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I-Team: Fraudulent Foods Could Pose Serious Health Risk

BOSTON (CBS) - With the high price of food, consumers want to make sure they are getting what they think they are paying for, and not some knock off product. The I-Team has learned many fraudulent foods are making their way into our homes.

Not only is this is a waste of money. It can also be a threat to our health as well. The I-Team went with inspectors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection as they checked imports along the Boston waterfront. They were making sure that all of the cargo was properly documented and suitable for consumption.

By some estimates, up to 10-percent of all food is mislabeled, diluted, or misrepresented. Angel Portalatin, a supervisor with U.S. CBP, said they find questionable items on a weekly basis. Sean Smith, also with U.S. CBP, said they want to make sure foods that come in into the United States meet the standards of the Food and Drug Administration. For example, they recently stopped a shipment of strawberry preserves which contained unsafe food dyes.

Some foods are much more susceptible to food fraud, such as olive oil. A recent study at the University of California at David found that 70% of the olive oils they tested were different than what was promised on the label.

Patrick Vardaro of Boston Olive Oil says products with high profit margins are likely targets for fraud. He worries that olive oil could be tainted with nut oils and cause allergic reactions.

Even worse, some olive oil is thinned with oils not fit for human consumption. "There's a lot of fraud in the industry, and it's obviously for monetary gain," said Vardaro.

Dr. Amy Kircher is with the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, a laboratory sent up after 9/11 to protect the nation's food supply. "It's an international challenge in that our food is sourced from around the world."

Wine is often misrepresented according to Dr. Kircher. "Wine has certainly been adulterated where people have added... substances like diethylene glycol, so it's like an anti-freeze that was added to wine to sort of increase the movement in your mouth."

Honey is often 'trans shipped, or sent through multiple countries to cover the trail of pesticides banned in the United States.

Fish can be another problem area. Roger Berkowitz of Legal Seafood said it is hard for many consumers to tell the difference because filets look very similar at times.

Species substitution, in which a cheaper type of fish is sold as a more expensive one, is becoming more common. Legal Seafood only buys fish whole so they can't be tricked. They even have a laboratory at their processing facility to run additional tests if necessary.

"There are some stores of Asian fish coming over and they are known as swai, and appearing on menus as grouper or red snapper," added Berkowitz.

Kircher said tuna is often substituted with escolar, a cheaper fish that can often prompts gastro intestinal issues. "When you substitute it, you are increasing the public health risks."

Experts say the best defense is to shop at reputable outlets. They also say to be realistic about prices. If something is just too inexpensive, then there's a higher chance that fraud is involved.

If you would like to report any suspicious trade activity or violations, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

Send tips for the I-Team to or call 617-779 TIPS


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