Food Fraud: What Is Really In The Food You Are Eating?

Food Fraud: What Is Really In The Food You Are Eating?
Food Fraud: What Is Really In The Food You Are Eating?

Folklore has it that in the 1970s, McDonald’s used Styrofoam balls as a filler in its milkshakes, until customers began to notice the fuzzy floating substances and complained. While the story is not true, several other McDonald’s products are full of ingredients you might think twice about eating. Take, for example, the Chicken McNugget. Among the 30-plus ingredients in each bite are dextrose, wheat starch and sodium phosphate — and that’s just in the meat!

Unlike in Thailand and the United Kingdom, where food manufacturers must disclose specific percentages for main or “important” ingredients on food packages (e.g., exactly how much chicken is in chicken noodle soup), American regulations require that labels list only ingredients in descending order by weight. As a result, consumers are left with a much vaguer picture of what is (and is not) in their food. A quick glance at a box of Ritz Bitz cheese sandwiches, for instance, would tell you that cheese is the ninth ingredient, but you’d have no way of knowing that the crackers are only 3% cheese.

The Great “Food Fraud” Busted:

1. The

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package for Gerber Graduates for Preschoolers’ juice treats pictures a bounty of fresh fruits — oranges, grapes, peaches, cherries, pineapples and berries — yet one look at the ingredient list will tell you there’s no orange, peach, cherry or pineapple in the food and there’s less than 2% raspberry juice concentrate. What you do get is four teaspoons of refined sugar in every serving, thanks to a hefty dose of sugar and corn syrup. Gerber isn’t the only culprit, though. Plenty of food companies serve “made with real fruit” claims that they can hardly back up.

2. In 2001, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group, measured the amount of shrimp in Nissin Cup Noodles With Shrimp. The result? Just zero to four shrimpy crustaceans in each cup. Nearly a decade later, the instant soup mix hasn’t changed its recipe, but the box still pictures five plump shrimp.

3. Assume that your bowl of strawberries and cream Quaker instant oatmeal is full of strawberries? Think again. In truth, the “strawberries” are dehydrated apples that are dyed red.

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Similarly, the peaches and cream variety has dehydrated apples that are dyed a peachy hue and doesn’t contain any real peaches.

4. Who needs carrots when you can have “carrot-flavored pieces”? Betty Crocker’s Supermoist Carrot Cake Mix is mostly flour, sugar and corn syrup, with a few carrot-flavored pieces for good measure. Made from (more) corn syrup and flour plus corn cereal, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, carrot powder and artificial coloring, the ingredient list reads like a fifth-grade science project. If you can’t spare the time to make a cake from scratch, you’re better off with Duncan Hines, which lists dehydrated carrots as the third ingredient after flour and sugar.

5. “Made with whole grains” is another misleading claim. Thomas’ 12 Grains English Muffins do contain 12 grains, but the first ingredient, enriched wheat flour, is just regular old flour. Whole-wheat flour and a smattering of other grains are listed further down on the ingredient list, after water. A better alternative is Thomas’ 100% whole-wheat English muffins, which lists whole-wheat flour as the very first ingredient. When shopping for breads and cereals,

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look for the word “whole” before wheat or grain at the top of the ingredient list.

6. We hate to pick on Betty Crocker again, but who would have thought that Bac-Os bacon-flavored bits are kosher and free of animal products? How is that possible? They are a blend of defatted soy flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat), artificial flavoring, salt and sugar. Hormel bacon bits are made from real bacon and have fewer calories and the same amount of fat (albeit most of it saturated) as the Betty Crocker variety.

7. Yogurt-covered raisins and pretzels certainly sound healthier than their chocolate-enrobed cousins. But with no yogurt and just as much saturated fat, these treats are a diet disaster. Sun-Maid’s vanilla yogurt-covered raisins are made primarily from sugar and trans fatty palm kernel oil with a smidge of yogurt powder for flavoring. One serving contains five teaspoons of sugar and four grams of saturated fat. That’s 21 percent of your daily allowance for saturated fat. And each serving is one-fifth cup, about 18 pieces.