The other day I bought some fruit punch ‘drink’ boxes to put in my kids’ school lunches. As I was unloading groceries, my husband made a comment along the lines of, “I could have mixed some sugar and water together for a lot cheaper than whatever you paid for these.”

He’s probably right. At that moment in the store, I just didn’t really care that much. They were on sale, and even if they were full of sugar, at least I knew my kids would drink them. Score a point for hydration!

It turns out that I might not have done much better if I had bought the 100 percent juice, because it seems that many companies are mislabeling their products while using inferior ingredients. Liquid and ground foods are especially susceptible to this food fraud, since it’s easy to mix in different substances and not get caught.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a non-profit agency that specializes in detecting food fraud, has conducted scientific experiments to discover the rising number of fake ingredients in products like olive oil, fruit juice, honey, and tea. The biggest culprit is pomegranate juice, which is often diluted with grape or pear juice, despite 100 percent false advertising claims.

"Pomegranate juice is a high-value ingredient and a high-priced ingredient, and adulteration appears to be widespread," senior director for Food Standards at USP Martin Lipp told ABC News. "It can be adulterated with other food juices … additional sugar, or just water and sugar."

What other foods are likely to be faux? USP claims these items are the easiest to tamper with:

Olive oil: often diluted with cheaper oils

Lemon juice: cheapened with water and sugar

Tea: diluted with fillers like lawn grass or fern leaves

Spices: like paprika or saffron adulterated with dangerous food colorings that mimic the colors

Grass in my tea?? What the … ? Gross. Experts say that you can do your best to avoid food fraud by purchasing from brands and suppliers that have a vested interest in keeping repeat customers. Also watch out for deals that seem too good to be true, because they probably are. Things like pomegranate juice and extra virgin olive oil are expensive to produce, so if you’re paying five dollars a quart for it, you’re probably fooling yourself.

Not cool, fakery-faker food companies! We rely on labels to feed our families as best we can, and we pay more for ‘pure’ products. It’s one thing to make a decision to buy flavored sugar water for our kids, but please leave that choice to us.

Are you surprised by these findings?


Image via tasselflower/Flickr