Dr. Oz: “Is Your Food Real? Don’t be Duped”
Dr. Oz invites Caroline Smith de Waal, director of Food Safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, to talk about food fraud and the different ways companies trick customers. Counterfeit food scam is a serious health problem and family concern because you may be buying fake food for your family that can potentially be harmful to everyone.
As a front liner who fights food counterfeiting, Caroline gives examples of food frauds which comes in many forms:
- you order a fish in the restaurant and you think it’s one type of fish, but they give you something completely different,
- it could be an ingredient added to the food to make it heavier so the producer gets more money for it,
- to fool a test which happened in many cases and can be very harmful to consumers, and
- a company tries to make their product look exactly like another product that is a trusted brand. So, basically this is an imitation of the original trusted brand.
She explains further that the problem is Food & Drug Authority (FDA) doesn’t have the staff to regulate this. “FDA has the responsibility for ensuring the safety of 80% of the food imported in the U.S. and it can include anything from seafood, to spices, to about 25-30% of fresh fruits and vegetables that we consume to stay healthy…They are all coming from other countries.” But FDA is understaffed that today, they’re inspecting less than 2% of imported foods coming into the country. 98% of the products crossing the American boarder never see an FDA inspector.
Shrimp is an example of a famous and most favorite food in America that’s being counterfeited. Dr. Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at OCEANA – the largest international organization focusing solely on ocean conservation and is in the frontline for fighting food fraud, shares the latest discovery from her recent study of shrimps.
|OCEANA Fast Facts:
She says that even though shrimp is America’s most favorite food, nobody has really looked into what consumers are actually getting when they purchase shrimp. So her team decided to study sample shrimps, and went into grocery stores and restaurants in New York City, Washington DC, all along the golf states and Portland, Oregon. They then submitted these samples to a lab for DNA testing to know what species they were. They found that 30% were misrepresented, equally so whether it’s from the supermarket or restaurant. Moreover, one-third of all the shrimp is not wild. The counterfeit replacement is actually farmed shrimps imported from India, Vietnam and China. It’s crucial to know that imported shrimps account for 26% to 35% of all shipments of imported seafood that gets rejected due to filth. In her study, Dr. Warner also found specie substitutions. She says that, “you’d think you’re getting a more expensive rare type, but you’re getting a less costly shrimp”. Another finding she had was there’s a mix of species in a bag of shrimps, some of which have never been discovered genetically by science.
In the show, they asked an audience to identify which shrimp is wild and which isn’t. Unfortunately she’s not able to identify the appearance of wild shrimps. So Dr. Warner goes on to explain that farmed shrimps are dark, while wild shrimps are pink. Unfortunately most of the time consumers cannot tell the difference because there is no good consumer labeling and there is no food traceability of seafood from boat to plate. To ensure that what you’re getting is not counterfeit shrimp, you can ask the store or restaurant these questions:
- What specie it is?
- It is wild or farmed?
- It is imported or domestic? (Where is it caught or from?)
- Look for traceable seafood.
Dr. Oz shows the health difference between farmed and wild shrimp. Farmed ones are not advisable for your family’s consumption because of these reasons:
- Contain high-dose antibiotics banned in the U.S.
- Farm shrimps contain a coating of chemicals used to clean tanks.
- Fake pink color is added because the real pink color comes from antioxidants which our body really wants. Unfortunately, farmed shrimps don’t make these antioxidants because they don’t get the food that wild ones get in the ocean. So, companies make a synthetic version of pink color which is not approved for human consumption, and it is completely devoid of effects of naturally occurring pink color.
Counterfeit Greek Yogurt
In this segment, Caroline shows us the difference between fake and original Greek Yogurt. Greek Yogurt goes through a special processing where they filter the yogurt so you get that thick, custardy consistency. But with Greek Style Yogurt, they add starches & sugar or they use added ingredients and then call it “Greek-Style”. Dr. Oz says that the yogurt you want to buy should contain milk and live bacteria cultures as the main ingredients. Although this is not necessarily a risk issue, Dr. Oz emphasizes the point that this is a health issue because increasing sugar in yogurt is actually inverting the effect that we look for in yogurt. He promotes yogurt as being high in protein and low in sugar, but what you’re getting is the opposite when you buy the counterfeit version. To know the original from the counterfeit, always look at the ingredients. If there are a lot of added ingredients, then most likely it is Greek-Style.
Fake Turmeric Powder
Turmeric is a spice, just like many other spices, that’s produced in foreign countries because America relies on many other countries to grow 80% of the spices that we consume. Caroline explains that the problem is that these countries, like India and Vietnam, don’t have high level of control in their factories at the point of production and throughout the chain, until it gets to the U.S. So, spices come in the country with high levels of salmonella and dead insect parts. But with turmeric, it’s especially risky because traces of lead are found in the products. Lead is a particular concern because if children are exposed to too much of it, it can have serious health effects. Dr. Oz specified three adverse effects of lead: memory loss, abdominal pain and developmental problems in children. To avoid problems with your turmeric powder, look closer and carefully make sure that the color is very bright yellow. Another option is, you can buy the turmeric root, grind it up and dry it at home. This ensures safety and cleanliness.
Finally, be reminded of FDA’s stand regarding food scamming, “Food sold in the U.S. is required to be safe, sanitary and properly labeled…Combating food fraud is the responsibility of both industry and regulatory authorities.” Dr. Oz emphasizes to everyone that, “We all have responsibility. We can’t outsource it all and delegate to others. In our homes, we need to be careful with these stuff and not reward the bad guys by buying their food.”
So really, the challenge is to be watchful about what you put on your plate. Always buy from a trusted source. This will surely save your family’s health.