Are You Serving Fake Food?
Many operators across the country may not know they’re receiving fraudulent food. In other words, food that is mislabeled and being sold as something other than what you ordered.
According to the Food Fraud Database (FFD), which was started by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention and acquired by Decernis in 2018, tuna, honey and olive oil are among the top mislabeled food in the U.S. market. Not only are you paying for something you’re not actually getting, but it could also put your customers in harm’s way.
“The biggest thing is making sure the label is clearly identified as what you’re getting,” says Jonathan Lerch, vice president of meat operations for Reinhart Foodservice in La Crosse, Wis. “If you order USDA, make sure it says that. If it doesn’t say it on the label, question your sales rep or talk to
To avoid these issues, Reinhart tracks the raw material from the case when it’s opened to the cut steak in the finished labeled package to ensure each box contains the correct products. On the receiving end, operators can inspect the grade of the beef by its marbling score; the intermuscular fat in the beef tells you what the grade is, Lerch adds.
If you’re truly concerned, you can buy your product locally, says Spike Gjerde, chef/owner of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.
“Do what you can within a local food system,” Gjerde advises. “The global industrial food system is built to obstruct transparency.
According to a report by Oceana, overall mislabeling was found in 59% of 46 fish types sampled, with snapper and tuna the most mislabeled at 87% and 59%, respectively.
Gjerde says the biggest fraud happens with seafood. According to a report by Oceana, overall mislabeling was found in 59 percent of 46 fish types sampled, with snapper and tuna the most mislabeled at 87 percent and 59 percent, respectively. With white tuna specifically, 84 percent of samples turned out to be escolar, which can cause gastrointestinal issues for some. The report showed in many cases if you ordered Chilean sea bass, you got Antarctic toothfish; snapper you could have gotten tilapia, widow rockfish or giltheaded seabream; and grouper netted you king mackerel or whitefin weakfish.
“(Seafood) species can be difficult to identify once a fish is filleted,” says Karen Everstine, senior manager, scientific affairs at Decernis and the technical lead for the Food Fraud Database since its 2016 launch. “This can increase the incentive to substitute lower-value species for higher-value species. It is possible species are, at times, unintentionally misidentified.”
Everstine recommends having solid relationships with vendors and also suggests restaurants buy ingredients in minimally processed form like whole spices, whole-bean coffee and whole fish and meats to ensure they are getting what they ordered.
“The biggest thing is making sure the label is clearly identified as what you’re getting"
- Jon lerch, Vice President
Meat Operations for Reinhart La Crosse, WIs.