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Meet the Man Who Fights Rampant Food Fraud

"Other than the label somebody's written... you really have no idea where your food's coming from."


recent article in the New York Times profiles Mansour Samadpour, an expert in discovering food fraud. Samadpour is the chief executive of IEH Laboratories which is one of the country's top facilities for testing whether a food is really what the label says it is. Food fraud has long been a major problem for grocery stores and restaurants. Menus and labels advertise one thing, but often deliver a cheaper, lower quality replacement. A study released earlier this month revealed that nearly 40 percent of crab cakes that supposedly contain Marlyland blue crab are mislabeled. These crab cakes instead contain a "mish-mash of different species from Asia and Australia."

Samadpour's company — which has over 1,500 employees across 116 labs — tests everything from whether or not a box of raspberries are actually organic or if a piece of "wild-caught" fish is actually wild, or the species listed on the label. He notes that fish are often mislabeled because once they have been filleted, there's no way of identifying the specifies without a DNA test. Other products that are commonly found in restaurants like olive oil, are also often fraudulent. Many bottles that are labeled as "extra virgin" only contained a little bit of virgin olive oil mixed with a more refined version. Researchers have found that sometimes bottles of olive oil can actually be 70 percent canola oil. Other popular products for fraud include high end ingredients like truffles, saffron, seafood, and honey — all items commonly found in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants.

Samadpour says that not all companies are out to trick customers. He adds that in "multi-ingredient products," the company whose name is on the label is often not the fraudster. Instead, it's the smaller companies that the larger companies source from: "It's someone lower down who sees a way to save a penny here or there. Maybe it's 2 or 3 cents, but if you sell a million units, that's $20,000 to $30,000." Chemist George Farquar tells the NYT, "Other than the label somebody's written... you really have no idea where your food's coming from." Samadpour says that one of the best ways to fight food fraud is sample testing. But even while testing can reduce the risk of fraud "tremendously," it can never truly eliminate it. To Samadpour, "consumer vigilance" — or customers taking a vested interest in where their food really is from — is the best defense.