How Do Scientists Determine If The Food You Eat Is Real?

How Do Scientists Determine If The Food You Eat Is Real?

The amount of “fake food” you eat annually is probably higher than you would like. And no, we’re not talking about food made from plastic. Photo credit: The American Chemical Society

This is especially true if you eat foods such as cheese or olive oil, as suggested in a new video released by the American Chemical Society, which documents the ways fake food gets past the experts whose job it is to make sure your food is safe to eat.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently found that several US sellers of Parmesan cheese weren’t being entirely truthful in advertising products. Castle Cheese Inc., for instance, was found to not be selling 100 per cent Parmesan cheese, as it stated, but rather mixing it in with substitutes such as lower cost cheeses and, more alarmingly, cellulose, an anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp.

Olive oil can also fall victim to food fraud because it’s more valuable than other vegetable oils, and because it’s easy to fake if you just supplement the mixture with cheaper products.

So how can you tell if the food you’re eating is real (as horrible as that is to say)? Unfortunately, without access to a laboratory, you’ll most likely be at the mercy of organisations like the FDA to supervise food sellers. However, if you do have a lab at your disposal there are a myriad of ways to save somebody’s plate of spaghetti. There isn’t a uniform test across all foods, but mass spectrometry has been helpful in identifying certain chemicals.

In the case of Parmesan cheese, the European Union only labels it as such when it’s made from unpasteurised milk from cows in certain Italian regions (like, you know, Parma) that haven’t been fed certain types of fermented grass. Mass spectrometry can be used to identify a type of fatty acid that appears in the milk of cows that are fed the wrong kind of grass.

[Chemical & Engineering News]