How To Spot Food Fraud

Food fraud costs the food industry billions each year. Here’s some of the most commonly faked products—and how to ensure you’re getting the real deal.
By Rebecca Tucker
How To Spot Food Fraud

Photo by Erik Putz.

Grocery shopping is stressful enough these days without worrying about whether what you buy is really what the label says it is. But food fraud is rampant in Canada and internationally, costing the global food industry between $10 and $15 billion per year. Here’s some of the most commonly faked products — and how to ensure you’re getting the real deal.


Some manufacturers use high-fructose corn syrup to dilute pure honey, which is more expensive to produce. But sweeteners all have different glycolic indexes, making adulterated honey a risk if you’re monitoring your blood sugar. The easiest way to know your honey is pure is to pick up a jar from your farmers’ market or a grocery store that stocks local, independent honey makers.


A University of Guelph study found as many as 32 per cent of fish sold in Ontario were mislabelled. The causes vary between cases of trying to sell cheaper fish as more expensive to inconsistent labelling regulations and oversight. Portioned cuts of fish can all look the same if you’re not deeply familiar with seafood, so try to buy from a seafood counter or fish market, where you can ask questions. And buy fish as close to whole as possible. (Yes, heads and all!)

Olive oil

Sometimes, olive oil can be mislabelled—it might say “product of Italy” when the product was only imported through Italy or bottled there—but it may also be diluted with cheaper oils, such as canola or peanut, and sold as pure olive oil. Price awareness will help you identify the real stuff: a 500mL bottle of pure olive oil should cost no less than $15. Canadian cold-pressed canola oil is also a delicious wallet-friendly alternative that comes without the risks of adulteration..

Parmesan cheese

Kraft Foods came under fire in 2016 after it was discovered their pre-grated parmesan shavings contained wood pulp. But sawdust or not, any parmesan cheese without a distinctive protected designation of origin label, is not technically real parm; it can only be produced in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. That said, many Canadian cheesemakers produce their own parmesan-like offerings without that PDO label, and Italian grana padano should serve your purpose if pure authenticity isn’t your goal.


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