Honey authenticity

Honey, often considered a natural and pure product, is unfortunately vulnerable to fraud. Counterfeit honey, particularly from Asia, is produced by mixing cheap rice, corn or beet syrup with small amounts of real honey. This adulteration can be difficult to detect because sophisticated resin technology can filter out any additives or contaminants. To combat this problem, American beekeepers have filed a class action lawsuit against importers and honey packers involved in certifying adulterated honey. To ensure the authenticity of the honey you consume, consider buying directly from local beekeepers or conducting tests to verify its purity.

Parmesan cheese controversy

Parmesan cheese, a widely popular and versatile ingredient, has had its share of controversy. Some manufacturers have been found guilty of marketing their cheese as 100% Parmesan when it contains additives such as wood pulp (cellulose) to prevent caking. While the FDA allows the use of cellulose in Parmesan cheese, the percentage should be between 2% and 4%. However, research has shown that Parmesan products contain as much as 8.8% cellulose. To make sure you’re getting authentic Parmesan, it’s best to buy a block of Parmesan and grate it yourself, as counterfeit Parmesan is widely available on the market.

Suspect Sushi

Sushi, a popular Japanese delicacy enjoyed around the world, is not immune to food fraud. With thousands of sushi restaurants worldwide, there’s a risk of misrepresentation when it comes to the quality and authenticity of the ingredients used. Some common fraudulent practices in the sushi industry include using imitation crab meat instead of real crab, substituting inferior fish for premium varieties, and even using artificial dyes to enhance the appearance of fish. To make sure you’re getting quality sushi, choose reputable sushi establishments with a good reputation for sourcing fresh and authentic ingredients.


Food fraud is a troubling issue that can jeopardize consumer health and trust. From fake olive oil to mislabeled seafood and counterfeit Kobe beef, there are numerous examples of common fake foods on the market. By being informed and vigilant consumers, we can protect ourselves from falling victim to these deceptive practices. It’s important to buy from reputable sources, ask questions about the origin and quality of the products we consume, and support local and certified producers whenever possible. By being aware and making informed choices, we can enjoy our meals with confidence, knowing that we are consuming real and safe food.


How common is food fraud?

Food fraud is a widespread problem that affects various industries and food products. It can range from mislabeling and adulteration to the use of substandard ingredients. While it is difficult to determine the exact prevalence, incidents of food fraud have been reported worldwide.

What are the potential health risks associated with consuming counterfeit food?

Consuming counterfeit food can pose various health risks, depending on the specific fraudulent practices involved. Adulterated or contaminated ingredients may contain harmful substances, allergens or pathogens that can lead to foodborne illness. In addition, the consumption of counterfeit foods may result in nutritional deficiencies or the ingestion of additives that may have adverse health effects.

How can I recognize counterfeit olive oil?

Identifying fake olive oil can be challenging, but there are some signs to look for. Look for reputable brands or products with certifications such as the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal. In addition, genuine extra virgin olive oil should have a distinct aroma and flavor, so if it lacks these qualities or seems unusually cheap, it may be a sign of fraud.

Are there reliable ways to verify the authenticity of honey?

While it can be difficult to determine the authenticity of honey by visual inspection alone, you can take a few steps to verify its purity. Conducting a simple at-home test by mixing honey with water and observing its behavior can provide some insight. In addition, purchasing honey directly from local beekeepers or reputable sources increases the likelihood of obtaining genuine, unadulterated honey.

Can I trust seafood labels?

Unfortunately, seafood is particularly vulnerable to mislabeling and fraud. To minimize the risk, it is advisable to purchase seafood from trusted sources such as reputable fishmongers or certified suppliers. In addition, educating yourself about the specific types of seafood that are commonly mislabeled and exercising caution when dining out can help protect you from consuming fraudulent seafood.

How can I be sure I’m getting authentic Parmesan cheese?

To ensure the authenticity of Parmesan cheese, consider purchasing a block or wedge of Parmesan cheese and grating it yourself. This will reduce the chance of consuming counterfeit Parmesan, which may contain fillers or additives. Also pay attention to the packaging and labels, as reputable brands often indicate the percentage of cellulose (if present) within the acceptable range of 2% to 4%.

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